Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I Became a Feminist

My annual Thanksgiving weekend blog post!

Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving turned me into a radical feminist. Or, maybe I was born one and Thanksgiving just confirmed my inate belief that women have traditionally been treated (sometimes willingly) as second-class citizens.

Of course it wasn't just this particular holiday that validated my beliefs. Every Sunday, during the eleventy-seven course extravaganza known as "dinner", the same dynamic would be present. But I refused to buy in, even as a little girl.

In this photo, I am seven years old. I'm wearing an apron, as is my grandmother, my mother and my middle sister (for some reason, my eldest sister on the near left either escaped kitchen duty or shed the apron immediately afterwards. (My mother also seems to be either admiring the nasty perm she forced on my stick-straight hair, or she's thinking "You'll wear the apron and you'll LIKE it..."

I didn't mind the prep work all that much. My grandmother always made the macaroni from scratch. (the term "pasta" was never used. It was macaroni, no matter what it looked like.) She'd let us knead the dough and then she'd roll it out and cut the squares of ravioli or strips of lasagna. She'd lay a sheet on her bed, sprinkle it with flour, and place the finished pieces on it to dry. Also placed there were the strips of dough that would never make it to the table...gobbled up raw like so many strings of licorice. We loved the raw dough.

We'd stir the gravy (no, not sauce or tomato was gravy), helped roll the meatballs, cut the provolone into little squares for antipasto. We sliced the pepperoni, put the turkey in the oven, rolled up the braciola (pronounced: bra-JOLE) and prepared plates of salad that featured iceberg lettuce, black olives and a red vinegar that came from the wine cellar in our basement. All of that was kind of fun.

The meal was generally a festive event (unlike our daily family meals, which are fodder for another post altogether). Everyone drank homemade Chianti (even the kids, and my mother who would offend everyone by putting orange juice and ice cubes in hers), and stuff themselves with everything from soup to nuts. Quite literally: Minestrone, antipasto, macaroni, meatballs and other meats, followed by salad, turkey, fruit and nuts. My grandfather would entertain us by cracking walnuts on his bald head. Then, percolated coffee accompanied by cake, pastries and cookies that were also sometimes made by my grandmother...particularly the anisette cookies with pignoli nuts. Those were my favorites.

But it was the after-party that infuriated me. The women would begin clearing the table and marching like lemmings back into the kitchen to clean up. Remember, this was before dishwashers and Teflon. We're talking HOURS worth of pot scouring, washing and drying dishes, wrapping leftovers, wiping down counters and tables and collecting linens. The men would do the thing that has spawned cliches to this very day: sit around the living room and watch TV, with their belts and flys open to free their bloated bellies.

By the time I was 7 or 8, I'd take advantage of the commotion and slip away. Thanksgiving would usually take place, as it did here, in my grandparents' apartment upstairs from us in our two-family home. I'd make my way downstairs and in the peace and quiet of my room, or better yet our "finished basement", I'd read the newspaper. When I began to do this on Sundays as well, I'd tiptoe down there and read the Herald-Tribune and my favorite comic strip: Miss Peach (little kids with giant heads).

As an adult, I once dated a guy whose family still functioned this way on holidays. The women cooked, the women cleaned up. The men ate, the men digested. When he suggested that I join the feminine cleanup brigade, I asked if we were going to pick up the plates with our vaginas. He decided to help out, and I was happy to assist him.