Two Very Feminine WomenSaturday, February 26, 2011
The doctor looked at me and said, “I have never had a case like this one before. I am going to have to go home and do some research.”
The case he had never had before was that of a grown man (me) with mumps. He eventually returned with the goods that revealed the almost certain possibility that any (ahem!) sperm I might generate in the future would be sterile. I was happy to know that my masculinity was really not at stake, after all my previous generation of male stuff had produced two lovely daughters. While this happened in the early 80s, I was never curious enough to want to know if indeed the doctor had been right.
Through the years I marveled at the fact that actors Charlie Chaplin and Anthony Quinn had asserted their maleness in their 80s by having offspring.
My mother used to often tell me, “You will never understand because you will never be a mother.” I always took this quite seriously. Of late I have been thinking about that in relation to what exactly it is to be a woman. Some women close to me are reaching that age where as women they will lose their ability to have children. I wonder if that makes them less a woman when they get to menopause and then are past it.
I photographed Vancouver dancer choreographer Judith Garay a few years ago and I brought up the subject of menopause. At the time I was thinking ( and remember I was born and raised to be a Roman Catholic and I even went to four years of a Catholic boarding school experience) that it would be interesting to research the idea of sex when reproduction was a physiological impossibility. As a man, while I don’t necessarily think about it (and had I never contracted the mumps) would the act be different if one knew of one’s sterility?
For a woman, let’s say one with children, would sex after menopause represent an adventure, liberation or would it represent diminishing returns?
Garay was not all that forthcoming with opinions but she did tell me that she had created a dance that represented the moment of menopause and that when she danced it in front of friends, they could not understand why she would suddenly fall. We left it there and I never pursued the subject.
I wonder if there is a difference now in the term that used to be so much in vogue when I was much younger. The term feminine, femininity – is there a connection between the word feminine and being a woman? Is being a woman independent of what a man might think himself. Surely that must be the case. But that does not prevent my wife from baby talking our cats, “Plata you are a girl, Casa you are a boy.” I see my cat Plata as slim, elegant and feminine; after all she is a female. I see Casa (18 pounds) as big, strong and manly. Yet when Casa runs he is as quick and elegant as Plata. I am sure we impose our idea of what is supposed to represent a woman and a man on our pets. We do this even when we know that male lions really do nothing and it is the female lion that attacks and kills. Would this make a female lion less feminine in our human perception of things?
I see female gay couples walking on the street and tell myself that a woman’s physical manliness (stressed with short spiky haircuts, etc) does not and should not make her less a woman. But is she less feminine? I would say yes and I would base it on what by now must be ancient and irrelevant ideas of what a woman is and should represent. But then is femininity important today?
It seems that my world of women is divided into Grace Kelly, the pinnacle of fragile femininity ( watch Green Fire) category and the Diana Mary Fluck (Diana Dors) who are pneumatically endowed but to me lack that all important quality I define as femininity.
Femininity may have lost its attraction to those of the much younger generation. I watched Miley Cyrus perform with Justin Beiber (I went with my granddaughter) last week in the documentary Never Say Never and I was repulsed by her toughness and swagger. Not my type. Triscuits with Kate Davitt would be much more appealing.