It’s Venus-hot on this average weekday in suburbia. You’re frying. Everything about you seems more hefty, more pallid, more sweaty than usual and you can’t get away with, “I’ve just had a baby” anymore. (At least I smell nice. Suncream.)
There you walk on puffed-up feet against the tide on a narrow bit of the high street, where heaving cafe tables dominate the footpath. Look at all these carefree, childless people having lunch. That woman’s tuna baguette looks good. You could murder a latte. Remember what eating out used to be like? Don’t think about that now. Your stained, knackered Phil n Ted ploughs a wonky line against a stream of people to whom you are nothing but the pusher of a pushchair. You attempt the odd smile, mutter apologies just for being there but the heat and the time of day and pure bad luck conspire against you because to this particular stream of busy people you’re nothing more than an obstacle. Worse! You’re stealing away precious seconds of their life. Look where you’re going, for god’s sake! These good people are forced to dodge around you by virtue of that excess luggage currently snoozing under the bright red hood. (His name is Jonah.)
Forget them. For once, Jonah is fast asleep – or it could be heat exhaustion, but whatever, his eyes are closed and for once he isn’t demanding something from you. Take advantage. Isn’t this the perfect moment for a shopping spree? If you’re quick you'll be able to nip into this shop on your left – there’s a sale! – and try on a couple of things before he wakes up. Come on, you could do with brightening yourself up a bit. Don’t look down but you happen to be wearing a particularly saggy pair of exercise pants today. When was the last time you actually exercised in them? Don’t think about that now. This isn’t the time or place. You are who you are. Hurry in here!
This dusky pink dress is calling to you, is it? Lovely shape but, listen – not that it’s any of my business – isn’t it a bit too girlish? Too... little? Too... pink? Don’t mind me, it’s a gorgeous summer’s day and you only had yoghurt for breakfast. You’re practically a waif! Albeit in a size 14. Park the sleeping darling outside the changing room, pull the curtain across and get your kit off – quick, before you change your mind and pick up yet another billowing black shirt that would be put to better use as a parachute silk. You’ve got a whole wardrobe of those but no baby-doll dusky pink dresses.
Hurry, he could wake at any moment. Over your head it goes, arms through – ooh, it’s a bit tricky getting it over your...no, it’s fine, you’ve taken the Medium. You’re not trying to fool anyone. Smooth it down then, turn round and look in the mirror. Ta-dar!
Oh. Oh dear.
There’s something not quite right with this, can you see? I don’t mean to be rude but you look like someone who was admitted to a high security unit as a young girl, immediately after a tea party, who has remained in the same dress despite being fully grown now. Don’t get upset, it’s nobody’s fault. I agree, it looked great on the hanger. Come on, it’s no use checking if the profile is any better – I’d get it off as soon as possible if I were you.
Well? What are you doing? From here it looks like a Maori haka. You got the dress on easily enough – what’s all this struggling and flailing about the place for? GET IT OFF, WOMAN! You’re hot, you say – yes it is hot in here but this panicked tribal dance isn’t going to change that. The sleeping one could wake up at any moment and you’ve got this dress clamping you at the shoulders while your cookie-dough tummy and unshaven legs thrash about below! For god’s sake try another way!
Oh my... you’re really stuck! I thought you were joking but look at you writhing about, cursing your swimmers’ shoulders and that wide back that comes in handy when you've got fifteen bags of shopping and a baby swinging off those ample hips but isn’t quite so handy when you're STUCK IN A DRESS! I’ve never been more ashamed of you. If I could leave you here, I WOULD!
What are you going to do? You’ll have to call for the girl outside, that young one who’s modelling this exact dress only in grey and a size 6. Have mercy! You’ll have to poke your sweaty head out through the curtain and beckon her over to say “Sorry, I seem to be slightly. . . could you help me?” and then you'll have to bend right over while she yanks the thing off you. THIS IS A NIGHTMARE!
One last try. Come on. Breathe in – one, two, three . . . POP! Oh, the sweet relief! You’re free!
Put it back on the hanger and let’s get out of here.
Honestly, I can't take you anywhere.
(Oh, look! Jonah’s awake.)
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem