At nine a.m. the lobby of the Asheville, North Carolina Best Western was abuzz with breakfast buffet activity. “Carl, do you want a waffle?” a plump-cheeked woman asked her husband, who considered the buffet a mere two feet from their table. “A little of everything,” he instructed, sitting back in his chair and shaking open a copy of USA Today. His wife smiled knowingly -- her Carl sure had an appetite! Then she went dutifully to the buffet where she began to make his breakfast, dishing up Styrofoam bowls of cereal and assembling floppy sausage and egg sandwiches. Other couples came into the dining area and diverged, the men settling their wide khaki bottoms into chairs while their wives went to the counter and poured coffees which they brought back to the table before going back up to the buffet for the main course. While the women heaped two plates with starchy breakfast foods, the husbands all sat, sipping their coffees and reading their USA Todays.When I was a kid, my friend’s mom would dish up food for her family, hovering awkwardly in the background until everyone had finished eating. It always made me uncomfortable. I watched the women at the buffet and was both appalled and fascinated. Surely these women had a choice not to be this subservient. I’m fairly certain that had the woman turned to her husband and said, “Carl, honey, today you are making your own damn waffle,” that her husband would have been stunned but would have eventually shuffled his loafers over to that buffet counter. A man’s got to eat. Would he have punished her if she hadn’t brought him breakfast? Perhaps emotionally. Still, it looked as though for every man who appreciated being served -- from a buffet -- there were as many women who seemed to be gleaning a sense of purpose from pouring gravy over their husband’s biscuits and who have invested a great deal of self worth in their role as doting wife and portion controller.
Domestic props (including delicious potato salad) courtesy of my friend Aimee
Now, everything in my feminist two-woman upbringing has told me that this kind of relationship is bad and degrading to both parties. I’ve always felt that I like to make dinner for people as long as it is not expected of me. But these women seemed perfectly resigned to the fact that they will always make two plates. I doubt these men lifted a finger in the kitchen and I bet some of their wives actually liked it that way. To me it seems ludicrous that being so submissive could possibly make a woman truly happy. But really, what do I know about it? The couples at the Best Western had obviously been together for a long time and as they tucked into their meals I wondered if their traditionalist relationships were truly stifling and miserable or if it was just my upbringing that caused me to project that notion onto them.Poring over their maps and brochures for local attractions, they didn’t look unhappy, but who am I to say? It is impossible to see the inside of someone else’s relationship. A more important question, I suppose, is how dangerous is this kind of behavior to society at large? I’m assuming many of these people’s sons watched their parents as they were growing up and then expected their girlfriends and wives to also serve them. Maybe these couple's daughters were also raised thinking that the way to feel fulfilled was by serving your husband. I think I’ve always assumed that it is only the much older generations who still expect women to fawn over men, and that now it’s mostly a thing of the past, like Jell-O molds or girdles. But it clearly isn’t. A close friend of mine, who is only in her 30s, also prepares and dishes up her husband’s food for him and she swears she is nowhere near as servile as some of her other friends in Georgia. I feel critical of this behavior but maybe I shouldn’t. To me, feminism is about women having the ability to make their own choices. We should be able to have the right to choose whether we have a baby, the ability to decide for ourselves what direction we want our lives to go in. Then isn’t it also OK to choose to make both yourself and a grown man look ridiculous when you cut up a banana for his consumption?I’m asking you this because I don’t know how I feel about it. But I do think that there are millions of ways to be happy and we should have the right to choose. Not that I’ll be dishing up anyone’s biscuits and gravy anytime in the near or distant future.