Wimmin’ by Judy Sharpe

news: Wimmin’ by Judy Sharpe

In those heady days of the ‘80s – or perhaps it was the ‘70s, I really can’t remember any more – The Guardian newspaper, bastion of everything left-wing, had a column dedicated to ‘wimmin’. These were emancipated women, sisters who were doing it together and for themselves, who lived by Superwoman Shirley Conran’s dictat that ‘life is far too short to stuff a mushroom’. There were bras to burn, careers to conquer and men to emasculate along the way. Although there were extremists – as there are in every aspect of life – I think the underlying principles of fighting for equality were sound. Why shouldn’t a woman be paid the same as a man for doing the same job? Why should certain career paths be blocked to women? Why shouldn’t women be allowed to control their lives and their bodies?

Reading newspapers recently reminded me of those days – a quarter of a century ago now – and made me wonder if things really have progressed at all. The Catholic Church is in a quandry, yet again, about the status of women. For the Pope, who is one of the most influential leaders in the world today, and his devout Cardinals all locked within the walls of the Vatican City, women have a place in the home and they had better not step outside it. Women can keep house and raise children – lots of them if they and their partners are particularly fertile – and they can work, if it does not interfere with their housekeeping duties. They are not supposed to do anything to stop the baby production line, even if it brings in its wake economic pressures and emotional stress.

But they certainly don’t have a place in the heirarchy of the Church. A mere woman, celebrating mass? Pass the incense, quick! A letter published recently by Cardinal Ratzinger made the situation perfectly clear. Its catchy little title, Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the collaboration of man and woman in the church and in the world sets the tone. You can read it for yourself on www.vatican.va/latest/latest_po.htm, but in a nutshell – we women are still meant to be the homemakers and child rearers and nothing more.

This leads on to the news that the Dutch association Women on Waves is drawing attention to Portugal’s current policy of not legalising abortion – by bringing a boat to Portugal to offer abortions. The Portuguese authorities are on full alert at time of writing to find ways of preventing the boat entering national waters. But, in a way, they have succeeded already: I am giving the issue a few lines of space and several other national papers have dedicated pages and features.

I read somewhere that the new government has in mind to reverse the current law and allow legal abortions. My own personal view, based on those experiences in the UK during the ‘70s and ‘80s, is that legalising abortion brings it away from the dirty, dangerous back street rooms and into modern, hygienic clinics. Yes, there will be a few women who use abortion as a form of contraception, but, for the vast majority, it will be a one-off, a lifeline, a means of avoiding bringing an unwanted child into the world. Certainly, back then in the UK, the clinics were rigorous in their counselling and their lecturing and I would imagine it would be the same here, with women receiving advice and help from qualified, experienced nurses and counsellors. Here in Portugal, more than it ever did in the UK, the issue of abortion brings politics and religion head to head, and it is a difficult situation.

Having covered two of the three taboo subjects, let’s move on to the third – sex. Fashion and I meet infrequently. We are uncomfortable bedfellows. Occasionally, by chance, we collide, but overall I manage to avoid being told what colours or shapes I have to wear. But now, it seems, I am back in fashion without even trying! It would appear that men, fed up with stick insect type women, are ‘feeding up’ their wives and girlfriends in an effort to make them fatter and, therefore, sexier.

In America, the land of the wild and the free, there are, of course, clubs to cater for just about every taste you can imagine, and men or women who seek large partners only have to go to the appropriate place to fulfil their dreams and desires. Here it is more difficult. It is a smaller country and people are not so open about what they like. But it seems that men are revolting – if you see what I mean! They are no longer prepared to have sex with a skeleton covered with designer names. What they want is a bit of padding, something to get hold of. Could this mark the return of a Rubenesque era, I wonder? Will waifs vanish from the catwalks to be replaced by real women? Will big women rule once again?

The only downside to this otherwise positive move is that, as always, women are being manipulated by men. “We don’t like you thin, we want you fat” is just as dictatorial as anything else. I sometimes wonder if things have really moved on at all from those heady days back then? Now, please excuse me while I go and stuff a mushroom!