Saturday, July 04, 2009

Making a clean breast of it

TO BE born female in this country is to develop a long-term relationship with your holes.

The first holes are sometimes given when a girl has just been born.

The so-called female version of circumcision entails putting a kind of gun against an unsuspecting babe’s head and shooting a stud through each of the pearly pink lobes of the stunned infant.

Doting relatives coo endlessly over christening photos of infants. I’m told that birthstone-studded ears beat a frothy head band in clarifying to one’s large family the exact gender of the youngest addition, specially if she was born with a hairless golf ball of a head.

When a girl is old enough to have a fatal attraction for mini-skirts and the whiplash reactions these extract from male heads, she gets the whole package dumped on her—lectures, sermons and prayers of last resort—about the Hole Down Under.

If she’s smart and observant, a girl will know the chief distinction between her, so far, three holes: the first pair is punctured as soon as possible; the second, only, legally and ideally, after matrimony.

If she finds herself in rebellion with The Rule on the Third, she might discover independence spewing from the fourth hole: her mouth.

In the long, winding interregnum between maidenhood and the final hole in the ground, a woman may be forgiven if she loses sight of her other holes.

After all, in the usual course of life, a woman often has too many things to do to spend a minute just ruminating on the Hole Thing.

If a woman chooses to have a baby, the hole down under becomes from a dark mysterious taboo into a mysterious passage of light, out of which another life will enter into this one.

The complete dependence of another life on her life makes a woman not just see things differently but move entirely apart. If she once covered her breasts chastely or left them half-bared strategically, the nursing mother now regards her twin cones as automatically activated by one hole: the sucking, rooting mouth of her young, imperiously demanding to be fed.

“Teats” is not a politically “in” word. It’s not even a word pornographers use in association with a human.

Yet “teats”—and the imagery of gushing abundance— will cross a woman’s mind when, despite all the oceans of clam soup she has swallowed, her breasts fail to yield even a drop of reddish-stained thin milk for a furious, yelling infant.

During the rooming-in, while the mother is trying to nurse her baby, watched and commented upon and compared by a room full of midwives, nurses and relatives—all female, all wise, all experienced in summoning the flow and squirting milk into generations of gurgling, ecstatic babies—a woman might first experience her first bottomless regret: that instead of puny breasts defined by fashion trends and cup sizes, she had cow udders, dripping with the mysterious miraculous stream that shields her young from nearly everything, from infections to mental retardation.

But as with the others, these holes are programmed for obsolescence. When the children move out and the nest grows cold, these holes are as good as plugged.

Except that she, after spending almost an entire lifetime with holes, finds that the female state of grace is to remain eternally unplugged. 09173226131

* First published in the July 5, 2009 issue of Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column

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