Read an Excerpt
About Betty Crocker
Merciful heavens, where do we even start talking about Miss B? Is it any wonder that over 50 percent of baby boomers are on Prozac? Kelly Goley, one of our favorite SPQ Wannabes, (who sent us the recipe for Love Lard featured elsewhere in this book) went to Restoration Hardware (boomers love this store-it is our childhood) and found the same Betty Crocker cookbook that her very own mom had received for a wedding present and which little Kelly had spent many happy days in her youth poring over. (The Love Lard recipe is clearly a backlash reaction to the early-childhood trauma of being exposed to the Betty Crocker Philosophy of Feminism.)
Kelly bought the book immediately because it gave her that warm, familiar feeling of revisiting her childhood. Only when she opened the pages did she realize the havoc Mrs. Crocker had wrought on Female America, right under our noses. If you are still wondering where we as women got some of the insane ideas we have struggled with and against for the last fifty years-the addle-brained expectations that have been leveled against women from inside our ranks and out-look no further than Betty Crocker. I compared Betty's words with those of the anonymous husband who wrote The Good Wife's Guide, also available in the fifties. (You'll have no trouble seeing why he wouldn't put his own name on the book!)
Witness the "Helpful Hints" Mrs. Crocker offers us, while posing sweetly in a dress with an apron. She exhorts us to "perfect our homemaking skills" by practicing each task until it goes smoothly, thereby developing "techniques" for meal planning, cooking, marketing, sewing, dishwashing, home beautifying, nursing, bed-making, cleaning, and laundering. She left out yard work, auto repair and maintenance, and carpooling. Of course she did; women didn't drive much then and kids walked everywhere. And she also left out supporting the family while doing all the above.
The Good Wife's Guide tells us that our goal is making our home a place of peace, order, and tranquillity, where our husbands can renew themselves in body and spirit. We should, therefore, touch up our makeup right before he comes home from work, we should not greet him with complaints or problems, we should make sure the kids are clean and quiet when he comes in. (He'll want to look at them but that's about all. Don't you know he's tired?) We should not complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. We should count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.
Well, all I have to say about that eventuality is that, unless there was an earthquake in which he was personally swallowed up and trapped for fourteen hours without food and water and with the sound of fingernails on a blackboard echoing in his ears the whole time and ants crawling all over him and he couldn't even move his hands to get them out of his nose, then he did not have a bad enough day to warrant him not coming home all night and me not making a peep about it, and whatever it was that did happen during his arduous day is nothing compared to what will happen when he finally does drag his sorry ass home. But that's just me. Maybe we should speak in a low, soothing voice and make him comfortable-possibly have him lie down in a darkened room for a spell (they have a nice one at our funeral home).
Miss Betty helpfully suggests that we develop "good work habits." This includes preparing food for tomorrow while cooking for today. Now, I do cook in vats so we can have my favorite food, leftovers, tomorrow, but Betty was suggesting that we make different dishes all at the same time or, at the very least, make different sauces to go on the same food on different days. (I can't even comment on sauces.) She also decrees that we must never run out of anything we might need in the kitchen. (We do not see her running across three neighbors' lawns with a teaspoon of vanilla and two eggs.)
Betty thought we should wear comfortable clothes (dresses-and not muumuus, either) and "properly fitted shoes" for doing housework. I get a picture of Betty and her contemporaries being "fitted" for their housework shoes. You know the shoe salesman would be vitally interested in all the housewives having comfy shoes-the better to wait on his sorry ass in. Indeed, Mr. Crocker probably personally oversaw Betty's shoe situation-for just the reason he had the oil changed in the car in a timely fashion-to save on costly repair work down the road, not to mention to prevent lost workdays should she, God forbid, get a bunion.
Betty worried about our physical needs, but not a whole lot-just offhandedly said we should eat "proper food for health and vitality." But every morning before our proper breakfast, we should comb our hair and put on makeup, a dash of cologne, and some simple earrings! We should alternate sitting and standing tasks so as not to be on our feet too long, but should we get tired, she recommends that we lie down on the floor (eyes closed) for a full three to five minutes. (Indeed, there she is in the book, sprawled out on the floor-dress and all.) We should always endeavor to harbor pleasant thoughts while working (there was no mention of a wood chipper in the book, so we don't know what she thought about) and to notice humorous and interesting incidents throughout our day so we can relate them over dinner to our shiny, clean, and smiling families.
The Good Wife's Guide suggests that in the cooler months we might want to build a fire for Him to unwind by and that we might just imagine how catering to his comfort will provide us with immense personal satisfaction. Yes, I can just imagine it-can't you?
Betty wanted us to have a simple, appetizing cocktail (chilled in summer and warmed in winter) waiting for our weary husband when he comes home at night. And sure enough, there she is, pouring Mr. Crocker a drink from a pitcher as he sits-grinning like a mule eating briars-with his feet propped up. There is not even a glass for her in evidence-we can only hope that she drained the pitcher off-camera. And the Good Wife guy has one parting shot for us: A good wife always knows her place. I myself imagine it to be somewhere far, far away.
If you have been in therapy for the last fifteen years over your failure to live up to this image of Womanhood, not to mention your inexplicable lack of desire to do so, you can save the cost of the therapist and whatever drugs you've been put on by just buying your own copy of Betty Crocker and burning it. You may stomp on it as well, before, during, and/or after the burning, but be sure to wear properly fitted footgear for this activity-your own personal do-it-yourself therapeutic exorcism.
