Monday, December 29, 2008

I demand a better future

I'm just back from Telford and Manchester, a sewing machine richer, a Swiss Army Knife poorer, and full of the reflected warmth of family and old friends N & D plus their two-and-a-bit children -- the soon-to-be-middle one of whom I am reluctant godmother to. The reluctance is all to do with the god part and nothing to do with her: she is small and thoughtful and determined, and can already paint with one hand and eat with the other with only minor crossover complications.

Her mother N is one of my favourite people in the whole world -- also small (though quite big at the moment) and thoughtful and determined. We met when she was 14 and I was 15 and we worked together in a bread shop on Saturdays. 'Something reminded me of the Bread Oven the other day,' I said. 'I can't remember what it was now'*.

Really stale bread? she said. Or did you meet a Nazi?

She was referring to Grant the baker, who terrorised us both from our arrival at 8.30 each Saturday until he left around noon. It was so bad that we used to meet somewhere else at 8 -- the lorry driver's cafe in the winter, on the beach in the summer -- to gather our strength and so we would always arrive together. Then we would take it in turns to be the one who first ventured into the back of the shop to get the pork pies out of the fridge. He hated us both -- me because I tried to stand up to him and N because she didn't -- and me a little bit more (maybe) because I didn't hide the fact I was a little bit Jewish and a little bit academic and he didn't hide the fact that he was more than a little bit Jew-hating and more than a little bit of a porn-eating book burner. There were bruises along the way, and none of them on him.

I hope he's dead now, she said. I really do. I do too, I said. Let me know if you hear anything, so I can leave a pork pie and a gherkin on his grave.

The next morning, we were dissecting the Guardian Family Section article about tomboys. In my view, like most Guardian Family Section articles, it raised a potentially interesting issue then drowned it in mediocre middle class reportage. The tomboy in the 1970s sense -- the girl who wants to be a boy, as epitomised by George in the Famous Five -- is a fascinating creature. Does she want to be a boy because boys have freedom of movement and expression that girls are denied? Does she want to be a boy because she can see that boys are more valued in the world? Does she actually identify as a boy? Or does she just hate wearing dresses and playing with dolls and being expected to be passive and nice?

Th article didn't really tell us. The 'genuine tomboy' they interviewed did seem to have some interesting stuff going on, and I think that was handled well, though all the stuff about the 'anonymous mothers' of other tomboys rather diluted the positivity of the story of the lone seven year old whose mother doesn't mind.

But I ain't her, and neither is N, yet we were both labelled tomboys in our time. I don't want to be a boy, I said to N, while a little on the drunk side, and I never have. I just want to be taken seriously.

Exactly, she said. And I fucking hate (she added, five months pregnant, stone cold sober and waving a spatula) wearing a dress. When you wear a dress everyone looks at you, and tells you how great you look, and you know, it's nobody's fucking business how I look except mine.

This is a wilderness point of view in a world that has plastic surgery ads on the back of buses. But it's one I share, and we clinked glasses and toasted a better future for her daughters. I'd like to think they will have more options than we had, but observing our overmediated, X-factored, pink and blue-drenched age, I am not so sure.

Having said that, I had the late night munchies last night, and ate cheese and crackers sitting on the loo while M danced round the kitchen singing 'she's a matzo girl, living in a matzo world'. There's a place for everyone, if we can only find it.


* I have remembered and forgotten what it was several times since first drafting this. Getting up early? Eccles cakes? Parkin?

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Blogger Beth said...

I read that article too. I thought it was sad that those 'anonymous mothers' appeared to be ashamed of their tomboys. In my memory, whenever a mother said "oh she's a real tomboy" it was with pretended 'whatever am I going to do with her?' exasperation and genuine pride. Maybe that's my rose coloured glasses?

11:30 am  
Blogger tomato said...

Mmmmm good post.

Here's to tomboys, and all other variations on 'not your good girl'.

"When you wear a dress everyone looks at you, and tells you how great you look, and you know, it's nobody's fucking business how I look except mine."

Ah yes. Unless you've got a stick or some other visible disability.

Now that I'm supposed to be an asexual object of pity, I've taken to semi-regular aggressively tarty dress, fully enjoying the discomfort of people who would have previously told me how much they loved my dress, but who now turn red and look away from me and my overt stick 'n' clevage combo.

I guess that still falls into the category of 'no-one's fucking business but my own'.

6:02 pm  

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