Editor in Chief of now defunct Gourmet magazine, restaurant critic and author, Ruth Reichl has dipped her hand into every aspect of the food world. But Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way is not about food. At least not in any but an incidental way. Instead, it is the story of her mother Miriam; a vibrant, intellectual woman who lived in a time when women were supposed to get married, have babies and not have a career.
As beneficiaries of the feminist movement, women now are coping with the expectation that they will have a career, raise children, run a household and be active in the community. The superwoman mantra of the 90s is over though and most of us are just plain old tired and sometimes a bit resentful if we’re honest about it. I for one am happy to have the option to work, to decide if I want to marry (I did, but for a long time I didn’t want to ever get married), and to decide whether or not I want to have children (I don’t) but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be grateful if once in a while one of those damn overweight businessmen would get off their a$$es and help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment! And seriously, when did opening a door for someone become a crime? I do it for both men and women (and I help women with their luggage when the aforementioned men can’t be bothered). Being a gentleman is not a crime or insulting to women.
In this atmosphere of today, Ruth Reichl’s book is timely. While some of us are exhausted and many women I meet want nothing more than to be able to quit working, Reichl tells us a story of an intelligent woman trapped in a societal prison. Miriam was not a good cook, she was not particularly good at housekeeping but she was successful at running a bookstore before she married and writing a few “How To” books early in her second marriage. She was not successful at being inactive and like many women of her day she became depressed and eventually hostile for many years as a result. She also became subject to the pharmacopeia of the day, with a continuously changing cocktail of pills to cure an illness that could be remedied by gainful employment. Miriam finally turned things around after her husband died and her children were grown through employment in an area that engaged her. She also, throughout her journey, made darn sure that her daughter didn’t end up like her.
Miriam taught her daughter and she teaches us to be thankful for the options we are given as women today. It’s a good reminder, especially on those days when you just want to throw it all in.