I've been delving into Alison Lurie's book "Clever Gretchen and other forgotten folktales" and enjoying it immensely. My favorite story is from the Norse tradition (those who know me are aware that I have a weakness for all things Scandinavian), and starts with a husband and wife who decide to switch places for a day. She heads off to the fields with his scythe, and he stays home to do her chores. In short order he screws things up so badly that when his wife gets home in the evening, she finds him with his head in the porridge, dangling at the end of a rope from inside the chimney. (You'll never guess who is at the other end of the rope.)
The story's message is clear: men and women should stay within their proper spheres and do the work alloted to them, to which they are well-suited. Absolute chaos will ensue if a man so much as attempts to cook. Step away from the stove, Wolfgang Puck!!
Interestingly, the story does not describe how the wife fared, except to note that she "had been cutting hay all morning". We are given to understand that while men are incapable of anything other than straightforward manual labor, the story implies that women are able to perform a man's job competently. Moreover, with no lunch!
So I have found myself another quandry. Can I, in good conscience, tell a story whose moral asserts that men and women must remain in separate work spheres? Is there a way to tell this lovely little tale without doing violence to the socio-cultural ethos from whence it derives? Must I return the George Forman grill that I just bought for my husband?
In Lurie's telling, the wife has the last word: she tells her husband to do his work while she does hers, and not talk about it. I wonder what might have happened if she had given him another chance?
Obviously she's never tried my husband's waffles.