Last week, I took my daughter shopping for a dress for her upcoming bridal shower. While I waited for her to come out of the dressing room and model top contenders, I flashed back to my own shower, over 40 years ago. I wore a denim jumpsuit, chunky-heeled shoes, and an attitude.
To me, a shower was sexist—it made me feel like the “little woman” eager to share recipes and stain removal tips. I resented the expectation that household duties were mine. I craved respect for my business acumen, not my brisket. I envied the men, probably at a bar slamming shots and betting on football—no vacuum cleaners nor dish towels for them.
Nevertheless, I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The shower organizers spent time, energy, and money to plan this for me. So, I pasted a smile on my face, swept aside resentment, and entered a living room brimming with chattering women and aromas of yellow roses and white tulips.
After a proper period of schmoozing and indulging—mini tuna fish and egg salad sandwiches, blintz souffles, and champagne punch—I was ushered into a blue velvet arm chair. A ruffled, white umbrella dangled above my head. The guests arranged folding wooden chairs into a half circle around me.
An aunt handed me a present from the mountain of gifts adorned in silver and white wrapping papers and ribbons. “Here, open this one and hand me the bow.” She affixed the bow to a white paper plate, as I finessed a round object out of its square box.
“Oh, a crock pot! How great!” I said.
The aunt lit up, “You can put your brisket and potatoes in here before you go to work. When you get home, voila, dinner is ready.”
I thought, “lucky me.”
A cousin on my fiancée’s side, pen in hand, was writing something on a legal pad. I asked, “What are you doing?” Snickers from the crowd. Then, a “you’ll see.”
I opened a set of knives, a paper towel holder, and a can opener. When I got to a matzah ball soup pot, I said, “Oh, this is great—it’s so big.” The guests erupted into laughter. More giggles and scribbles when I opened a set of sheets, “I love these, they’re so soft, I’m tired of stiff ones.”
It took me almost two hours to unwrap and fuss over each present. I could have finished in 20 minutes, but I was admonished, “Please try and open the gifts gently, so you don’t tear the beautiful paper.” I guess someone wanted to reuse it.
By now, the paper plate was covered with bows and ribbons, two ribbons dangling, ties for the homemade hat. A gaggle of guests shouted, “Put it on. Put it on.” I should have been a good sport and gone along with their request—but I wasn’t.
The ladies refilled their punch glasses, it was time for the big reveal. The recording secretary, legal pad in hand, announced, “Now let’s hear what Laura will say on her wedding night.” Then, starting with, “It’s so big,” she read aloud my comments about the gifts. I laughed along with the group, keeping my thoughts to myself. “When will this be over? Don’t they know that my fiancée and I already live together?”
Now, four decades later, I want to slap my younger self. I had assumed that success in business required that I distance myself from stereotypical female activities. I was so driven to climb that corporate ladder, that I stepped over traditions that would later bring love, safety, comfort, and belonging.
I didn’t yet know that sitting around the family dinner table and asking “how was your day?” would serve to ground me. And throwing a brisket and potatoes into that crock pot would facilitate those dinners. Briskets and business are not mutually exclusive. I didn’t understand how a clean and organized home would give me a sense of control in a world where I had so little. I also didn’t realize that household chores are not the innate purview of either partner. Like everything else in marriage, they are negotiable.
But my biggest miscalculation was the role that women would play in my life. I tried so hard to fit in what was then considered a “man’s world” that I overlooked the power of women. It turned out that the women in my life nurtured, supported, and loved me. They let me process, not just problem solve. They were not afraid to get dirty with emotions, share vulnerabilities, nor shed pretenses of perfection.
Some of the women who loved and supported me the most are hosting my daughter’s bridal shower. The room will not be overflowing with guests, just a small group of Jackie’s closet friends and relatives. I’m hoping that they skip the ribbon hat and refrain from predicting her wedding night articulations. I know they will embrace and help Jackie prepare for this next stage of life.
My daughter’s generation knows not to diminish the camaraderie of women nor overvalue the approval of men. They also recognize that as women, whatever path we chose, we are more alike than different. And regardless of our differences, we stand strong for one another.