One of the recurring reminders I hear from my folks at home is that I should start learning how to cook. I would hazard that in most Filipino families, girls would often be told the same thing on account of them almost getting married, wanting to get married, or because the status quo dictates that, for women to have some worth in a marriage, they must at least be competent in the kitchen–bedside manner aside.
Growing up, I’ve never looked at it solely from that perspective. I’ve never once equated cooking with women alone, or that my family’s desire for me to learn how to cook was tied to my eventual marriage or “wifely” duties. I simply thought that being able to cook was a necessary survival skill, much in the same way neanderthals had to be able to roast fresh meat over a fire—their gender notwithstanding. Besides, I love cooking shows, and not all of the chefs were women. In fact, my favourite chef is the bombastic Gordon Ramsey, and I was into Hell’s Kitchen so much that I would wake up at ungodly hours just to watch the replays on cable.
While the women in my family commandeered the kitchen most of the time, it wasn’t rare for me to see the men cook as well.
In fact, my first cooking experience involved my grandfather, who once asked me to keep stirring spaghetti sauce in a pan that was bigger than my entire body. My dad, too, is a pretty damn good cook. He’d play music in the kitchen while he chopped the ingredients, light up the stove, and work his magic. I’ve since adapted this little quirk of his whenever I find myself in the kitchen, lending a little bit of spice to an activity that involves a lot of waiting and staring.
My grandmother Sonia would cook all kinds of dishes for us, from classic ones—adobo, kaldereta, afritada, tinola, sinigang, kare-kare, and the like—to the more modern fare—burgers, spaghetti, omelets, fried chicken, etc. She’s been a housewife most of her life, caring for a household of insufferable insomniacs and neurotics, as well as a pride of stray cats that we’ve rescued or who simply followed us home. Never for once did I see this as a failing on her part, as if being a high-powered career woman automatically equals success, as some people might mistakenly think. I reckoned it was a choice my grandmother made, and she stuck to her guns. Her being a housewife didn’t mean she couldn’t chase off the thief who once stole my dad’s jeans with a .357 magnum in hand, and rollers in her hair, to boot.
While I don’t see myself being a full-time housewife (heaven knows my housekeeping skills leaves a lot to be desired at this point), I find it quite baffling that people—both men and women—seem to scoff at those who choose to live lives devoted to caring for their homes and families.
I remember someone telling me once about their female classmate who used to be at the top of their class but ended up being a housewife after graduating. The person relating the anecdote seemed to be rather disappointed about the turn of events, and I sat there, open-mouthed and blank-faced, wondering vaguely how a valedictory certificate or a first honor medal predetermined anybody’s path in life.
It didn’t appear to me that the woman was coerced into being a housewife, based on the story, so what was the fuss? Why the disappointment? Just because she chose to be a housewife doesn’t mean she was, or would be, automatically unhappy.
Having a job or a career does have its perks—for one thing, one does achieve a sense of independence in being able to earn one’s money without relying on a partner. In this dog-eat-dog world, being a housewife—or househusband—may seem counterproductive. What with the rising costs of living where even sweet powdered juice costs a damn fortune in the groceries.
Having an actual paying job does offer a sense of financial security, and even increases one’s network, which can be helpful during dire times. But that’s merely the pragmatic side of it. I don’t know if you got the memo, but the world isn’t that black and white most of the time.
There are those who do find happiness in devoting themselves solely to the home, and it’s infinitely perplexing for me to see other people so easily raise their eyebrows or shake their heads at those who have consciously made this choice. It’s a whole different kaboodle if people were forced into doing something they don’t like, whether it’s becoming a housewife or a doctor. The only difference is that one gets paid, so it often just gets a free pass.
As a woman, I don’t find it any diminishment of my dignity as a human being when I’m told I should learn, for starters, how to cook so I could be a “good wife.” I’m not so naive that I don’t know that isn’t the only thing that makes a good wife, or partner, or even human being, for that matter. I personally don’t find it insulting.
In my head, my worth as a person—and not just a woman—has never been relative to anything other than the intrinsic value I already possess. Society, friends and, even, family are forces that tend to dictate upon what we ought to be and do. The problem with such a bullheaded person as myself is that the voices in my head tend to be louder than the ones surrounding me.
I’ve never felt the need to compete with a man, or other women for that matter. I have, instead, a strange predilection for competing with myself. It’s a game constantly set on hard mode running on an infinite loop with no cheat codes and no algorithm to beat the boss.
Make no mistake, I like it when I make my man smile when I am serving him something I cooked, whether that’s just fried chicken or something more complex, like frying two chickens. I don’t find it demeaning to be asked to bring juice out for guests—it isn’t as if I’m above basic human hospitality. I like knowing how to do my laundry, putting the house in some semblance of order, or caring for a child.
My idea of being an independent person simply boils down to exercising what I want to do and can do, as well as accepting whatever limitations I may have, be they physical, mental, emotional, or even limitations of gender.
If there’s anything that’s black and white in this world, it’s that scumbags will always exist, and they will put everyone else down to lift themselves up from the muck of their existence. It’s up to you to make a stand or take the fall.
Being truly empowered means being able to decide for yourself, whether that decision is something other people would furrow their brows at or even mock, simply because it doesn’t hold up to their own set of values or ideals.
Last I checked, we’re still in a democracy, so I’m free to choose frying one chicken or two any day.
Rachel P. Salud is a writer, illustrator, gamer, and coffee-guzzler. She used to work for a Canada-based publishing company as a proofreader and associate writing coach. She currently manages her freelance proofreading and editing website at pinkpencilproof.wixsite.com/home.