Women should blow their own trumpets

We shouldn’t give a damn what other people think of us, or what we look like, or who or how we choose to love

Liberty: a woman I encountered at the airport sounded like Mae West (above) with Liffey water in her veins. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/Getty Images

Liberty: a woman I encountered at the airport sounded like Mae West (above) with Liffey water in her veins. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/Getty Images

Fri, Mar 7, 2014, 01:00

In the crowded terminal, passengers shuffled along in plastic flip-flops, poked their sunburnt noses into bulging canvas shoulder bags, rummaged around for boiled sweets and sweatshirts and glossy magazines full of photographs of needle-thin models resembling blushing corpses.

A strikingly impressive woman stood alone, patiently waiting for the gate to open. She was no spring chicken, as my granny would have said.

The queue moved. I found myself standing next to her. Freckles swam on the wide golden pond of her body,
buttered her strong bare arms, her substantial décolletage. She wore a pantsuit, which I believe are all the rage again after a few decades in mothballs.

The suit was black, belted with a gold band, and had a low-cut V to the front and back. Between her shoulder blades the freckled woman had a faded tattoo of a geisha, demure, alluring, gazing out impassively at all that was left behind.

The woman’s nails were shocking pink, her eyelids powder-blue, her hair platinum-blond, worn bunched and cascading from the top of her head.

Yellow tendrils fell down her neck, kiss curls like the ones that used to be so popular back in the days when the girl in the Flake ad freewheeled into a duck pond in her straw hat, wild and free and kooky, twists of hair like asps kissing her bony shoulders.


Powerful, unabashed
As the long queue for our flight unwound, I saw the discreet clips that held the tattooed woman’s great yellow mane to her soft, pink, sunburnt crown. I felt intrusive, like a trespasser peeping behind the curtain before the show.

We embarked; there was confusion over the seats. “Do you want to sit with a friend?” the woman was asked. “I’m travelling alone,” she replied. “I don’t have a friend.” She sounded like Mae West with Liffey water in her veins.

Someone with or without a pistol in their pocket must have been dead pleased to see her when we landed. She was powerful, unabashed.

Throughout this week, leading up to International Women’s Day tomorrow, there have been renewed attempts to address the question “what do women want?” That there are no simple answers goes without saying – the possibilities, after all, are limitless.

It’s probably fair to say that most of us want equality and respect and love and passion, and work and education, and to have a couple of bob in our pockets at the end of the week, and for ourselves and our children to be allowed to live in peace, with dignity and opportunity – and, Christ knows, fulfilling all those aspirations is a battle that is far from won.

But there are also women out there whose raison d’être is to dress their cats in acrylic boleros, women who spray-tan their toddlers and parade them around in tiaras and plastic slingbacks, women who blanch at the sight of their own pubic hair, women who live lives of quite desperation behind the venetian blinds, paralysed by what the neighbours might think.


What women want
I was packing my bag to go home after visiting a friend of 30 years’ standing, a woman who lives halfway up a volcano. She is now in her 50s, strong, healthy, a mother, a grafter, someone who, like many women of my generation, has dodged the odd grenade. “What do women want?” I asked her. “What do you want?”

“A bullet bra and a frangipani tree,” she answered.

“That won’t cut it,” I said. “That sounds shallow and unhelpful. What about enlightenment or something?”

“The thing is,” she replied, pegging her polka-dot bikini to the washing line, “I don’t give a toss what that sounds like. After all these years, I finally no longer worry what other people think of me.”

I walked through arrivals, past the photographic portraits of the smiling Irish who welcome the traveller to our shores, who greet the curious and dispossessed. Walking past the faces of the chosen men and women, the writers and actors, the poets and politicos, I wondered: were we to inhabit some nirvana, where equality and respect were a given, what would we want? All of us, women and men, straight, gay, bi, transgender, and every other imaginable permutation: what gift would we grant ourselves?

I think it might be useful to take a tip from the majestic woman in the departure lounge with the platinum curls and the inky geisha on her back, and my friend in polka dots. We shouldn’t give a damn what other people think of us, or what we look like, or who or how we choose to love.

As my dusty old granny might have said, we should blow our own trumpet, paddle our own canoe.

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