What's that smell?

7th September 2012 at 01:00

I've just had a shower. By all accounts it was not before time. After brushing past my youngest son, his exclamation of "God, what is that smell?" prompted the rest of my children to test the air like sniffer dogs before they decided that the cocaine was concealed in my armpits and the cannabis was shoved up my crotch.

Within 30 seconds, they'd pushed me into the bathroom and refused to let me out until I'd scrubbed myself clean. In fairness, the smell had less to do with personal hygiene and more to do with the fact that I'd walked the dogs. Newton's little known 15th law of motion dictates that if you take a Labrador out on a lead you'll come back smelling of its arse.

While I washed, I noticed that my hair project of choice (L'Oreal Paris Elvive: Full Restore Replenishing Conditioner with Fibre Reinforcing Technology - pricey, I know, but you can't fuck about when you're 50) had "weak, limp, lifeless hair" emblazoned across the bottle.

I cringed with embarrassment. Having a consensual SM relationship with your husband is one thing (and let's face it, most of us have at one time or another been trussed up with a towelling dressing gown belt and flicked on the bum with a cable tie), but entering into an abusive relationship with your conditioner is another matter entirely. Only a woman would buy a haircare product that humiliated her. Men would never buy a shampoo that promised to revitalise "drooping four-inch follicles". The only way you can make a bloke buy something is by telling him he's got hair like iron girders and the sperm count of a blue whale.

It's worrying that women so easily believe the worst about themselves. The fact that women make up 60 per cent of new entrants to law and outnumber men in the majority of Russell Group universities would suggest that our fortunes are on the up, but we are still lugging around an inferiority complex that's proving hard to shift.

I've always been saddled with self-doubt. In the recent Fifty Shades of Grades debacle, where educationalists argued over the boundary changes in the AQA English GCSE exam series, it was men who dominated the Twittersphere. Opinions about whether the punitive grade shifts were a justifiable indication of "academic rigour" or a form of working-class child abuse divided the participants. As an English teacher whose students bombed because of the 10-mark shift, I had a vested interest in the discussion, but a sense of my own rhetorical flimsiness held me back.

I wasn't sure that I had the evidential wherewithal to stand up to such aggressive intellectual scrutiny. From what I could see, men were staking claims and counter-claims backed by statistics, legal caveats and evidence dating back to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Arguments were being refuted with accusations of ad hominem, tu quoque and other things that sounded like posh aftershaves. Suddenly my opinion - backed only by anecdotal evidence - seemed risible and lightweight. Venturing my thoughts on Twitter would be like walking into a whisky bar and ordering a pina colada.

I kept quiet rather than expose my "weak, limp and lifeless" intellect to ridicule. Until now, I've always believed that this excoriating self-doubt stemmed from my humble beginnings. But judging from the reticence of other women, I think it's symptomatic of XX chromosomes, not an ex-council house past.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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