A 21st century tale
By Eve’s Rib
16: LA VIE EN ROSE
As much as he wanted to deny it, Leo discovered that being the inferior partner wasn’t bad at all. The fear of ‘feminisation’ had been worse than the reality. He really didn’t mind the skirts and blouses, the makeup and perfume. His trad-male identity fled quickly, like a scared cat. When he found himself making to sweep his skirt aside when he sat down, even when he wasn’t wearing one, he knew that he was settling into a new role.
Gina said it was up to him how he dressed, so long as he knew the score for nights out or for when they had guests. But she prodded and teased him into his trouserless world, and was so obviously delighted when he wore a skirt that resistance already felt churlish.
If Gina ordered me to do it, Leo thought, then I would be free of shame, because I’d just be obeying my wife. As it is partly my choice, however, what does that make me? A gender traitor? As a boy, I thought of girls as strange creatures that we males could try to date, screw and maybe make a life with. Now, it’s my turn to play the girl. My turn to be mysterious and complicated, fretful, frivolous and fickle. Thank God dad is dead. How could I have told him? He came from a generation of men who still didn’t cry and never displayed their feelings. To have a son who wore pretty skirts and kept house would have killed him! Leo was part of the transitional generation, for which the handover of power would be painful and humiliating — at least the boys and men who would come after would take their inferiority for granted and be spared the worst.
There were other things that bothered him. For instance, why did Gina find him attractive and rediscover her libido? They were having sex again, every other night, in fact. Worse, why did he submit to her? He struggled in vain to deny the fact that deep down, he liked being the inferior partner. He liked the way Gina looked at him: proprietorial, powerful, protective. He enjoyed looking into her eyes and reading in them the mystery of female power. He could find no reason to resist. He would be giving up the traditional male fallback — the assumption of his superiority to women — but then he knew that was baloney, and so did Gina.
And so Leo settled into his new role. His wardrobe was slowly transformed and became a fascinating, bouffant place: skirts tight and swirly, long and short, pleated and silky smooth, full fifties-style filled out with layers of petticoats; dresses slim and bouffant; tops with sleeves, with straps, with polka-dots; a pork-pie hat, a flamboyant one with a chic little gauze veil. His underwear drawer rustled with basques and knickers and stockings and suspenders and slips and petticoats. He acquired a dressing table laden with lipsticks, eye-makeup, little nail files, chiffon neckscarves, small fragile tissues and elegant bottles of perfume. His boots and trainers were replaced with charming heeled shoes. At some point his last pair of trousers disappeared unannounced from his drawer, but it scarcely seemed worth commenting upon. He loved wide Fifties-style skirts and the fullness of petticoats, chic jackets and neckscarves, lovely tulle and taffeta evening dresses that made him look like a blooming flower and which whispered reassurance to him as he walked among their layers of gauze and organdy. He had never been so aware of clothes before. When they weren’t hampering his stride, they had to be held in to keep them catching in doors. And when he found himself gathering up his petticoated skirts he had a titillating sensation of himself as a precious and decorative object.
When he and Kelly saw each other on the street outside, she didn’t deign to speak to him, but she did not hide her satisfaction at his transformation.
He gave up looking for a job and busied himself with the housework, without complaining, and regularly called on Brian to share tips. No one was going to be able to say to Leo that he couldn’t iron his wife’s trousers as neatly as the next man! Gina scrapped their joint account and took sole and complete ownership of their, i.e. her, finances. Leo didn’t even have a bank card of his own, and if he wanted something he had to ask her for money, which she didn’t always let him have. When she came home, she put her feet up and was immediately served by her husband: neither of them pretended that she was not the ruler of the house. Leo’s life had taken on a sweet simplicity that he had never imagined, and despite his humiliation and powerlessness he wondered why he had fought it. Gina was pregnant with a girl, and he was looking forward to childcare with enthusiasm. He was determined to play his role to the fullest in the New Family.
One afternoon he was shopping when he noticed Trigger hovering around the baking shelves. It had been a few months since he had last seen Trigger, as Gina didn’t like him going to the pub, but he hesitated. He was wearing a pretty dress that Gina had recently bought him — he no longer cared about wearing a dress in public, the supermarket was full of househusbands in dresses — but he didn’t like to think how Trigger would react. He decided to show some gumption, and went up to him.
“Oh, all right?” said Trigger, looking him up and down. “Long time, no see.”
“Too right, mate,” said Leo, surprised that he wasn’t treated to a sarcastic comment. “How’s the job going?” The last he had heard, Trigger had miraculously found a job as a sales assistant.
Trigger winced, and continued bravely: “Truth is, Leo, I lost it. They’ve replaced me with a woman. More competent, they said.”
“Are you still with Men Matter?”
“Nah, it got too hot. Every time we had a meeting these women would arrive and break it up. You know the ones: the Daughters of Lilith. Fucking hooligans, mate. Even poor old Clyde got whacked in the goolies a couple of times, and the blokes got scared. These women are out of control. Fuck, my Donny, the other week, he got kicked around by some lass at school...”
His lip quivered in mortification.
“Shit, sorry.” Leo felt no desire to gloat. “What are you doing, then?”
“Well, my girlfriend earns enough for both of us,” said Trigger, very unhappily, “so we decided... Look, mate, have you any idea how to do pastry, because Marge likes it, and...” He looked around the shelves helplessly.
“Girlfriend, eh? Well done, lad! No problem, mate, I’m a dab hand in the kitchen. I recommend this brand here. Just follow the instructions.” He peered closely at Trigger’s face. “You wearing makeup?”
“Just a dab.” Trigger almost sank into the ground. “Marge’s idea. Says I’m too pale.”
“Well, I can give you a tip or two in that direction as well. Dear me, mate, you have to discover your masculinity.”
“What you got there? Wedding mags?”
Leo glanced at the copy of Modern Groom in his shopping basket. A good-looking young chap was modelling a sparkling white wedding gown on the cover, beaming happily. “Uh, yeah. Well, Gina wants us to get married, so... I’ve got to pick myself a dress... I don’t suppose you know that she’s pregnant now?”
“Yeah, hoping for a girl.”
“Sticking with the winning formula, huh?” said Trigger with his old grumpiness.
Leo was excited about trying on wedding dresses, but he guessed there was no need to chatter about that now. “So you’ll give us a call, mate? Pop round, try on a frock or two.”
“Yeah, whatever mate, will do.”
As he watched Trigger go, his mobile rang. It was Gina.
“Babe, great news! I’ve been promoted to head of department! Old Griffiths has wanted the jobs for months but his profits are down and he’s on the way out. Who wants some silly man in management anyway? So they offered it to me and I took it. It’s a big increase in pay and I have my own office. Isn’t that great?”
“It’s wonderful, Gina. I always knew you were heading for the top.”
“It’s ClareCo that swung it. Are you out shopping? Go and treat yourself. Get yourself a new blouse or something.”
Leo left the supermarket in high spirits, very proud of his go-getting wife. He’d wear a new blouse tonight, and cook the best meal she’d ever tasted. The sun was shining, and he swung his shopping bag as he walked, his dress swishing pleasantly about his legs.