One of the Queens-I'm sure it was Tammy-brought me a little handbook called How to Make Love that we might study it and further educate ourselves and others. (The Queens are dedicated to education in all areas of life, as you know.) This book was written in 1936-and it was in a series of books, all of which I wish I had on account of my thirst for knowledge. They were entitled Fortune Telling by Cards, Facts About Nudism, Sex Facts for Men, Sex Facts for Women (I was relieved to see they had two separate books for these-don't want anybody getting mixed up on something this important), and 84 Card Tricks. It didn't indicate if they were listed by order of importance, but one can make certain inferences, no?
In his introduction, the author surmised that love had begun when the first man looked upon the first woman and "was satisfied with her." He indicated that this happened a very long time ago-no reference was made to her being satisfied with him, no doubt because that has not ever happened yet that anybody has heard about. At any rate, she apparently settled for him and thus Making Love began. Our author questioned how anything people had been doing for such a long time should at this late date (again, 1936) require any instructions whatsoever. However, he determined, "as in everything-man has seldom profited from his experiences of the past." Hmmm . . . I don't think there's anything we can add to that, do you?
The book explains that men were created strong and women were created weak and that, in love, the woman must always be passive. He was created chas-er, we were created chas-ee. This, the author said, accounts for our coyness at times and our illogical habits of "putting our man off." He said that we intuitively realized that in order to make ourselves more desirable, we must make ourselves less accessible. Ah, excuse me, but that sounds an awful lot like "Treat 'em like shit and never give 'em any, and they'll follow you around like a dog," does it not? It would seem that Truth is Truth, down through the ages.
He cautions us to beware mere infatuations. We should not confuse them with True Love even though they feel exactly the same in the beginning. A few questions-for us women-should help us sort things out. Can he take care of us after marriage? (No way to tell if he will, though.) We need to examine his faults and whether or not we can tolerate them. We may be inclined, he cautions, to say to ourselves, So what if he only bathes on Saturday night? I love him and that's all that matters. He wisely counsels us that a few years of breathing his stench and it will matter a lot. Do his virtues outweigh his faults? I would have to say that I can't think of any particular virtues that would weigh more in my mind than stinking to high heaven-you? Bottom line: If you think you love him and he smells like a goat, it's infatuation, not love; just go buy a goat and get happy. (The last part was my advice, not his.)
Along the lines of faults and the correcting thereof, our fellow Queen Gina wrote to us that shortly after marrying her current husband (nearly twenty years ago), she noticed his very annoying habit of not putting his dirty clothes in the hamper but choosing instead to simply pile them on the floor. Knowing as she did that no amount of nagging will have any positive effect on a man, she simply said nothing. No, she didn't wash his clothes, but she did put them away for him-dirty. After about two months, her mother-in-law asked her whether she knew how to launder clothes, on account of her precious boy's clothes had stains on them. Our Gina replied sweetly that yes, ma'am, she did for a fact know how to wash clothes but that he apparently didn't know squat about putting them in the hamper, and that only the clothes actually in the hamper were actually getting washed. To this very day, Mr. Gina not only puts his clothes in that hamper but he even does the laundry and helps clean the house. Makes me kind of tear up, I'm so proud. Don't you just know his mama jerked a fair-sized knot in his ass?
But back to our love guru. He instructs the guys in how to approach us for kissing purposes. It is suggested that they get us to sit on a sofa and wedge us up against the arm of it so we can't edge away. They shouldn't worry if we flinch. They shouldn't worry if we say no. They shouldn't worry if we flinch, say no, and try to get up. They should hold us in place and reassure us and continue on with their plan unless we flinch, say no real loud, try to get up, and commence scratching their eyes out-then, and only then, should they back off and try to get themselves out of a "bad situation." He attributes our reluctance to accept their advances to the fact that we probably still believe that we can get pregnant from kissing. It couldn't possibly be that we would rather kiss our dog's butt.
When it comes to marriage, we are all instructed to marry the healthy. He says that an ailing woman is a menace to any love affair (he clearly had never been nurse to a sick man)-the woman needs to be strong enough to do housework, to bear children, and to help build the house. I think I threw the book across the room about then.
Queen Wendy from West Virginia wrote to sing the praises of her husband, who thoughtfully takes one of the dogs and goes off hunting for a couple of months every year while she stays behind with the house dog, lolling by the fire that he carefully constructed before his departure, drinking beer, eating sweet, salty, fried, and au gratin stuff, and generally Not Doing Jack Shit. She says that husband of hers is cute as a button, was raised by a good mama, and denies Queen Wendy nothing-and no, he ain't for hire. But Wendy has remembered all her life a baby-sitter she had when she was eight years old-Judy. Judy was married to a man who needed killing, but fortunately some other woman lured him away from her before she actually did it.
Wendy remembers, "After the dickhead moved out, he called Judy and asked that she bring him his truck and his clothes. He actually said, 'Oh, and by the way, wash my truck for me before you drop it off.' Judy-nice wife that she was-promptly gathered up his clothes, hangers and all, and carefully put them (in wads) in the back of his pickup. She then loaded all of us kids in the truck with her and we went to the drive-through car wash. Judy has always been a role model for me." As she is for us all.
See how smart it was of Judy to combine her tasks like that? Washing the clothes and the truck at the same time saved both time and money. We can all learn from her example.
From the Trade Paperback edition.