I Saw These as a Child
Friday Ephemera

A Dining Room Comedy

Part of the issue with the word “serve” isn’t just that it’s sexist, it’s also linked to all the invisible work we take for granted and often don’t appreciate – from slavery to the waiters we don’t like to tip.

One for our collection of classic sentences, I think.

I felt like my wife was offering to perpetuate the very sexist ways that women have and continue to supply invisible and undervalued labour. And I wanted no part in that.

The bearer of these sorrows, David Dennis, has apparently spent an awful lot of time fretting about his wife putting food on his plate. I mean literally putting food on his plate, as when serving a typical meal. Given Mr Dennis’s rather pronounced Guardianista tendencies, it’s scarcely surprising that he’s also been fretting that other people, possibly people much like himself, may subsequently judge him for this patriarchal trespass, as if he and his wife were dreadful throwbacks to a darker, more primitive age:

The problem seems to arise when other people outside our marriage project their criticisms and expectations of gender onto our actions. Typically, they might only observe one action – like making the Thanksgiving plate – and make assumptions, much as I initially had. Usually, the assumption was that my wife and I were living some sort of twisted Stepford Wife life.

Will nothing short of a clearly visible gender-balanced serving rota stem this flow of tears? Or perhaps a mechanised buffet? 

Is it the act of “serving” itself that makes people uneasy, or is it that the service is done while conforming to oppressive gender norms? Would my wife be viewed as any more or less “subservient” if she did something for me like rotate my tires, instead of the more stereotypical female act of making up my plate?

At home, when either of us cooks, neither of us thinks in terms of being subservient. Likewise, when a female friend or relative dishes up fine vittles, no-one present is acting out a theatre of oppression or compliant womanhood. That just isn’t the dynamic, not by a long chalk. 

Our fretful husband confesses,

I’m not an expert on gender equality,  

Though clearly he’s internalised many of the pretensions and anxieties required of that role. He’s halfway there, at least.

So I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to understand that my wife was choosing to “serve” me out of love, not because she had been conditioned by years of gender bias.

Answers on a postcard, please.

On a practical note, one person serving up also tends to avoid a lot of needless faffing and spillage in the kitchen. And thinking in terms of serving dinner, rather than in terms of bowing, eyes averted, to an oppressive patriarch, even a neurotic one, might save everyone a lot of faffing too.

I have finally allowed myself the comfort of sometimes being “served” by my wife, and her kindness has taught me to try to find more ways to serve her in return.

I do love a happy ending. Though it took a while to get there.

Let’s just pray there’s a dishwasher.