Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Women behaving badly

Warning, one of my favourite poems by Jenny Joseph, begins:

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.”

The predicted behaviour goes steadily downhill from here, but that is why I love it.  Who doesn’t find the idea of an old lady spitting in the street or stealing flowers from other people’s gardens amusing?

Admittedly, I don’t know many old ladies who behave like this, although my great-grandmother once consumed two thirds of a bunch of grapes for a solid twenty minutes before machine gunning the seeds around the living room of her residential home, much to the shock of the Matron and other residents (and to the stifled giggles of my eleven-year-old self).  But she was not well at the time and seedless grapes were scarce. 

Most old ladies I know are gentle, loving and respectful.  It’s lamentable, but they are largely fearful of today’s youth, not at pains to emulate the notorious members of the younger ASBO generation.

Having said that, there are a few women shaping up to become senior citizens of that ilk.  Denise Welch for one.  Her unapologetic flashing tendencies in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother show no sign of abating and she is coming under fire, interestingly not solely for the flesh baring, but for daring to do so at the age of 53!

So, is there a cut off point for risqué behaviour and does it only apply to women?  The mantra for women of a certain age seems to be less, less, less, not more, more, more.  Less make up, less jewellery, less wine, less cake, less….fun!  There’s nothing new in saying that our behaviour seems to come under greater scrutiny than our male counterparts.  As I’m writing, I can think of a number of fashion rules, which only serve to curtail women’s freedom of expression.  I know for a fact that women are expected to forego mini skirts after the age of 35, but I couldn’t tell you who made that rule.  Isn’t that strange?   There are others.  Only the other day, I was watching the new M.I.A. video for “Bad Girlz” and coveting her mint coloured leopard print skinny jeans, all the time reprimanding myself for thinking I could wear those at my age!  For the record, I am not yet 40.

I know, I know, we all like to look and feel good.  But we are also expected to modify our behaviour and maybe even stop doing the things we enjoy at a certain point in our lives.  I could take a feminist stance and argue that there are and always have been many men out there actively behaving badly and being revered for it – Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Colin Farrell and Russell Brand to name but a few.  However, it strikes me that there is a key to behaving badly and getting away with it. 

Provided the perpetrator has intelligence, creativity, a sense of humour, an appreciation of irony and a rapier wit, they can pretty much do anything and still command respect.  Not fair perhaps, but true all the same.  Problems start to arise when an established pattern of behaviour quickly becomes a permanent fixture, with nothing else on the table so to speak.  Boob flashing, if you’re so inclined, is all well and good, but there are only so many times viewers, or anyone for that matter, will be shocked by this or moved to react. 

Dorothy Parker, notorious writer, poet and critic, is a good example of a woman we allowed to behave badly.  Her private life was complicated at best and certainly blighted by alcohol addiction.  Yet, when you realise that she was responsible for the infamous line: “One more drink and I’d have been under the host!” all is forgiven.  Likewise, notorious bad girl Tallulah Bankhead, acknowledging her own chequered history, stated defiantly:  “If I had my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner!”

Some would say that Madonna has done more than her fair share of flesh exposure in her time.  However, she has also covered up, written books, stage-managed and controlled her entire career and most recently directed a film.  Only last weekend, she has triumphed with a spectacular and athletic half time performance at the Superbowl.  Incidentally, she teamed up with the aforementioned M.I.A. for a live rendition of their musical collaboration “Gimme All your Luvin’.” However, this has not prevented Madonna’s detractors from questioning whether, at the same age as Denise Welch, she should be on stage performing at all! 

But fear not, bad girls.  Madonna is shrewd.  She has followed one of the golden rules of senior and guilt free bad behaviour.  She surrounds herself with people younger than herself, thereby keeping her finger firmly on the pulse whilst providing her fellow artists and collaborators with a platform for unrestricted expression.  One of the headline-grabbing stories resulting from Madonna’s Superbowl appearance was the “obscene” gesture courtesy, not of Madonna, but her younger protagonist, M.I.A.  No longer at the eye of the storm in press terms, Madonna is now merely guilty by association.

Madonna has worked hard to achieve longevity, which in turn has earned her the right to explain away any bad behaviour as “art.”  Poor Denise just likes, in her own words, “..getting them out for the lads.”

So there has to be another talent in evidence and preferably some younger, equally talented and naughty friends to help take the heat off.  Provided you have other strings to your bow, you have full permission to start wearing purple, flash and spit to your heart’s content.  Go on ladies, knock yourself out!

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