Apparently 28th July is National Day of the Cowboy; who knew? Actually, technically speaking it’s only “a day” in America so don’t feel you have to celebrate under the UK’s leaden skies and on our soggy prairies. Although, celebrate what exactly? How much relevance do cowboys have for a 21st Century woman?
Initially I was kind of excited about the whole thing, I used to watch “cowboys and Indians” on a Saturday afternoon with my Dad, and actually at one point was quite worried about the possibility of having my head roasted over an open fire until my brains popped out – not really an issue in 1970’s Wales, but my point is I was really into the whole genre. Cowboys were glamorous in a gritty kind of way, there was a sense that they were building something for the future, taming the land, nurturing those one horse little towns to become the citadels of today’s mid west US States. They were tough but they were also free to saddle up and ride out whenever they felt like they’d had enough. And with law and order being a fairly loose concept, they were pretty much able to do what they wanted.
But here’s the thing, all that applied to cowboys and actually being a girl “out west” wasn’t such a great deal. Generally women were left to tend the homestead hoping John Wayne would save them before the “injuns” attacked, or, they got work in the Saloon, cleavage out, knowing they would never get the hero. Now; I will own that my knowledge of mid west American history is gleaned mainly from the movies, so I may not have an entirely accurate picture here, but even so, there seems to have been a very limited Madonna/Whore split for any cowgirls growing up. Even Doris Day striking an early blow for feminism (I can’t believe I just wrote that) as Calamity Jane had to resort to wearing dresses and acting ladylike to get her man.
But wait I hear you say, “That’s all in the past, things are different now!” Are they?
I’m thinking of Kate Middleton, possibly the only 21st Century pregnant woman to still have a confinement, apparently not even allowed out to Wimbledon in case rapid onset contractions produce an unladylike scream. Contrast this with sister Pippa who gamely pops up at any given party or wedding in a series of attention grabbing outfits. Reality TV is awash with women who have become famous (and rich0 through flaunting their bodies, whilst the wholesome Kim Sears trails around the world after Andy Murray in a series of pretty dresses. I’m thinking that not only does the current zeitgeist still reflect those limited options for women, but worse, we judge them according to which role they appear to inhabit.
Take Page 3 for example, the No More Page 3 campaign is brilliant,; attention grabbing and vocal it has over 17,000 supporters, yet still The Sun publishes pictures of young women in their knickers every day, because that’s what their readers want. But when the beautiful, mother of two, Holly Willoughby wears a revealing dress on Saturday evening TV, it’s practically a national incident. What’s that you say? double standard? I think so.
Put like that and the nostalgia for the films of my childhood looks more like a depressing continuation of anti-women ignominy, so thank you America, but I’m going to pass on your Day of The Cowboy.