|Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? I am.|
I knew that the cashews were there, but I wasn’t sure there were enough mushrooms. We had the right number of serving bowls, but I was one frying pan short so I had to make the mushrooms first, and only then get on with the chicken. Sid had scrubbed the bathtub, and had bought the wine and the spinach so that was done. But should I get flowers for the house as well?
It was at the flowers that the frightening realisation struck me – I had turned into Mrs Dalloway!
Now, Virginia Woolf’s unfortunate Mrs Dalloway is no one’s my literary heroine exactly. The weak, silly, snivelling woman had given up the chance of a life with real love, adventure and the struggles that accompany them for a cushy life organising parties and wondering about flowers in London.
Ok, so my party was small and informal with only Esther-the-Lawyer and Leo-with-an-Afro (and recently turned free market supporter) coming over. But I was married, jobless in London, and worrying about flowers, mushrooms and the colour of the table mats. Did that mean that I, too, was a weak, silly, snivelling woman? Had I given up on real love, adventure and the accompanying struggles?
The thing is, I grew-up with rather fuzzy ideas about feminism. There was never much discussion about it at home or school, but I picked up enough from popular culture to know that housework – the unholy trinity of cooking, cleaning and washing – was deeply uncool and needed to be avoided at all cost. Of course, there were other elements too – being financially independent, intellectual pursuits, being an equal decision-maker in the relationship. But I determinedly decided that those could only be achieved at the cost of housework. Any man who expected me to cook, clean or wash was not worth my time.
To give credit to my parents – lovely people – they did argue that it was a conveniently lazy form of feminism that I had adopted, but at the end they just shrugged in resignation and let me go ahead with my funny experiments with life.
Sid did not expect me to cook, clean and wash. But once it wasn't expected it of me, I discovered was that I actually enjoyed cooking and cleaning (maybe, not so much washing). I love good food and a clean house, and the easiest way to get them is to cook and clean yourself. It doesn’t have much to do with either feminism or working, because even during the months that I was working – May, June and July – I would return home looking forward to the next hour in the kitchen. I find chopping therapeutic, I love the whoosh vegetables make when I slide them into the hot oil, and the changing aromas of food as it moves through the different stages of cooking mesmerise me. Most of all, I love eating what I cook. And if I can eat it on a well-laid out table, with nice wine to accompany it, and some flowers in the house – so much the better.
Yes, I must get a job and be financially independent. (I know I am shortchanging myself there.) But that is mutually independent of cooking and cleaning. I can be a feminist and still love cooking, cleaning, throwing parties and arranging flowers.
And I always leave the dishes for Sid to do at the end. I wonder if Mr Dalloway was as obliging.