Hard to believe, but Martha Stewart published her first cookbook more than 30 years ago in December of 1982. Simply entitled Entertaining, it virtually flew off the shelf. Everyone wanted this book, as well as her next one and the one after that – helping her build an empire that still thrives today (including websites, blogsites, television programming and her two magazines, Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings).
Ironically, this heroine of both entertaining and entrepreneurship also served prison time for lying to investigators about why she sold her stock in ImClone just before its value plunged. The irony, however, isn’t that her high profile made her a target for investigating insider trading; it’s that if a man had been convicted of the same offense, he never would have spent one day in jail. (But that’s a blog for another day).
I loved Martha Stewart from the start. I was newly married at the time and she taught me how to entertain. I learned how to prepare meals in advance, how to set a perfect table for 8 and how to create a beautiful centerpiece. Life was beautiful and so was my home.
But as the years passed, my life expanded to include two children, a dog and a full-time career. Entertaining sounded like “a good thing” (especially if it was pot luck) but if I could find a free weekend night to have friends, I’d spend the day cleaning bathrooms and kitchen floors so my guests wouldn’t feel like they were stepping into a filthy pit.
And that’s when my love for Martha began to wane. How could she even suggest we women could actually do everything? Who had the time or energy to be perfect at work and at home?
The answer, of course, is no one. Except Martha. Martha could apparently do it all because she told and showed us all through her shows, books and magazines. What we didn’t know at the time is that she also had a staff of about two dozen people making it all work.
My schizophrenic relationship with Martha continued for a while. I loved her cookbooks and I loved her shows, but I really hated her suggestions of what I should do daily and the projects I could do monthly or seasonally.
Did you know she makes her own quilts to cover the lettuce plants in her vegetable garden all winter so they’ll stay cozy and healthy for the next harvest? Did you know she also makes her own paper snowflakes, paper pumpkins, paper stars and tissue paper? You probably did. But did you know the only way you have time for that stuff is when it’s your full-time job?
Let me be clear: I support women in business absolutely, am always happy when women become successful and also strive to succeed professionally myself. But my concern is for those women who feel the way to succeed is to become another Martha Stewart – with a child on her hip, a laptop open on her counter and a homemade chocolate soufflé baking in her oven. Women today need to set a more realistic, pragmatic and balanced example for younger women who are coming into their own just behind us.
In short, we need a new-millennium Martha who can teach us how to live fuller lives by providing smart shortcuts for family and work life; someone who’ll give us both permission to ask for help and the resources to order dinner and everything else online – including organic lettuce, handmade quilts and paper stars.