by Heather Blanton
“What are some of your favorite dishes to cook, Miss Swank?” Miss Stella rose and began clearing the breakfast dishes. Ellie immediately jumped in to help. There weren’t many. Mr. Hoyt had not joined them. Not that she had assumed he would, of course.
“Dishes? Well, I’m not really much of a cook.”
Miss Stella’s hand slowed as she dragged a coffee cup toward her. “Surely you must cook something. How do you expect to feed a husband?”
I don’t. Or he can cook. “Um, I guess I hadn’t given it much thought. I can muddle my way through the kitchen.”
The older woman gathered the cups to her and shook her head. “Miss Swank, I will save you a lot of heartache and grief. While you’re here, I will give you cooking lessons. Cowboys work hard, sun up to sun down, in blazing heat and bitter blizzards. They come dragging in at night half-dead. The least a wife can do is a have a meal on the table. Something edible.”
Ellie felt properly chastised. “Yes, of course, you’re right. It’s just that I don’t have much to offer in the way of culinary talents so I haven’t pursued it to any level of appreciable skill.”
“Well, we’ll start with bread. And while the dough is rising, we’ll go through my recipe book and pick out a couple of meals for you to learn. Clegg is fond of my country fried steak.”
This is the kind of conversation that would have Hillary Clinton turning purple and passing out. Women can do more than cook. We can be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, CEOs, anything we put our minds to.
That is a fact.
But what is also a fact is that a hundred years ago, the world was a different place. Roles were different. The expectations of a woman, both of herself and from society around her, were different.
In my current work-in-progess, tentatively titled Mail Order Bride: Undercover, I explore the delicate dance between a woman’s ambition and her submission to love. Ellie Blair wants to be the reporter who will never be confused again with Nellie Bly. She wants success, fame, and respect from her male peers, and will do almost anything to get it. But at what cost? Can she have fame and fortune and love, too?
Most of us know that a century and more ago, women faced unique challenges to chasing their dreams. The culture didn’t exactly encourage independent ladies to push past the bounds of propriety.
But narrow-minded expectations didn’t stop them as often as you might think.
As we all know, prior to modern times, women became doctors, lawyers, spies, politicians (https://ladiesindefiance.com/2014/10/13/the-first-woman-mayor-ever-elected-in-america-was-no-joke/ ) even law enforcement officers (https://ladiesindefiance.com/2015/03/02/the-first-female-sheriff-in-the-usa-was-in-texas-and-from-texas-of-course/ ). You name it, they did it. However, in most cases, they also did the child-rearing and the cooking. Few whined about the inequalities. Instead, they shouldered them. Then, as now, there was a vocal minority that decried chauvinism. Most women, however, dug in their heels, squared their shoulders, looked life right in the eye, and pursued their careers, babies on their hips, spoons in the sauce.
I think the primary difference between women of earlier centuries and today is that our ancestors didn’t expect anyone to lighten their load. Today we expect our husbands to help (whether it happens or not is a different story). Back then, I would argue the ladies truly had no expectation of assistance. If they ran a business, they ran the house. If they wore a badge, they darned their kids’ breeches. If they studied to become lawyers, they still helped the children with their homework. A vicious cycle, but these gals persevered and paved the way for us.
I, for one, sure appreciate their struggles.
Here’s to the Ladies in Defiance who find their own way. Never give in. Never back down. Never lose faith.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on where women have gone, vs. where we were. Do you think things have changed much?
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