Men are God’s gift to women, or so many of them believe. Logically, women are God’s gift to men. In the animal kingdom (including birds!) it is the males who are bigger, brighter-colored, who strut and fight and in general let the world know that they wish to attract the attention of the female of the species. The said females are usually much more modest in color and behavior. They don’t need to be or do anything else because they already are good enough. Look at a strutting peacock for instance with his huge fan-like multicolored tail, and the brownish-grey peahen who calmly strolls around. She does not need a tail to attract anybody’s attention. And she springs into action only after producing her young, that’s when she aggressively shoes away even her male partner if he tries to approach the offspring.

In the human world things are vastly different. Women pay a lot of attention to their appearance. They keep fretting about their hair and clothes, their wrinkles and bodies. They try to follow the Hollywood stars’ example by starving themselves while trying to look like teenagers. Well, as Kathleen Turner put it some twenty years ago when asked about her fuller figure, “After the age of forty, you have to think hard. If your butt looks great your face may look gaunt. If your face looks fine your butt may look a bit bigger”. Yep, this totally American fascination with a woman’s butt was not born yesterday, it’s been here a while. So the female of the human species is expected to look perpetually young even when she is over fifty and has not only a family but also a good long career to her credit. This is relatively recent. When watching some movie made in the 19990’s we noticed that for instance a mother was allowed to look like, well, a mother, and a grandmother was definitely grandmotherly. Their faces did not resemble those of shiny plastic inhuman dolls.

Lots of professional women actually look fine at any age. We watch our diets and our regime, we pay attention to fashion and comfort. Those of us who are working mothers have decades of continuous physical exercises behind us. Ever tried running after a toddler at a playground? It beats any regular gym session! In the academic world, dress code is often quite informal, and that is probably a factor which adds to our youthful appearance. This in turn carries some advantages and some disadvantages with it. Jeans, a T-shirt and a hoodie make us appear “young”. The purposeful stride, the constant rush between home and work also add to the image we project.

“Yo, girl, want to have a drink with us?” I turned around and saw a group of young men leering at me, waving beer bottles invitingly. I was appalled. “Sons, are you addressing ME like this?” I asked. They smirked. “Sure, you look fine, and we don’t mind a more mature experienced woman joining us!” Shoot. Frankly, none of them was even remotely handsome, nor did they look like people who’d shower daily. Yet they were very sure of themselves. Once I went on my way I heard them accost some other woman, so I stopped and waited for her to catch up with me. We didn’t say anything, just walked quickly away. It happens regularly to any woman anywhere. When I was really young I used to think naively, “When I am very mature, like forty, this will stop”. Forty became fifty, and then I stopped thinking about it. I just try to stay alert in the evenings – and teach all the young women I know to follow suit.

Men obviously believe that they may look like nothing on earth, or like something the cat dragged in. God’s gift to women, all of them, fat and ugly and young and old. True, not every man is like that. Most men are normal. It is only the relatively small numbers who create the wrong image, who leave a bad after-taste. It is enough to encounter one group of teen boys who would see a woman walking alone and start loudly talking using lots of four-letter-words. They don’t talk about us; they just wish to show how tough they are.

Not being a pessimist, I believe that this attitude can be changed. It won’t change today or tomorrow. I don’t expect to see the time when any girl or woman may be safe in the street at all times of day or night. But I can dream. For now, as J.K. Rowling formulated it, “Constant vigilance!” It goes for women everywhere.



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