Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a fish without a bicycle

gloria steinem once said "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle". it quickly became the mantra of the new wave of feminism & the stuff of graffiti even when i was loitering in the womens' room at uni back in the late eighties. it was a cool slogan, only it didn't work in practice for me no matter how independent i was.

once i was out of my difficult teens i liked men. or at least girlie boys. who were still technically men just with less dominating physical presence who were interested in things that mattered. like me as opposed to sport or other burly pursuits. me = girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls who do boys like they're girls. simple really [thanks blur].

the trade-offs were pretty good: they wrote me songs, made art for my walls, brought fresh ideas, poetry to etch on my soul & drowned in my hungry flesh as we sought mutual release & explored the manifestations of beauty & the world around & in us together.

boys were great just as long as they weren't like my father. the scars of a life-long father daughter conflict ran deep & even now still i'm suspicious of unharnessed testosterone & wonder about the relevance of anyone beyond a textbook perfect man. they're usually my gay friends. straight men who tick multiple boxes are few & far between & ought to be savored like the precious rare specimens they truly are [hi danoxster].

two years ago, new york columnist maureen dowd drew international controversy from all camps with her book: "are men necessary?" one of the greatest arguments for men is their vital role in fatherhood. despite strong reports evidencing that single parenting is not ideal because fathers & mothers contribute differently to the process my daughter has turned out exceptionally well.

she does actually have a father & although he isn't completely absent, his involvement in her upbringing was mostly minimal after her first birthday when we parted ways. to be fair that wasn't completely due to his negligence, more my 80s indoctrinated feminist resolution. he never had a chance.

my own father was completely the opposite. enjoying the feverish adulation of my mother like some pre-lovecraft demi-god demanding human sacrifice, he ruled the roost with a twisted philosophy born of a fusion of 50s, 60s, and 70s thought.. naturally i rebelled against the iron hand which fell, burdened by his own demons & tormenting shoulder chips, on me.

my daughter was never going to grow up in the same environment. she would be free to... be. she would receive a different kind of education. i knew this before she was conceived. she still doesn't always realise that she's number one [which she is] which takes me back to paragraph two. noone's perfect. not even women.

now as i look at this ancient photo of my father & me on a no longer naked peninsula & feel a wave of emotion, i think about the man who i used to call "dad". he instilled in me a love of adventure & independence. also i have to honor that he encouraged my obsessive reading avarice from a young age & delighted in extending my range. when i was consuming five books a day he was hugely proud. my vocabulary was the talk of school reports & witty banter at the dinner table [usually in deference to my father's own & not quite so refined yet extensive version]. my pocket money & later part-time work income all went towards books or my philatelic collection.

lucky book club with its various incarnations depending on ability delivered each month or so beautiful new titles in class after ticking boxes well before. new books were heaven after reading the library dry. there were always books in my birthday presents, literature to free the mind whilst my body was imprisoned in his house until the day he kicked me out. i was sixteen, studying for scholarship & had come home late on a sunday night after going to the beach with friends, including a boy... i was never allowed in that house again. he then burnt my books. hundreds & hundreds of them.

i'm not saying all fathers fuck up. oh contrare! the world is not completely populated with king lear types stymied with communication issues. agamemnon & countless others on historical pages may have readily sacrificed their daughters rather than a son for a fair wind or to appease some vengeful god or even the neighbours because of perceived dishonour she brings to the family for not wearing the right clothes or daring to like the wrong boy.

loving engaged fathers are in high demand. as our modern lifestyle changes with more work flexibility this is increasingly becoming possible with men spending more time with their children. with that comes the opportunity to break through relationship taboos which lurk like shadows of the sub-conscious in faerie tales to capture the disturbing inadequacies men often experience once their little girls enter prepubescence & with it the chasm of separating relationship space.

this social taboo was wonderfully illustrated recently in the controversial henson case with his depiction of a naked "N"caught in that wonderful awkward time of discovery between child and womanhood. is it pornography or not? obviously not but not so obvious to some. this sparked such an enormous witchhunt that bill henson's internationally acclaimed work will forever be tainted in blood by the conservative sect who find nudity something children & adults ought to be protected from. in case some of you just can't help yourselves.
many fur a lesser known translation by the grimm brothers deals with the incest issue when a king falls for his daughter & she ultimately devises her escape. under the facade of fantasy complex human issues are often explored. in this case a violent separation in order to gain self-protection & maintain identity occurs. fact is, incest is statistically very low between a biological father and daughter. despite this there's very little positive documentation on this relationship at all.

linda nielson is a psychologist & professor of adolscent psychology & womens studies is a huge advocate of the need to supplant negative historical stereotypes & to introduce the value of healthy physical & emotional father daughter relationships.

she cites the teenage era as a particular time probably due to the misconstrued reasons discussed earlier for increased absenteeism. ironically this is the time a girl often needs her dad the most. it seems in order to break through some age-old unwritten social codes that society needs to face the elaborately composed music & appreciate that in its commitment to protect innocence, a void of miscommunication has been created. pedophile hysteria must be relegated to the realms it belongs, back in the fear-mongering dark ages especially out of the home.

i was never not going to be a feminist. it's almost like i had no choice. but like bridget jones i do have scales... and insist on fishily riding sidesaddle. on my bicycle.


  1. i didn't miss not having a father, and i wish very much i could have completely missed having a step father, but watching ruby and dan makes me wonder how (or if) i would have turned out had it been different. i can see already that ruby is going to model future relationships based on the daddy daughter dynamic. so what did i base mine on?