I was in the middle of one of my annual holiday cooking blowouts when the doorbell rang. A friend of mine was nice enough to send her son over with a big pan of rice and peas. I hadn't seen her son in a while, and I wanted to visit. But I was in the middle of putting a cake in the oven. So, I asked the young man if he would step into the kitchen with me for a minute. The look of shock on his face said it all: you, are cooking dinner?
Can I just tell you, I know this is not an insult on the order of the b-word or a tragedy like, well, like so many of the things we talked about. But it is truly annoying to continually fight the notion that I couldn't possibly cook — or have any other household skills — because I also host a radio show, or worked in television and have been a journalist for some 20 years. In fact, most of my friends can cook, including many of the people broadcast devotees listen to every day.
My Executive Producer Marie Nelson is a great cook. She makes these Liberian-style greens that you would crawl on glass to get. Michele Norris of NPR's "All Things Considered" makes a Korean-style beef that will melt in your mouth and PBS' Gwen Ifill can put her foot in it, too. (Although I must tell you my friendship with Gwen has been somewhat strained since she has refused to give up her recipe for cooked down chicken).
This conversation about what women are capable of is as tired as that old song about bringing home the bacon and frying it up, and all that. So why are we still having it?
Which brings me to Caroline Kennedy, and whether she should get that U.S. Senate seat expected to be vacated by Hillary Clinton. I have no idea whether she is the best candidate for that job, or whether she'd be a good senator. But what I do know is that I am tired of the hypocrisy of women being told they should reinvent the workplace, organize their careers in the way that best suits themselves and their families, instead of following the template traditionally followed by men — only to be slammed for it when they actually do.
Women are just as guilty as men of doing this. Former VP nominee Sarah Palin stands out in my mind, less for her lack of grasp of national and international issues but more for her hypocrisy in criticizing Barack Obama's career. How does somebody so unconventional in her own path to power get so righteous about someone else's approach to public service?
Raising money for good causes, organizing the neighbors to solve problems, helping people in trouble, starting organizations to fill unmet needs, taking care of people in need. These are the kinds of things that accomplished women have always done and often women with tremendous education and a very high level of skill. And they've usually done all this while taking care of their own households at the same time. But because they often get paid little or nothing for this work, the work is considered unimportant — until, of course, some retired CEO (usually a man) goes and does the very same thing. Then all of a sudden medals must be awarded, and attention must be paid.
Which is not to say that skills in one area are always transferable to another.
The fact that I can cook does not mean I am qualified to run a restaurant, or be Agriculture Secretary, for heaven's sake. But it shouldn't be assumed that women are not qualified just because they might have achieved certain experience without the signifier of a big paycheck or corner office.
And speaking of privilege, sure Caroline Kennedy is privileged. The question is, what did she do with her privilege. Does she know people and things that can uniquely benefit the people of her state. In New York, Gov. David Patterson gets to decide, and he can use whatever criteria he thinks is best — gender, it might be resume, the size of her rolodex, whatever. But let's look at all the experiences people bring to the table.
There's a reason they call it service.