Seven Swans a Swimming…

Trigger: rape

Rubens Leda and the SwanNot quite within 72 hours but I am working on the assumption I’ll get away with it, not least because Exhibit A likes a geeky list! I must confess, this is random even by my standards, but I do *love* researching random things and I had a couple of swan facts bubbling round my head, so I thought I would see if I could make it to 7…

  1. All swans were ugly ducklings once. C’mon, I couldn’t not mention this favourite childhood fairy-tale about self-image when this is a body positivity blog, could I? There are all sorts of moral tales in Hans Christian Anderson’s story of personal transformation, not least the negative impact of bullying others about and judging ourselves on appearance.
  2. Derrick SantiniHelen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, was conceived when Zeus, disguised as a swan, rapes her mother Leda. Artists have been depicting this story for centuries. From Rubens (above) to more recently Derrick Santini’s photograph which was removed from a London gallery on the grounds it condoned bestiality.
  3. Swans are not as monogamous as we once thought. Famous for mating for life and being symbols of fidelity atop many a wedding cake, it turns out the myth isn’t quite true. In 2006 the Australia Research Council found 1 in 6 black swan cygnets were the result of copulation away from the permanent partnership. Less scientifically, the Western Daily Press reported a swan threesome earlier this year!
  4. Based in Budapest, SWAN (the Sex Workers Research Advocacy Network) is a network of sex worker-led groups and organisations campaigning for the human rights of the sex workers in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Network lobbies to destigmatize sex work, improve the working conditions and health rights of sex workers and to end violence against sex workers.
  5. hannah-woolley-recipe-bookAside from a little salt and pepper, apparently the only seasoning this beautiful bird needs is a little ginger! Or so The Queen-like Closet, a recipe book published in 1673 claims. The author, Hannah Wolley, is the second known English woman to earn an income from writing. The first, published three years earlier, was ‘bawdy’ Aphra Ben who Virginia Woolf remembers in A Room of One’s Own as “she who earned them a right to speak their mind.”
  6. According to those well-known social analysists, vouchercodespro.com, a ‘study’ of 2,124 British adults found that Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ sex scene in Black Swan is the UK’s favourite sex scene.
  7. I bang on about India quite a lot on Twitter, and occasionally here, but I do love it! In Hindu culture the swan (hamsa) is the animal symbol of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning. The Paramahamsa (Supreme Swan) is a title granted to Hindu masters who have achieved ultimate enlightenment.

So there you have it, some random enlightenment about majestic swans. Oh, and if you didn’t know, ‘seven swans a swimming’ represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

For more #awesomechristmaserotica hop over to Exhibit A‘s place!

 

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Mary Bradley waits at home
She has been waiting two years long

 In 1939 my Granny’s fiancé left to fight in World War II. 

WeddingThe importance of letters from girlfriends, fiancés and wives sent to their men on the battlefield is frequently romanticised. Tales of American GIs sweeping teenage girls off their feet are commonplace. Less is written about sex for the married women left behind.

‘We were not really immoral, there was a war on,’ is how one British housewife explains her behaviour during World War II in John Costello’s Love, Sex and War where he writes that “traditionally wives had waved their husbands off to war on the assumption that strict fidelity was incompatible with soldiering, but such was total war that even on the home front many wives were confronted by new choices and opportunities.”

In The Love-Charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War Laura Feigel explores what has been described as “the peak of British adultery”. Women not interested in casual affairs but also unprepared to be years without male company often pursued what were known as “wartime marriages” where they took a new partner and lived as man and wife until their husband returned. If they returned.

In autumn 1940, while he was on leave, my Granny married my Grandad. The blitz was in its third week.

In The Secret History of the Blitz Joshua Levine claims that it was World War II that was the true start of sexual liberalisation, not the swinging 60s two decades later. In it he recounts stories of couples fucking in the corner of air raid shelters, a young man who as the first bombs fell on the night of the 7th September 1940 ran to a pub in Soho to pick up a man for the first time because he thought ‘I may die tonight, I’m going to see what it’s like’ and, the one I like the most, the tale of a group in a shelter who were so absorbed talking about their sexual fantasies they didn’t notice the bombs falling until a warden came to check they were OK!

Show girlsSomeone involved in that conversation wrote to London Life describing the fantasies of ‘underwear, corsets, body piercing, dressing in rubber and even a phenomenon known as human pony riding’. The group decided that next time they spent an evening in the shelter everyone would dress according to their own fantasy. Did it happen? Who knows, but what a mental image! In May 1941 as the Blitz ended the magazine featured a cover shot of three showgirls dressed in only underwear and gas masks.

In 1941 my Granny answered a knock at the door. It was her fiancé. He was home on leave. You see, that Mary Bradley didn’t wait two years long. After a year with no word from the front my Granny had assumed he was dead and in a fast courtship typical of that time had met and married my Grandad within just a few weeks.

Data reflects the mood of the day. Illegitimate births in England and Wales went from 24,540 in 1939 to 35,164 in 1942, there was a 70% increase in STDs, and during the six years of war one in five pregnancies in Britain were aborted. When the war ended, religious leaders and figures of authority urged a return to pre-war moral values. For a time sexual freedom was again quelled but as Levine says, ‘Freedoms had been too widely tasted to be forgotten [and] the values of the post-war period gave way to the permissiveness of the Sixties by which point the youngsters who had experienced so much during the war had grown into middle-aged authority figures, with their own fond memories.’

And my Granny? ‘Oh, I definitely got the best one,’ were her words when she told me this story.

Check out more of the great submissions to Exhibit A’s Christmas meme.

Thanks to my friend P the WW2 aficionado for her tips on reading material for this piece.  xxx