Tuesday, 20 May 2014

In the eye of the beholder

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Another sunny day, another date with Stay-at-home Dad. This time we take his canoe out onto the river with a bottle of Rioja and a bag of Kettle chips (his idea of a picnic). The kids are with my mother and I rejoice at my new sense of freedom.  There's nothing like a bit of romance to make you feel young and carefree again.

Once we've battled the river current, half-soaking ourselves in the process, we end up at a sandy cove on the edge of a sheep field. Stay-at-home Dad tethers us up (sorry, I mean the boat) to a tree, while I sit back and admire the muscles bobbling under his wet t-shirt. Then, while he busies himself with setting up the 'picnic', I carefully arrange my legs in a flattering v-bend. 
Discussing the objectification of female beauty on the Thames
Full disclosure down by the river

Eek! I suddenly notice a bristly patch of hair just below my left knee that got missed by the shaver. Instinctively I cover it up with my right hand, but it's too far down my leg and I am in danger of performing yoga (seated twist) in a canoe. So in the end, I go for full disclosure.

He laughs and says women should be allowed to grow their leg hair if they want to. It turns out he has just had an argument with his ex-wife about the objectification of female beauty. Without consultation, she had waxed their daughter's legs, ahead of a ballet exam. He was outraged and accused her of inflicting pain on their child for the sake of a cultural hegemony. It was akin to female circumcision apparently. Crikey! The last spat I had with Errant Ex-husband was over his reluctance to wash the children's underwear.

A few days later, I throw open this discussion on the objectification of women to the committee (gang of school mums in Cafe Nero). All of us have daughters approaching puberty. Should we encourage them to wax or shave? Or, in the spirit of Naomi Wolf, should we teach them to love their bodies in their natural form?

The debate is fierce, but we conclude (eventually) that we could only persuade our girls to go au naturel if we, their mothers, were prepared to do the same. None of us are  keen (except for one, but she's Finnish and blonde so that doesn't count). We also rule that hair removal does not cause irreparable psychological damage and therefore cannot be put in the same bracket as female circumcision. Our consciences are clear.

These cultural mores surrounding femininity are so deeply entrenched, it's hard to know if a woman's need to be attractive is hard-wired or rooted in societal pressures. In The Beauty Myth, Wolf argues that women should have "the choice to do whatever we want with our faces and bodies without being punished by an ideology..." I resolve, when the time comes, to encourage Quiet One to take an informed decision on body hair and all things cosmetic. "Good luck with that," says my mother on her way to her weekly hairdressing appointment.

After school drop-off, I call up Stay-at-home Dad on Skype. His hair is wet from the shower and he is half naked with a towel wrapped around his middle. I ask whether he has just been to the gym. He nods, looking bemused. "Good," I say, eyeing up his pixellated torso. "Keep it up."


Hermaphrodite Mum is a fictional creation of Emma Clark Lam