"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book

Subscribe

Breastfeeding beats chestfeeding. By Mary Kenny

Blog | By Mary Kenny | Apr 14, 2023


I sat across the table from the late April Ashley at a pre-pandemic Oldie lunch and thought her amazing.

She was a beautiful old lady – she died in 2021 – as she once had been a beautiful young man. She made history as one of the first openly transgender people and she had to struggle against prejudice and mockery to affirm her right to be respected for who she was.

But there’s a difference between accepting and respecting an individual person who has gender dysphoria and rushing headlong into a rigid ideology of transgenderism – in which official organisations and powerful corporations have taken to alluding to women as ‘pregnant people’ and ‘people who menstruate’.

It has been proclaimed that breastfeeding, known to all female mammals, should now be called ‘chestfeeding’ – so as not to offend transgender parents with chests rather than breasts.

Let’s not start on the transgendered males permitted to serve their sentences in female prisons because they ‘identify’ as women, or the alarming numbers of young girls who have somehow been persuaded they are in the wrong body.

The transgender mania was really started by an American academic called Judith Butler. She launched the theory that all sexual difference is ‘socially constructed’: society, rather than biology, has defined male and female categories. It was taken up with alacrity and suddenly the whole woke world embraced it.

The root of this distortion is that we have lost touch with nature. When we lived in agricultural societies, we knew there was a difference between the ram and the ewe, the filly and the stallion.

Yes, there was diversity in nature – farmers observed ‘lesbian cows’ who showed preference for one another – but there was also the prevailing tendency of nature. No one involved in animal husbandry would claim that male and female roles were ‘socially constructed’.

We are not ‘the brute beasts of the fields’, yet we are part of the natural order. We can fully respect individuals like April Ashley – while affirming that such cases are exceptional.

But until nature is acknowledged, the silliness about ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘people who menstruate’ will go on.

I’m sure the Maytime coronation next year will be splendid, whether elaborate or simplified. But at least King Charles won’t face the worry that beset his grandfather, George VI, in 1936: having to get through a four-and-a-half-hour ceremony without the comfort of a cigarette.

The King told the Irish High Commissioner, John Dulanty, that he dreaded the long procedure, with ‘throngs of people … staring at you’, and without even a break for ‘a gasper’.

Alas, as we know, the fags shortened the King’s life considerably, but he was a nervous, shy man and he felt that the ciggies helped him face public ‘ordeals’.

Dulanty wasn’t officially allowed to attend the Coronation, as Eire had declared itself ‘detached’ from the monarchy. But, perhaps because of this slightly outsider status, King George struck up a cordial and relaxed relationship with the Irish envoy. They shared their anxieties, too, about ‘raising children in the modern world’.

The Ascot-loving John Dulanty had also made himself useful to the King’s mother, Queen Mary, by providing her with an encyclopaedic amount of information about antiques, in relation to which she had some addictive tendencies.

The French author awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Annie Ernaux, may be said to be extremely French in her candour about her sex life. She laid bare her exploits in ‘burning-hot’ accounts (Simple Passion and Getting Lost) describing her ‘raw and dark’ affair with a Russian diplomat.

She also wrote unsparingly about a secret abortion she had in 1963 – when contraception in France was still illegal – which was made into a film, Happening. Acclaimed at Venice, it’s probably not most people’s idea of a cosy evening’s entertainment.

However, Ernaux’s early books about growing up in a working-class environment in Normandy are brilliantly observed, written with simplicity. La Place, translated as A Man’s Place, has some parallels with Richard Hoggart’s classic The Uses of Literacy.

What mattered hugely to people was respectability. What they feared most was losing their modest status, or being the object of shame. And the respectable husband handed over his wage packet to his wife, while she doled him out his beer money.

A late aunt of mine, childless, devoted herself to her garden – perhaps in place of tending to a brood. She died more than 30 years ago. By chance, I recently encountered a neighbour living next door to her former home, who said, ‘Her roses are still coming up beautifully. The garden is just wonderful to behold.’

I used to dismiss gardening as ‘outdoor housework’, but this touchingly brought home to me what an enduring legacy a gardener may leave behind. How sweet to think that Aunty Dorothy’s roses still bring beauty and joy to others.