A wholly unPC friend sent me a silly story about the gifts God gave Adam and Eve.
Adam got to pee standing up and Eve got the brain. Did I laugh ? Yes. Do I believe it ? No. Can’t be true because I have just completely mislaid the cap to the disinfectant (I was cleaning a dishcloth). A turmeric moment (annalog/turmeric) not to say green apple (annalog/the lost apple) moment. So, if it isn’t just about the brain, what is a woman ?
The plastic surgeon I worked for 50 years ago was affiliated to The Gender Research Unit in the now gone Middlesex Hospital. That work was based on 13 chromosomal variants (I think) between normal man at one end of the spectrum and normal woman at the other.
Normal is used in the then scientific sense of the word – it is not a word I throw around. Value judgements attach to it too easily.
Once in the waiting room where I worked, I saw a dazzlingly pretty, slender woman with dark hair in a red Mongolian lamb coat on whom I commented when I took in the next mug of tea to my boss. He looked at me and smiled. “I knew her when she was a little Maltese boy, running round Soho.”
That the world comprised more than men and women was clear to me from my first paying job in the theatre. I was brought up to be interested in people so who they went to bed with, how they voted or worshipped was part of their backstory. How they behaved as people was much more important.
Reading Tomiwa Owulde’s thoughtful review of The New Puritans by Andrew Doyle (Sunday Times 28.08.22), he makes reference to impossibility of disagreeing in the minds of what is now called variously woke or identity politics, or (new one on me) the Elect and Critical Social Justice. And he likens the response to the Salem witchhunts in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible in which I played a small role at 14.
How my parents treated me and how they made judgements about me and with me seems even at this distance to be remarkably enlightened. I knew I was a girl, womanhood was something to aim for and you can credit my tough little mother.
If that was a woman, I was going to try and be one. The whole aberrant thing about staying a girl for as long as possible and the insane pursuit of a veneer of youth passed me by. I was brought up to make the best of myself in every way and I did, I still do, so that if somebody came after me now and tried to tell me that I wasn’t a woman because of this, that or the other thing, I think I’d laugh.
But then I am out of the public eye, exempt from social media, no longer important if I ever was– so I am safely left to get on with life’s long journey. And I wish I could say, this moment or that experience made me feel like a woman. The truth is, I have never questioned it. I went through years of being described as “unfeminine” but I knew who I was.
And the idea that somebody would find something I say not acceptable and therefore judge me not only as lacking but wicked is – pass double take – unthinkable. But then as Tomiwa Owulde says, very few women have the financial means of JK Rowling to protect themselves.
When I was thinking about this writing, I asked myself, what made me feel like a woman ? And sadly, like a lot of things, it is easier to define by the negatives – when I didn’t feel like one – than the positives. I am not going to do that, we currently do entirely too much of it. I am sick of people telling me the price of their success. There always was a price to success and there always will be, however you define it. Sometimes you think you know the price and can pay it and sometimes you don’t think. We have all made mistakes and that’s called life. (Fade in Peggy Lee singing “Cos I’m a woman – (spelled out) W O M A N.” )