Career for a collapsing woman
When I was a growing girl, a fifteen-year-old with sleepy eyes and squint legs, my mother would occasionally throw me this comfort, “Well, at least you are not black!” I wondered….what would she have said if I had piped up, “Well, Mum, I have a new girlfriend….Meet Amanda…” Not just female and disabled, but from an ethnic minority and a lesbian: that would have been a challenge!
Actually, being female and disabled was quite enough of a challenge, as it turned out. For one thing, my choice of careers has been entirely restricted, not just by my intellectual bent – I can’t understand algebra, I’m squeamish at the dissection table and have no memory for chemistry or physics – but by my physical bents as well: not being able to stand up straight, balance, or carry trays actually cuts down my choices considerably.
From a deep desire to be taken seriously, I opted to study law at Aberdeen University and remember thinking, as all starry-eyed first-year students do, that now – at last – I might do something worthwhile. In those first weeks and months, as our tutors commended our intelligence in starting studies for our grand vocation, gradually the blinkers came off. It was a long, painful journey towards the realisation that while academics were gently introducing us to grand theories, the money making went on, the men were vastly superior, and opinionated women were only tolerated up to a point. Sexism in the 1990’s was still alive and kicking, but because lawyers generally had it quite good, the women were allowed on board the ship, so long as they worked hard and looked pretty.
When I came along, no-one knew what to do with me: I was not pretty in the conventional sense, but rather – get this – “strangely beautiful” according to my opinionated older sister. Oh, God, no! What I would have given – my right arm, my last Rolo – just to be an ordinary piece of okay-ish totty. It was more a case of, watch out for me tottering, and if I happen to fall in your lap, I hope you won’t be too offended. I was always extremely careful to fall as gracefully as possible, and in the split second after I tripped and before I fell, I would arrange my features in a smile, and hope that they would agree, landing in a lap was infinitely more elegant than collapsing on the floor. Other legal eagles don’t have to worry about such trivia.
I wear sensible shoes with no heel and I am grateful that I can still walk. I have grown into the habit of wearing sensible clothes too, as the short-backed, busty and bright polyester-cotton blouses which hang in the women’s section of the clothing stores look like a painful mistake, draped over my muscly shoulders – all that heaving myself around in infancy – and across my flat, boyish chest. I experimented once, wearing a “feminine” blouse in a shade of yellow that my boss spent the day sniggering at, pointedly calling me “daffodil”. That was the end of my dalliance with femininity. His mockery wounded me. Checking in the mirror later that evening, I had to agree that the high collar, the blown out sleeves and the flared waist did look very like my favourite flower. What a shame that, since he disliked it
so much, I hadn’t the courage to unbutton it slowly, remove it and ask, “So, what would you like me to do with this?” That would have gone down well, if I had happened to land in his lap.