Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day, the culmination of a series of events intended to keep the spotlight on the fight for the equality of the sexes. There was a symbolic IWD procession through town last Saturday and, although I toyed with the notion of joining it to demonstrate my solidarity, I decided not to on the grounds that a) I would have felt like an interloper and b) I have lately developed nasty pains in my upper feet.
Besides, I was set to go shopping for a new pillow. Three years ago another pain afflicted me, attacking my right shoulder while I was in bed. The doctor I consulted had no explanation to offer, other than to say that the shoulder is a very “complex” joint. He offered me a nasty-sounding injection of steroids to numb it temporarily but I opted instead for his suggestion that an orthopaedic pillow and some gentle exercises might help to settle it down. Eventually, the pain went because, I assume, of my assiduous exercise regime and determined use of a brick-like pillow acquired from Ikea. However, now the pain is back. I suspect that the pillow has outlived its efficacy and I am on a mission to find an alternative. The problem, as I was to discover, is that the panoply of pillows on offer is bewildering. They come in many shapes and thicknesses; there are different fillings – feathers, foam, memory foam, polyester, or anti-allergenic fibres; some are elaborately designed to support the neck; and there are options for back, front, or side-sleepers (but none for restless sleepers). In the end, I bought one that I thought might do the trick, though I have embarked, I am sure, on a series of trials that could take a while and involve several discarded pillows.
Meanwhile, the IWD movement gathers momentum for its cause – aided by revelations from high-profile figures in Hollywood and various other businesses. Men can no longer dismiss the sex-equality issue as ‘women’s lib’ nor make light in any other way of the oppression and discrimination many women still endure. The subject fills the media, culture, and the arts and, though I did not join their march, I am supporting the cultural side of things. I went to see Manchester Art Gallery’s retrospective show of Annie Swynnerton, the painter who in 1922 became the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Academy, 154 years after its inception. (It goes almost without saying that she was also a suffragist and a Mancunian.)
Everywhere I look just now, there seems to be another story of women succeeding against the odds. It turns out that Hedy Lamarr was more than just a glamorous film star of the 1940s era: she was an inventor who, among other things, held a patent for the invention of a system to encrypt radio communications. I have just read the memoir of Daphne Phelps, an Englishwoman who moved, on her own, to Sicily in 1946, where she succeeded in rescuing a villa, despite her penniless state and the odds stacked against her by the ultra-patriarchal system.
I finished the book just before taking my painful feet along to the doctor – a woman (I’m getting used to it) – and one I had not seen before. She prodded them to see whether she could make me wince. “Well,” she said, “the foot is very complex,” then, tactfully addressing my age, “It’s probably just wear and tear.” I had suspected it might be but was hoping, nonetheless, for a miracle cure. She offered Ibuprofen and, when I expressed reluctance to mask the problem with painkillers, suggested I could try putting moulded inserts into my shoes. I headed hopefully for the shops but was a little dismayed to find there are many different types of insert. I would like to think I have more important things to do...