One thanksgiving, my mother taught me how to make a pie. I wanted to learn to bake for my boyfriend at the time, because I had given up trying in most other areas of our relationship. It was supposed to be a surprise, but he arrived while I was still preparing the filling, so I yelled at him. My mom yelled at me for yelling at him. Eventually my dad stepped in and the pie baking recommenced.
After the pie was out of the oven, my mother handed me the cutter. As blade met crust, she yelled that I wasn’t cutting it right. I yelled back that there was no right way to cut a pie, as if that was something I knew. My boyfriend tried to break it up by asking for a slice, so I yelled at him. My mom yelled at me for yelling at him. Eventually she took the pie cutter and carved a slice, which crumbled into goo before reaching the plate. It tasted OK, I guess, but I probably should have just bought a pie from the store.
Shortly thereafter, the boyfriend and I broke up. But not before I forgot everything I’d learned about how a pie is made.
I am not very skilled as a woman. My mom has woman skills, but she also works a lot. I would love to blame her for my lack of woman skills, but the fact is I was always too headstrong to ask for any. I figured modern women didn’t need women skills because they worked a lot.
I still believe this to be true, but “need” is a strong word. I don’t “need” to get my clothes dry cleaned, but life would be better if I did. Baking your boyfriend a pie, for instance, is a great way to feel better about lusting after other men. And if I knew how to get stains out, I wouldn’t have started crying in public that time I got blood on my white trench coat.
Sometimes my friends and I boast about how bad we are as women. What we’re really doing is bragging about being modern. Being a modern woman is great, but woman skills are really just life skills that historically belonged to women. Life skills look good on women and men alike.
Altogether, women skills make up a great tradition of womaniness that I will not be upholding. It’s too bad. Here are some of the things I wish I could do, but can’t, because I’m a failure as a woman.
Love and nurture small things
I used to think I hated babies. Now I know that the hatred was just defensive. Babies frighten me, because there are just too many ways to harm them. Breathing on a baby could harm it, because what if you have pneumonia and you don’t know it yet? Thinking around a baby could harm it, because who knows if babies can read minds? Babies are totally mysterious.
I like dogs a lot more, but dogs never like me. I’ve never had a dog of my own and they sense my desperation. If I were a better woman I would have a better rapport with babies, and dogs would let me pet them instead of writhing away and making me want to cry.
Smell amazing all the time
I love being around womeny women because they always smell like human salons. I have no idea how they do it. Whenever I ask, they describe a grooming process that sound Pagan to me. They talk a lot about “product,” which actually refers to several products that women combine in an alchemical process. I’ve tried it, but it’s never worked. Maybe I’m skipping some crucial step, like writing the word “love” backward on a silk slip and tucking it into my pillowcase at night.
Look amazing all the time
Womeny women have a beautiful glow to them, and their hair always looks shiny. Again, they credit this to “product.” Maybe I don’t know what “product” is. Is it the cream stuff that comes from a tube and costs $30 at the Aveda salon? Because I’ve tried that and it just makes me look greasy. Also, have you ever seen me in make-up? It looks like someone drew my face on a slab of sandstone.
Speak in a way that placates men but also makes them do what you want them to do
Over centuries of not having any power, women have developed a secret soft power that helps them get through life. I have no idea how it works, but I’ve heard about it and I think I’ve seen it once or twice. It’s probably a great skill to have in the workplace. If I’d known how it worked, I could have convinced my ex not to wear black socks with Bermuda shorts instead of starting a three-hour argument.
Handle discomfort with elegant strength
I don’t understand why women wear four-inch stilettos to work. I could understand if their job was getting a husband, but their job is having a job. I admire their discipline, though. They work all day and only eat salad and totter around on pencil-thin stilts. Then they wake up early the next morning and go to the gym.
You don’t hear them whining about any of it, either. If I had to do that, I’d whine all the time. I might even start a blog in protest.
Make delicious dinners for people you love
I have only once tried to make dinner for a boyfriend. It took me three hours to prepare some tofu cubes. They tasted good, but gave me horrible stomach cramps that lasted for three days. He never got stomach cramps, so I guess it wasn’t a total failure.
It would be nice to be able to make a great dinner, not just for boyfriends but for friends and family and myself. It would make me feel like part of the human community and save me money on restaurant bills. But I can’t cook and I don’t really have time to learn. That’s why I’m attracted to men who can cook.
Alexandra Molotkow writes Toronto Standard’s Minutiae column every week.