The word raised a definite red flag that made me uncomfortable. “Serve” carries such a negative connotation that it made me fear that my wife and I might have an unhealthy – and unequal – relationship. The idea of my wife serving me made me think of the 1950s or a time not so long ago when women were confined to kitchens. It took me a while to understand my relationship with the word and why it was so off-putting.
Part of the issue with the word “serve” isn’t just that it’s sexist, it’s also linked to all the invisible work we take for granted and often don’t appreciate – from slavery to the waiters we don’t like to tip. I felt like my wife was offering to perpetuate the very sexist ways that women have and continue to supply invisible and undervalued labor. And I wanted no part in that. She tried to explain to me that it wasn’t about gender roles or being subservient. It was about doing something to make her husband smile. And she’d only do these things for someone who would try just as hard to make her smile. Still, that didn’t stop me from following her around family gatherings with an empty plate saying, “You sure? I can get it if you don’t want to make the plate.” She’d (at first) patiently say, “I’ve got it. Just take a seat.” After a few more “you sure’s?” she’d shoot me a look that would warn “go away right now,” which of course, I’d have to obey. We played this back-and-forth game for months until I truly started becoming comfortable with her doing something like making a plate for me.