What does it mean to be a woman? After all these years of being one, I’m not sure.
The basic gist of it, as I understood while growing up, was this: you got married, had kids, cooked, cleaned. Sometimes you worked. This is what all the women in my family did. My mother – and her mother – loved to cook; they were great cooks. Food was love that boiled over and simmered in the kitchen. And tidiness was next to godliness, a religion unto itself in our basically nonreligious household. Anyone who knows me or has tasted any of the few things I’ve ever made or visited me knows full well I did not inherit those particular genes.
I never felt those things would define me or make me happy.
I’m the take-out queen, the purveyor of fast food, microwaveable dinners and cold cuts and salads. I look upon neat piles of clutter as accomplishment. “Well, I’ve been in some houses that make me feel like Little Edie Beale and some that make me feel like I’m Martha Stewart!” I rationalize. I was never seduced by the baby trap. Seeing the downside – dirty diapers, throw-up, tantrums in grocery store aisles and restaurants and of course total loss of flexibility – was a powerful antidote. I never wanted to settle down for some of the same reasons – well, leaving out dirty diapers, maybe.
I did and still do cave to some of the accoutrements of superficial beauty. I don’t leave the house without putting on blusher and mascara, though in my formative years I used to wear a whole lot more makeup. And dresses even. But I was often happier with a book than a date. I had what Oprah calls an “aha” moment when I thought, okay, what do I really want, a guy or a dog? And so I adopted the dog. And we’re very happy most of the time. Except maybe when he throws up.
I tend to create heroines in the same mold as me, albeit younger. My main character in my series, Delilah Price, runs hot and cold when it comes to involvement with the opposite sex, and her on-and-off squeeze doesn’t do much to sway her; he’s married to the police department. She’s coming into her own in the art world, but feels ambiguous about her love life. “What I need,” she sighs to her best friend in Book Three, “is a Man Clapper. So I could clap my hands three times when I want him to sleep with me and/or fix something and clap them again when I want my space.” (Unfortunately no such device exists. Whoever could develop that would make millions.)
Maybe what Delilah really needs is a dog.
Susan Israel is the author of two novels, Over My Live Body and Student Bodies, both published by The Story Plant.