Another feminist screed went viral this week. The title tells you everything you need to know: "I'm a Great Cook. Now That I'm Divorced, I'm Never Making Dinner for a Man Again." Written by a woman named Lyz Lenz, it tells the sad tale of a beleaguered, unappreciated wife who magnanimously cooked for her family until she decided that cooking is oppressive and vowed to never do it again. Soon after, her marriage fell apart.
Feminists are hailing the article as an insightful and beautiful ode to female liberation. I think it's silly, self-pitying, and rather embarrassing for the author. But then, I am a member of the Patriarchy, so perhaps my judgment is clouded. Let's look at some excerpts and you can judge for yourself.
The piece begins with Lenz justifying all of the crappy junk food she feeds her children:
When my marriage fell apart, I stopped cooking. I gave my children frozen chicken nuggets, pizza, quesadillas, or their favorite: toddler tapas—cheese sticks, nuts, fruit, crackers, veggies, all displayed on a hand-me-down china platter. Now they eat like "fancy ladies," as my first grader says, piling her little paper plate with nuts and grapes. I live off of bagged salads, rotisserie chicken, and whiskey.
I stopped cooking because I was tired. The kind of tired where your face vibrates and your eyes throb. Too tired to care what I put in my mouth. And my children (then six and four) only wanted to eat Go-Gurts and Cheez-Its anyway. The person who cared was my husband. I had been cooking for him for 12 years.
Then she gives us some background:
When we first married and moved to Iowa, I couldn't find a job. I spent my days cooking ... Hoping that when he came home, my husband would sit down and taste them and say, "Thank you."
Inspired by online recipe sites, he'd sit down to dinner and then let me know what rating I earned. "If I give you five out of five, you'll quit," he joked.
Now we come to the (overly) dramatic climax:
And then one night, as my daughter watched TV, my toddler screamed from the living room, and the water boiled, collecting steam on the windows, I broke. I cut and chopped and desperately looked at a recipe on my phone. My back burned with frustration. My feet ached from standing. The steam flushed my cheeks and I wondered at the molecules that could escape from the heat as I stood trapped there, spatula in my hand.
It's hard for me to understand when cooking became more repression than liberation, more act of obligation than act of creation. But I knew it then. This thing that had sustained me now felt like a prison...
In the tangle of performance and purpose, in my quest to make a home and love, I had created elaborate offerings, which were consumed and judged, and yet afforded me no redemption, no grace, no more than four out of five stars.
That night I dumped the water in the sink. Tossed the ingredients in the trash. I poured myself a glass of wine and threw some frozen chicken nuggets in the microwave. When my husband came home, we were already eating.
She goes on to explain how she spent the next year or so napping and crying during the day while her husband worked to support the family. Finally, she declares that she will never cook for any man ever again. On that score, she can rest easy. She won't need to cook for men after scaring them all away.
What can we learn from this article and the grateful reception it has received among feminists? First, we see yet again how some people, feminists especially, have trouble with the concept of duty. Lenz complains that cooking became "mere obligation" rather than "an act of creation." She says that the preparing dinner "offered her no redemption." It wasn't "liberating." I'm sure it wasn't. So what?
I have never felt liberated by taking out the garbage. I have never been driven into fits of poetic ecstasy while raking the leaves. I have never found great fulfillment in changing a soiled diaper or paying the mortgage. These are all obligations. I don't find any of it particularly redemptive, whatever that's supposed to mean in this context. Mundane daily tasks do not typically offer redemption, in my experience. But I don't seek to be redeemed by household chores. I do them because they must be done. That's all the motivation a mature adult should need.
A lot of people in my generation seem to labor — or not labor, in many cases — under the assumption that everything they do in life must be fulfilling and artistic and significant and beautiful. But when you operate that way, you'll just end up lying in bed crying all afternoon like the author of the article. There aren't very many inspiring or exhilarating things to be done in an average day. There are many ordinary, obligatory things to do. If you reject everything in the latter category, you will not be a functioning, contributing human being.
The trick in life is to find little bits of meaning and pleasure in the fulfillment of ordinary duties. But even if you can't find meaning and pleasure, do it anyway. Someone has to do it, after all. Why not you? Lenz says she didn't have a job early in her marriage, yet she considers it an act of immense generosity that she cooked for her husband. It sounds to me like a simple and reasonable division of labor. The labor may not have been emotionally rewarding all the time for either one of them, but, again, so what? Someone needs to pay for the food. Someone needs to cook it. These are just facts of life. Who cares how you feel about them?
Second, you notice something about these "unappreciated wife" stories: the husband doesn't appear to be appreciated, either. Lenz wanted a "thank you" from her husband. She wanted gratitude and acknowledgment. Fair enough. He should have given it. But what about the reverse? Did she ever thank him for supporting the family? Did she ever say "thank you" before cashing his paychecks? Did she ever express gratitude for his contributions to the family? I don't know, but she certainly paints him like a useless oaf who did nothing but eat. Is that how she treated him during the marriage? Could that partially explain why it fell apart?
You have to wonder about the husband's side of the story. You wonder if his "feet ached" and his "eyes throbbed" while he toiled away at a thankless job. You wonder if he came home to a wife who expected gratitude but never offered it. You wonder how he felt when he returned from a hard day's work only to find that his family had eaten dinner without him and his wife already had her feet up and a glass of wine in her hand.
But, of course, if a man ever wrote an article where he complained about his lazy wife who never thanked him for the paycheck he provided and would rather nap during the day than prepare dinner for the family, and confessed that he actually stopped going to work simply to spite her, and then declared that he would never financially support any woman ever again, it would not be received warmly by feminists or anyone else. We would call the man a deadbeat and a loser and we'd scold him for being so selfish.
Only women can be celebrated for neglecting their families. That's what feminism has achieved.