Howard Feldman

A thought for my daughter on Women's Day

2018-08-08 18:00

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Thirteen years ago, my daughter Abigail Rose was born. This was particularly surprising as we had been blessed with four sons and we didn't really consider the actual possibility that we could have an actual daughter.

In no time at all, our home transitioned from suspiciously wet toilet seats and decapitated action figures to confusing fruit-flavoured bath products and pink scented bouquets.

On hearing of her birth, a friend called me from the UK and said, "Congratulations! Such wonderful news. Enjoy the early years!" His daughter was 13 at the time. I had no idea what he meant and so I laughed because I thought he was joking.

I shouldn't have laughed. He wasn't joking. He was suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I was headed in the same direction, and it would take a haircut for my symptoms to finally manifest. Abby was 11, hovering dangerously on the cusp of turning 12 when she went to have her hair cut. It obviously was not her first visit to the hairdresser, but it was her first visit at such a dangerous age.

She apparently gave clear instructions not to cut much off her hair, that although curly, reached low down her back. The hairdresser apparently ignored her instructions and "hacked" it off as though she was "donating it for a cause".

For clarity's sake, I couldn't even tell she had been to have a haircut.

What followed was a level of hysteria that I had never encountered. She was beside herself. One would have reasonably believed that someone had died shockingly and violently in her presence leaving Abby all alone in the world. Either that, or she was going into anaphylactic shock.

She seemed to be gasping for breath, was having difficulty speaking and was very red and blotchy. I was frozen where I stood and could neither fight nor flight. The boys too had never witnessed such excruciating pain and for that moment ceased beating each other with broken tennis balls, just to stand in silence and watch the spectacle. My instinct was to shelter them from the horror, but I was immobilised.     

I am not proud of that.

It apparently mattered nought that the haircut was not visible to the naked eye. It didn't count for anything that I thought she looked lovely (or would look lovely when her eyes would no longer be swollen and her skin no longer blotchy).

All that mattered was apparently that she felt "violated".

Apparently, it was not a good idea to use the opportunity to explain to her what being violated really meant. Nor apparently was it a good idea to suggest that if that was "violation" then she was truly blessed.

What this event did illustrate is that no matter how "in touch" men might think that we are, no matter how forward thinking we might consider ourselves, there are aspects of femininity that we will never understand. We might appreciate the value of the big stuff; we might make sure that our daughters are given the same opportunities as our sons. We might eliminate misogynistic and stereotyping dialogue from our dinner tables. But we will never understand the tragedy that can follow a trip to Hair-Are-Us (name of hairdresser has been changed to protect the genuinely innocent).

Abby has a voice. At 13 she is powerful, intelligent and ambitious. She is no push-over. She knows that her future is her own, and that her future decisions will be based on factors other than her gender. And that is worth celebrating this Women's Day. Even if she remains one haircut away from a total breakdown.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the daily breakfast show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    women  |  women's month  |  women's day
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