Forget Rosie The Riveter. Forget the Fearless Girl. Forget Mary Wollstonecraft and her naked statue. If you’re looking for the ultimate symbol of female resilience and pragmatism, one that represents all that is best about 2020, look no further than Dryrobe Woman.
In this year of the plague, Dryrobe Woman has emerged as a true heroine for our times. She faces up stoically to locked gyms, cancelled book clubs, and postponed parties. She endures endless sermonising at the hands of an endless line-up of well-meaning men, from the cast of Nphet to Ryan Tubridy, on what she should and shouldn’t be doing in her free time.
She juggles homeschooling and working and baking and childcare emergencies and months of low-level fretting about the future and she responds to all of these hardships by saying: feck that, I’m going swimming.
But not before checking the forecast, realising it’s 4C outside and remembering that staving off hypothermia is also a key consideration.
So, clad in something that looks like a cross between a sleeping bag and a tent, she makes her way to the nearest swimming spot for a few well-earned moments of ozone-infused calm; a brief respite from the school run and the sermonising and deadlines and the all-consuming Covid chaos.
And now, as all iconic figures must expect, she is facing a massive backlash. Everywhere you look over the last fortnight, from the buzzing phone lines on Liveline to the leafy lanes of Sandycove to the esteemed pages of the Guardian, Dryrobe Woman finds herself called out for being pretentious. For being a phoney. For wearing her Dryrobe while shopping or on the school run. For shelling out €150 on a mere piece of sports kit.
Granted, the mockery is not just directed at women – Dryrobes are very popular with men, too. But the majority of the swimmers who’ve taken to the waters with such gusto in this plague year are undoubtedly female.
I see them, on my morning walk, floating like mermaids in the shimmering water or enjoying socially distanced post-swim flasks of tea with friends. And this is where the robe comes into its own – if it didn’t already exist, it would undoubtedly have been invented by a middle-aged Irishwoman who’s had it drilled into her since childhood that keeping your kidneys warm and never letting anyone accidentally catch sight of your arse when you’re getting changed are of paramount importance.
They are the modern equivalent of your granny’s see-through rain poncho and her little wheelie shopping bag; embarrassingly unfashionable but unbeatably utilitarian.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the popularity of Dryrobes among women in certain Dublin postcodes has made them the object of such ridicule.
We all know that women’s pastimes are seen as somehow inherently ridiculous – particularly the pastimes enjoyed by affluent females (see also: pony club, pilates, book club, sewing circles), which tend to attract the kind of mockery which is somehow never sparked by your weekly five-a-side footie kickaround. Anything seen as aspirational must immediately be a target for taking the mick.
But Dryrobes and the women who wear them are far from ridiculous. To me they represent all that is best about Ireland: our practical nature, our determination to make the best of things, whatever the weather, our enthusiasm for trying something new, and our refusal to pass up the opportunity have a cup of tea and a chat with a friend, even if you have to do this on a freezing-cold beach in a force-three gale, rather than in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Clasping her hot drink tightly in her frozen hand while high on post-swim serotonin, Dryrobe Woman is quietly sticking two fingers up to Covid, all while following the rules to the letter and having a bit of craic with the girls while she’s at it.
She truly is an icon for the ages.