The other night, some friends accused me of something I found so insulting that I instantly cried, "I am NOT that kind of a girl!" What had they accused me of? Cooking dinner for a man.
They were both shocked by how defensive I was on the issue, and as I tried to explain why that was a sensitive topic for me, and why I am uncomfortable with cooking dinner for men, they became even more confused. In the end, they criticized me for what they saw as inconsistent behavior, and they insisted that if I was ok with my roommate's brother coming over and fixing our kitchen sink, I was a hypocrite for refusing to cook dinner for a man.
And I, for my part, am still confused by their confusion. It's not like I'm anti cooking with a man on a date, or cooking for family and friends. I just refuse to prepare a meal, by myself, for a man I am on a casual date with, and I'm cautious about doing so with a boyfriend too. And I get really upset when people think I have done that very thing. A few years ago, I invited a guy I'd been on several dates with over to my apartment. I had baked bread earlier in the day, and I offered him some fresh bread and homemade jam. He later bragged to a mutual friend that I had baked bread for him, and she immediately corrected him. "That's my friend you're talking about," she said. She explained that I bake bread all the time and had probably just offered him some of the bread I'd already baked. "She is not that kind of a girl," my friend continued, "and don't you ever say that again." He promised her that if he asked me to bake some bread for him I'd do it in a heart beat. Needless to say, I didn't respond well when he asked.
Why am I so loathe to cooking food specifically for a man on a casual date? Well, I can't really explain it rationally. For some reason I just shudder at the thought of doing so. I picture a man sitting expectantly at the table, waiting for me to bring the food to him, a smug, self-satisfied look on his face. It doesn't help that my father usually did that when I was young, even though my mother worked (and he did not), or that there are a lot of men in my extended family who take the attitude that cooking and cleaning is a woman's job, even if both he and his wife are working equal hours outside the home.
And contrary to what my friends from the other night insisted my aversion to cooking for men must mean, it's not that I'm against people who are in a relationship or who are going on dates doing nice things for each other. I appreciate it when a man opens a door for me, and I love sharing the food that I cook or bake with other people, romantic interests included. If I'm in a relationship and I bake bread, I'll specifically bring some to the guy I'm dating. I'll leave nice notes for him to find, and do other little, spontaneous things. I'll unlock his car door after he's unlocked the passenger door and opened it for me. I'll grab extra napkins for him while we're grabbing food. I'll wear my hair a way I know he likes it, and humor him by playing board games or watching movies I'm not terribly fond of. Honestly, roommates who've seen me in a relationship have always been shocked by how often I'll bake something to share with a boyfriend.
So, maybe the issue here isn't that I'm unusually prickly about cooking for a man. Maybe I'm just prickly about the phrase "cook for him." Maybe it brings up images and emotions that upset me so much that even when I talk with other women who are a lot less likely to cook food with the intention of offering some to a boyfriend I end up sounding more anti it? And I become much more comfortable with the idea of cooking for a man if he first cooks for me. I got very upset when one man interpreted my invitation to a group date where we would all prepare dinner together as me offering to cook dinner for him (your words, Carl, not mine!) But when he later cooked breakfast for me, I felt much more comfortable the next time he thought I was "cooking dinner for him."
But what's really crazy about that last example, is that his idea of me cooking dinner for him was me buying the ingredients, and then him making it along with me. Which brings us back to language - am I against going through the physical act of cooking dinner for a man, or am I against some sort of cultural association I have with that language?