Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cotton Wool

Once, I read this romance novel (not literally once; I've probably read thousands), and because it was a Harlequin Presents, the hero and heroine were English (maybe not the hero. Apparently, while white English women are teh shit, the white English men are all bland and blond and boring. No, the hero was probably Italian. Or Greek. Or some "exotic other." But I digress.)

The heroine had a really hard life (her parents had done one of the standard Ds necessary in the line--Died, Disowned her, or Distanced themselves), as hard as it can be for the 21 years that you're gorgeous and brilliant until you meet your BILLIONAIRE husband (speaking of which, I don't read the Presents line anymore, but as I pass the titles, I am amazed by how many BILLIONAIRES there are in the world. And virgins. And sheikhs. But I digress). Because her life had been so hard, the hero, who back then was probably only a meager millionaire, revealed his love (after being a complete asshole out to ruin her for 180 pages) by telling her something like, "If I could, I would wrap you in cotton wool and ease all your pain."

And, being the ignorant American, I thought, "What the hell is cotton wool? (And fortnight. And gaol. But I digress). When I realized it was just cotton, I thought, "Ohhhh. How sweet."

That phrase has stuck with me since I was a teengager. The feminist in me balks at it--another attempt to pedestal-ize and "protect." But, part of me can't help loving the sentiment and that tenderness implied in the statement (even if it is a sentiment and tenderness predicated on the concept that this is a "hard, cold" world for women). And sometimes, I feel that way about people.

See, this isn't just a sarcastic explanation about why I no longer read that particular line. It is a response to these posts by Bint and Kactus. These are strong, smart, wonderful women whom I respect. When I hear of their suffering, I think about that phrase.

The cotton wool seems impractical, but I hope they know they are wrapped in love, respect, and admiration. And I hope it does ease the pain.

6 comments:

StyleyGeek said...

I'm really curious about this whole cotton wool/cotton thing. I had no idea you Americans didn't use the word "cotton wool". So my first question is, how do you distinguish between the stuff you are talking about here, and the cotton that you sew with? (I mean the actual cotton thread, not the cotton material, although I guess both could be confused with cotton wool if you don't have different words for them).

We call the thread "cotton", but the fluffy stuff "cotton wool". Do you call them both "cotton", or do you have a different name for the stuff you sew with?

My other question is related to the image of wrapping someone/something up in cotton wool. See, in English English (and Australian and NZ English), that's pretty much a common cliche---someone might say to a parent, "You can't wrap that kid up in cotton wool for the rest of her life" or someone might say of someone else, "I feel like he/she is trying to wrap me in cotton wool." I guess it implies a high degree of caring, but also excessive intervention and over-protectiveness.

Anyway, I just wanted to ask, do you not have the equivalent cliche in American English? ("Wrapping someone in cotton", I guess.)

elle said...

hey! where i'm from we just call cotton thread, thread and the fluffy stuff, cotton.

i can think of some analogous cliches, but not one that's exactly like that. but again, that may be a result of where i live (though if any region had a cotton cliche, seems like it would be the south ;-)

Gwyneth Bolton said...

I think that this idea of "protection" is an interesting one. And as a feminist it is one I grapple with. And don't get me started on the whole, "as a black woman raised to be a strong black woman thing..." But, I think that at the end of the day we would all be more human if we learned to say we need a little help and learned to accept a little help. And that goes for all genders. But on the real, I don't see anything wrong with women who have had a rough life being shown some tenderness...

Gwyneth (who still reads an occassional Presents because they were the first romance novels she read and she still secretly wants to write for that line. LOL)

bfp said...

But on the real, I don't see anything wrong with women who have had a rough life being shown some tenderness...

nanette posted on my site once, that she hopes that the new disney princess is the most feminine, girly, princess-y princess girl out of all of them. and I think what she was getting at was exactly what you are saying here--some times, rather than expecting toughness because you've had a hard life, it would be nice to be taken care of--the whole, they're so tough thing is really, in many ways, just a way to de-feminize black women, i think--a way to make ya'll less than women, you know?

I hope that the little princess girl is wrapped in all sorts of cotton.

Evanne said...

In real life I think there are times when both sexes appreciate being coddled . . . the big strong man as protector isn't offensive to me when he's matched with a woman of honor and grit.

Love your voice on any subject . . .

bint alshamsa said...

I really appreciate you remembering me in your thoughts. I can't even express how much it means to me to know that there are others out there who care about my voice and me as a person.

(((hugs)))

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...