As far as skills for women are concerned, I think there are two categories: Things Women Can Do and Things Other People Think Women Can Do.
Things Women Can Do is encompasses everything. Women can do everything*. Women can successfully be a part of every field of life and career, from astrophysics to teaching, from motherhood to politics – or both.
Take the streusel, for example. Just butter, flour and sugar, really. Should be simple enough to create that topping we all love so much, right? But I couldn’t get it to crumble. It lumped, it clumped, it fell apart – but it would not crumble. At one point I thought I had the mixture too hot, so I stuck the bowl in the fridge and let it sit for a while. When I pulled it out and began to mash it up again, it dissipated into tiny grainy little pieces that refused to stick to the muffins. This frustration, in conjunction with purple batter (from the berries – I didn’t know you aren’t supposed to defrost them first), a recipe gleaned from the internet that I’m pretty sure was missing an ingredient (which I discovered later was sugar), a sink full of dishes and congealing batter, a hot, cramped kitchen and two batches of streusel disaster was just a little much for my domestic sanity. I lost it.
“Why won’t you crumble?!” I shrieked into the bowl.*
As the streusel refused to cooperate, I finally just stuck the damn pan – purple batter, mashed berries and all – into the oven, slammed the door, poured myself another glass of wine and burst immediately into tears.
**I realize that I’ve made womanly skills sound a little MacGyver-ish – but sometimes that’s what it takes. Resourcefulness is a skill to be coveted in and of itself.
I know that this takes time. I know that some things we learn from our mothers, who learned from their mothers, who spent much more time in the home actually practicing these skills – partly because it was their gender role in that generation, and partly because they didn’t have the advent of sewing machines that sew buttons on FOR you.* I know that some things we learn over time, like after years and years of running through the woods (and thus patches of stinging nettles) when we’ve run out of the pre-packaged ointment so in a panic we go all Martha Stewart and figure that if baking soda can take the smell out of the freezer then surely it can take the sting out of nettles, so we make a quick paste of that and slap it on the offended area – and as it turns out, it does!
*Which, of course, you have to be domestic enough to own in the first place – which, of course, I don’t. But I’ve heard talk of such things.
But, sometimes you can’t fix your torn nylons with nail polish or fix a knee scrape with a tampon and when you hold a newborn you’re all awkward and afraid you’re going to drop it and you pass the baby off to one of your much more competent friends,* and one day after 5 hours of baking, 3 glasses of wine and two tasteless batches of berry streusel muffins your domestic failures bitch slap you across the face and you just break down and cry.
*Who isn’t a mother yet but looks like she’s an expert in the matter because she holds the baby like a football in the crook of her arm while continuing conversation AND drinking a glass of wine while the baby falls quietly asleep in her arms.
More important, though, is to remember this: It’s okay to not know how to do any of these things. No one interviews you for the job of life – you get to spend the whole of your existence on Earth figuring it out. It’s one of the great things about being human – there’s no timeline, and no exit interview. And a failed batch of muffins isn’t a kitchen catastrophe, it’s a bad day. There will be plenty of bad pastries, ruined quiches and burnt turkeys in my future.
I’m mostly okay with that. It’s all about managing expectations – namely, my own. If I can let go of trying to be good at everything, I’ll make it easier for me. If I don’t put pressure on myself to be perfect in all aspects of life, I’ll enjoy the process more when I can bake – or whatever the task is – for myself, instead of doing the thing just to prove a point. The only point I’m really making is that I’m a stubborn ass who refuses to buy Entenmann’s because if I think if I show up in front of others with something boxed instead of something baked, I’ve “failed”.
What a load of crap. Entenmann’s is delicious, and even amongst the most skilled of office bakers would probably be the carbohydrate of choice for the drooling masses. Why not stick to the tried and true? Better for me to expend my energy worrying about my next marketing initiative than my next oven conquest. Play to your strengths; develop the rest. In the meantime, resort to boxed baked goods – without shame.
At the end of the day, everyone loves a commercial coffee cake.