The traditional woman: An endangered species

Being able to cook was not the only factor that demonstrated a young lady’s potential to be a good lifelong partner. — AP FILE PHOTO

It has been more than five months since I first considered writing this column. I have dragged my feet, recognizing that it would generate controversy. Several years ago, I wrote on the subject of “Where Have All the Good Girls Gone?” Let me tell you, I caught it from some of our dear sisters. So prior to writing today’s column, I ran the theme by several female friends, and my wife. Most suggested I leave it alone — not a subject today’s women, Black women, in particular, want to hear. Only one female, from the islands, where such beliefs were embraced, had no difficulty with my topic and felt my thinking was on the money.

Now, I do not want our female readers to feel I am disparaging to women. What I shall share represents the way things were in many households in the past — behavior that could very well be related to why family life was much more wholesome in bygone years.

So, what is this subject that caused some trepidation?

Perhaps the best way to gingerly put it into focus is to share the behavior of my mother in relation to my father. Just think of the “All in the Family” television show and picture Edith Bunker when she practically ran to the dinner table to serve Archie. Well, my mother did not run to the table, but I will always have this image of my father going into the kitchen after coming in from work, church or even from sitting on the porch, and taking a seat at the table as my mother moved quickly to place his food in front of him. This is just one of many examples of the type of wife who was around in the past.

So do not attack me — just think of family life during the era of traditional women who played critical roles in shaping family values, back in the day.

I recognize that a woman’s world today is significantly different from what it was in my parents’ day. We are long past the days when women were so-called “liberated.” When I speak to friends about the traditional female role of preparing and serving meals, most tell me they work just like men and their schedules leave no time to prepare meals. Some women even point out that if their husbands or loved ones want something to eat, they should get it themselves. When there are children, they participate in preparing and serving meals. The alternative involves going out to dinner.

You probably have friends, as I do, in whose kitchens no food preparation takes place, as the family always goes out for dinner or sends out for their meals to be brought to their homes. In some households the man prepared meals, something that could not work for me. You see, I grew up in a household with three older sisters — my father prohibited me from cooking or washing dishes. It has had its toll on me today when I am home alone, as I wish I could prepare something other than a hardboiled egg, hot dog or grilled cheese sandwich. I find myself admiring men who can really cook. However, my father strongly believed that the kitchen was no place for a man, back in the day.

In the past when a man and woman became involved in a serious female relationship and she evaluated him for a lifetime commitment, he made his assessment of her.

Back then, a young lady’s ability to cook was extremely important. It was not unusual for a young man to look forward to the day when he was invited over to his companion’s home where she had prepared a meal to demonstrate that she could cook. She made it known that she had done it without the assistance of her mother. A young lady’s ability to cook was so important that we young men were told to find a country girl — country girls, it was said, “could really burn.”

While I am not embracing the folkways cited below, nor do I believe they are right, they created a way of life no longer seen.

Being able to cook was not the only factor that demonstrated a young lady’s potential to be a good lifelong partner. Guys from back in the day will recall other things important in evaluating a marriage prospect. Were you told it was important to marry someone who had no objection to washing and ironing your clothes? Was your potential wife willing to engage in food shopping? Did she make her bed? Did she take off her clothing and throw it anywhere, or did she neatly hang it up? Was she a church-going person? While living with her parents, did she help her mother with housework?

Or, what about keeping her apartment neat and clean when she eventually lived on her own? A friend told me he would find an excuse to go into his girlfriend’s bathroom, as he felt that you could determine a woman’s neatness or lack thereof by the appearance of her bathroom. Hair all over the basin or a ring around the tub indicated a lack of concern for a neat living environment. Even though your future wife may have been an outstanding cook, was she a true homebody who carved out time to do some baking and occasionally surprised you with a cake or pie? Of course, you always paid attention to her relationship with her mother, as their interactions told you everything you had to know.

Some of you may recall the R&B vocal group Nolan Strong and the Diablos, and their recording “I Want an Old-fashioned Girl.” If you can dig up a copy of this 1954 record on the Fortune Label, you will relate it to this column as the vocalist sings about searching for a the type of girl that married his dad. An 81-year-old lady with whom I discussed this column said she considered traditional women as the epitome of the “real women” who were all around us, back in the day. Someone else told me she has concluded that the absence of traditional women today is directly tied to the disappearance of traditional men. To her, traditional men opened the automobile door for women, pulled the chair out from the table to seat them, walked on the outside when walking down the street, occasionally came home with flowers, and did all of those other loving and caring things men routinely did, back in the day.

I heard from a number of women that they are not opposed to the traditional woman, but she has disappeared because of the demands on today’s women. “We work,” was the typical response, and “have little or no time to be a traditional woman.” That reaction fails to recognize that women worked in the past. Even during slavery, Black woman worked in the cotton fields but still had the energy and the family spirit to prepare food for the family. A friend told me that his grandmother worked, as a domestic for white families. Still, she returned home, completed chores around her home and prepared a meal for her husband and their children. Hard work did not impact on the role of the traditional woman back in the day.

Undoubtedly, I have ticked off a number of you sisters. My presentation could have been worse but for one of my church-goers, a longtime educator and a former member of the Philadelphia School Board. When I tried to elicit views on this subject from my dear friend Dottie Rush, she confronted me with a stern look, telling me I dare not write this column with my initial reference of women from the past as “domesticated women.” So I had to find a less offensive description — thus, my reference became the traditional woman.

As to my wife, she is not opposed to the concept of the traditional woman, but recognizes that the role of women cannot be defined in one way today. She has difficulty with men, yours truly included, who assume there is a role for women and men get to define it. Well, you should know that come July 23, I will have been married to Gloria Swiggett Kittrels for 47 years. Over these years she has faithfully done many of the things I recall from my mother, her mother and other women of the past. She has always made certain, in the midst of all the other things, that our house is a home — including by preparing meals. Now, this way of life is not for everyone. However, I am fortunate and as a result, I have modified my role — I do some things that I did not do initially around our home. I appreciate the role of my wife and the role displayed today by all women — particularly traditional women who embrace behavior from back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.

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