It has been a busy month at The Old Doom Bar – that is, in the world beyond it. There has been The Royal Cornwall Show, a big local wedding, the arrival of early and child free summer visitors and of course the Referendum.
We long ago stopped discussing the pros and cons. ‘Remainers’ express the hope that our farmers and fishermen will do better, Brexiteers are optimistic things will improve but are by no means triumphalist. Of greater interest are the various political goings on and especially the Tory leadership elections. There seems to be a general preference for Mrs May. Whatever else, she exhibits a pragmatic grittiness that plays well to the sense of defiance (if tinged with resigned regret) we all share about having made an irrevocable decision in the face of foreign threats and intransigence.
Of much greater stimulus was the Wimbledon saga of smut and sexism. Nike’s ‘nightie’ and BBC commentator Andrew Castle’s remarks on heroic British ingénue’s wife’s appearance promoted lively discussion.
Many of us could remember the days when the main attraction of women’s tennis – for men at least – was the glimpse of a shapely bum in frilly knickers. No 70s flat was complete without the Athena poster which featured a young woman in a tennis skirt and no knickers at all. But we had to agree that the Nike frock asked too much of female athletes in tolerating an unnecessary and rather vulgar level of exposure. For those of us who did not read the popular press someone had an I-phone and so could show us on the Daily Mail website. We wondered how Nike could have made such a mistake.
Greater debate was had over Mr Castle’s comment that player Marcus Willis’s dentist wife made him wish that his (Castle’s) dentist looked like her. Barbara Ellen (Observer 3 July) took almost her whole column to castigate what she described as ‘casual sexism’.
Some people (of both genders) thought the remark not so very offensive – indeed, a bit of a compliment. Most women though felt it was a personal intrusion on a private person in a public space. A few men agreed and added that it was a bloody cheek for some stranger to make comments about another bloke’s wife’s appearance. Somehow this argument alienated a few of the females present who felt it demeaned their autonomy and suggested a retrograde attitude. However, one of the women pointed out that as the person in question had been some sort of pageant queen she was used to public exhibition and indeed had exploited her appearance – that this must have been known to the commentator legitimised his remark.
The dispute over this suggestion and the whole matter of privacy and the male gaze led to another Observer piece on the same date but by Eva Wiseman in the magazine. In this the columnist noted a survey by a soap manufacturer about female body self-image. Its key finding was that only 20% of British women feel confident about their body image and this was the lowest score in a poll of 13 countries.
This was a tough issue to raise in mixed company. That it was brought up by a local GP Practice Nurse with a thing about weight and type 2 diabetes made it uncomfortable and we agreed later – bad manners. Few of us in the group had anything like perfect figures and as ordinary men and women we made clear distinctions between the forms and shapes of youthful athletes as ideals and the way we regarded ourselves and the persons with whom we shared our lives. We did not wish to share our private thoughts and understandings other than to laughingly acknowledge that we could lose a few pounds and engage in a bit of marital and friendly banter.
But it was one of our farmers who closed the issue off. ‘We’em not all competing for a prize at the Cornwall Show’ he growled. ‘ If you’m choosing someone to marry and have kids with they’ll be handsome enough.’ We felt the same about Theresa May. In the current political cattle market she was handsome enough.