She reveals that she likes to cook her partner’s favourite meal for him. Should this be celebrated or denigrated?
Oprah wakes up every morning at 6:02. Sharp.
She never sets an alarm (because, Oprah) but rather visualises the time that she would like to wake up the following morning before she goes to sleep. She wakes up, gives thanks for her bountiful life, and then gets to work.
All day she works (because, Oprah): think a litany of phone calls and video conferences, more bank wires than a 19th century businessman and reading screeds and screeds of film scripts, books, letters and requests. She has a schedule and she sticks to it. She might go into the garden and pick some vegetables for a salad for lunch. At night, she puts her feet up by the fire and reads some more.
I tell you all this so that you can have a sense of how Oprah spends her days. No-one could ever accuse Oprah of not working hard for her £2.59 billion fortune.
But what about the nights? In a video posted to the Oprah Magazine Instagram, Oprah revealed that after a long day’s work she likes to unwind on a date night with Stedman Graham, her longterm partner of 32 years. Her perfect date night, she added, was surprising him by getting into the kitchen and preparing him a meal of black-eyed peas and cornbread.
“And then,” she said, grinning a syrupy, Cheshire cat grin. “Honey hush. That’s all you need. A little black-eyed peas, cornbread. That’s it. Perfect date night: me cooking and then… It’s on.”
Oprah’s date night confession divided the Stylist.co.uk office. Some were initially thrown by the idea of Oprah having sex – it’s like thinking about God, or the Queen, having an orgasm isn’t it? – while others were shocked that Oprah’s idea of the most perfect, most romantic evening was to get into the kitchen and cook her partner a meal.
This, they seemed to be saying, was the literal manifestation of patriarchal ghost in the machine. Why does the world’s most successful woman feel like she has to get all gussied up and cook a nice meal for her partner like she’s some kind of Fifties housewife?
But I think we can learn a lot from Oprah’s sexy date night reveal.
Firstly, Oprah loves to cook. It’s one of her favourite things. But these days she only prepares meals for Stedman and herself. “I don’t cook for more than four people,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. There’s a private chef on hand for everything else.
If you love cooking, but you don’t get to do it as much as you would like, then cooking can be a real treat. Especially if it’s done for someone that you love.
Despite being together for 32 years, Oprah and Stedman aren’t married. This is because Stedman’s “interpretation of what it means to be a husband and what it would mean for me to be a wife would have been very traditional,” Oprah told Vogue in 2017, “and I would not have been able to fit into that.”
The lesson that she learnt, she added, from 32 years without a ring on her finger is this: “Live life on your own terms.”
So much of Oprah’s life has been about bucking the traditional. She was the first African American billionaire, the first African American woman to make Bloomberg’s 500 richest peoples list, the first African American woman to receive the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Her relationship with Stedman is just one of a long list of ways that Oprah refuses to conform.
British women are still more likely to be the cook than men (74% of women, according to a 2014 study), and they’re also more likely to be responsible for all or most of the household grocery shopping. Those numbers become more revealing when you break it down by demographics. Young people are less likely to cook than older generations, which could be a response to traditional, gendered pressures for women to cook, and cook for men.
But isn’t the point of feminism to remind us that we have choices? Isn’t that the reason Oprah works so hard for us?
It’s 2018. You can cook or you can not cook. You can work or you can not work. You can be a mother or you can not. You can get married or you can not. You can do and be and believe and live – and cook! – whatever and however you want. You can, finally, live life on your own terms.
If Oprah wants to spend her date nights in front of a hot stove, making black-eyed pea stew and a skillet of golden, slightly-sweet cornbread to mop it all up, who are we to judge?
After all, it’s her favourite meal, not his. It’s what she eats every year on her birthday. (She takes an extra slice of cornbread, because Oprah.)
I love the idea of Oprah cooking her favourite food for Stedman on their date night, forcing him to eat exactly what she wants, and then, without being too crass (follow me on this logical conclusion here, folks) getting something else out of it later, too.
It’s just so typical of Oprah to be able to turn a night in the kitchen into a feminist statement. Eat up.