(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir. Nevertheless, everything posted here is copyright and must not be reproduced without written permission from the author (usually me).

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Learning Womanhood

More answers to questions raised by Brooke Medicine Eagle. (See also the earlier post, Girlhood as a Social Construct.)

Womanhood. ---- Look at your models for the qualities of the feminine eg.

Nurturing – renewing life – receptivity – harmony – creativity –
gentle strength – spiritual powers --- any other.

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• Name the women in your life who best reflect these qualities.

My first great role model, and indeed my first great love, was my Nana, my Mum's mother. She was a warm, soft lap to sit in, a safe, generous bosom to rest my head against, a sweet voice singing. She told me that gentle Jesus loved me, and I believed it without question because she was so sure. She herself exuded love. I was the first grandchild – though I have to say she adored the later ones just as much. Somehow, without promoting competitiveness, she made each of us feel extra special. She loved animals too, and had several dogs that used to follow her around. Luckily she lived in the country, with plenty of room for them, and for cats as well, which the dogs didn't chase. And she loved plants; she made beautiful gardens. She died when I was four, but by then she had left an indelible impression and many memories which are still vivid 73 years later.

Also there were the stories about her, which I heard at family gatherings when I was growing up. How strangers would spontaneously tell her their whole life stories – like the day she went to answer a knock at the door and came back half an hour later, saying, 'That was the milkman. Oh, the poor man, he's had such trouble with his family! His wife's very ill....' etc. She had been a nurse, back in India where the family came from. She must have been a very good one.

Everyone loved her. Although she was Anglo-Indian with exotic dark colouring, she had never been a beauty by either Indian or British standards, even in her youth, and by the time I knew her she was old and fat. I saw her as beautiful, though, when I watched her brush out her long hair before bed and then wind it up again. Like a fairy queen, I thought.

She was attractive to men all the same, and had several lovers before she finally married. My Mum said that when she (Mum) was a young woman, her boyfriends would sooner talk to her mother than to her. Perhaps it was that ready ear and sympathetic nature. My Dad, who loved Nana dearly, remarked that she also had an exceptionally beautiful voice – meaning not a singing voice but her speaking voice.

My Mum, by contrast, was not very huggy or cuddly. It wasn't entirely her fault. She was told by a male doctor not to pick me up every time I cried, and to feed me strictly by the clock. She told me, many years later, that as I cried with hunger she used to cry herself, waiting until the permitted time.

We didn't bond. Although there was love, we were never close or demonstrative.

My next warm, nurturing mother figure was my Aunty Ev, who I went to live with as a university student, after finally getting away from a vicious, insane stepmother who gave me two years of hell.

Aunty Ev was kind, warm, affectionate, and did plenty of hugging. She was also very practical. She was the one who taught me the best way to poach eggs, and how to use lemon juice and salt to clean a copper kettle.

• Name any men, animals, or natural forces that have shown these qualities to you in your life.

My Dad was a nurturing father when I was little, though he disappointed me later. He was great for playing games, carving me wooden toys, and reading me stories. He was the one who would sit up with me if I had nightmares.

He made me a swing which hung from the bottom branch of a huge willow tree. In Spring and Summer I loved sitting on my swing surrounded by willow fronds, in my own green cave. I spent many hours there, swinging, gazing at the sky, dreaming.... That tree was like a nurturing presence for me, a safe haven.

When I got older there was another tree, a black wattle with a wonderful nook in the lower branches where I could sit comfortably against the trunk and read my book. (There was always a book.) I felt nurtured and guarded by that tree, too.

Living in Launceston, I was surrounded by mountains. They seemed to me like beautiful guardians. The mountains here feel the same way. So did the Andes when I was in Peru, and so did the craggy mountains in Scotland.

Tasmania itself, a beautiful island where I grew up delighting in the natural world, was itself like a mother to me, embracing me and sustaining me. I don't feel nurtured in cities, despite the joys of theatres and art galleries.

My Grandpa – my Mum's stepfather and the only father she knew – used to take me for long walks from an early age, pointing out all the beauties of nature.

As long as I lived, he gave me wonderful, classic books every birthday and Xmas: Dumas and Dickens, all the Brontes.... He wrote me letters, advised me on what clothes suited me (and got it right) and when he died when I was 9 he left me his typewriter in his will because he knew I would be a writer. That was very special nurturing, not just a of a grandchild but of ME, my individual self.

Neither Grandpa nor Dad was a man's man. They were bookish rather than sporty. (Also Dad had a crippled leg from the age of 10 so he didn't have much choice.) It meant that they showed me what gentle men could be like.

Also they both had a firm belief in the equality of women, even though they were blind to their own social conditioning which went against it in some ways – so I learned from them that womanhood was a matter of gender, not behaviour, and didn't have to be the subject of rules.

• When did the responsibilities of womanhood become obvious to you?

Perhaps not until I had my first child. Before that, I saw what responsibilities women usually took on, and I didn't particularly want them. Also I didn't see why they MUST be done by women. Nor did I see why men couldn't cook and clean. Well, I was raised in a feminist family, where dinner-table conversation included remarks such as that men make wonderful chefs. Nevertheless, most people in that family adopted traditional roles.

When my first child was born, his father and I automatically stopped having the 'equal relationship' we'd been so proud of up until then. It was just more practical for me to stay at home and do most of the child-rearing and domestic stuff, while he went out hunting for food ... er, earning a living. And I wanted to be with my baby anyway.

I don't know that I thought it was necessarily a woman's role, though. I probably would have said that a man could do it as well, if necessary. Not breast-feeding of course – but then, I was unable to do that anyway.

I just felt it was a human responsibility to look after the young, or anyone in need.

• What have been the special joys of this period of your life?

I was never much good at domesticity but I did enjoy my children. Unlike most mothers, who complained about school holidays, I loved having my boys home and spending time with them, at any age.

I took the role with them that my Dad had with me, playing games with them, reading to them, taking them sightseeing, having great conversations. Their father did some of that too, but often worked long hours with early starts, so he wasn't as available.

I also enjoyed my creative life, with my various arts and crafts – but that's been lifelong, not specific to one period.

Sex was a particular joy during this period, too. It still was as I got older, but nothing beats all that wonderful rush of falling in love, and then exploring what bodies can do, which is so intense and exciting in those decades of youth through middle age. I was only in my fifties when I married Andrew, so I'm counting him in here too. Over the course of my adult life I've had three husbands and several lovers, and also some unconsummated but deeply emotional romances. I'm lucky enough to have been rich in love, and to have experienced, I think, every kind of love possible between women and men. I have no need to feel I've missed out on anything.

I belong to an online group which writes erotic haiku. When people assume I'm writing from present experience, I tell them my tools are memory and imagination.

• Take special note of where and how you are learning the qualities of womanhood from your experiences now.

I am learning from my women friends – my Goddess sisters in particular. We have so many varieties and shades and expressions of womanhood amongst us, it's easy to see that beauty is richly diverse and that love can be demonstrated in many ways.

• Thank your teachers.

Thank you all.

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