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Victoria White: Why this protestant feminist will be buying my girl that frilly white dress

She has seen the very Communion dress in a shop window on her way to the library. When she meets me she is smiling a small, secret smile and she tugs at my sleeve. Come and see.

We leave the three boys in the van and go off hand in hand. Her secret smile has broadened and she's walking in a vaguely lady-like manner. My smile broadens when we reach the shop. It's Barnardos.

She points at a certain dress in the window which has what she calls a "cardy-gan." It's a gorgeous long, white dress with discreet little beads on the bodice and a sweet bolero jacket. There I was thinking she'd be going for a Beyonce number, when in fact she chooses the very dress I'd choose myself. And at the right price.

Smile

In we go and try it on. It fits like Cinderella's slipper. She twirls around once or twice self-consciously, nods her curly head and smiles her secret smile again. It's in the bag.

The shop assistant is pressing us to get the hair accessories and the shoes and the tights and a handbag. I'm holding off. We plan to do it another day and wander back to the boys, who are getting impatient in the van.

But we don't care because we're the girls.

What the hell is all this about, I ask myself? I have a sneaking suspicion I'm straying into ancient tribal ritual territory. I'm initiating my daughter into the mysteries of being a woman. By buying a pretty white dress.

Pretty strange carry-on for a feminist and a tomboy. I'm not even a Catholic.

Ah, but that stirs a memory! Sometime in the last century, I was the only little girl on the road who didn't have a Communion dress. On either side of me, my two little friends were preening themselves in their new dresses. One dress was long and the other was short.

PICTURES

The girl in the short dress died a young woman, and a mother of four boys, last year. I still have pictures of her and the girl in the long dress, one on either side of me. I'm dressed in a concoction of curtain net, run up by my mother on her sewing machine.

I was damned if I wasn't going to have a Communion dress too. I even marched in the Corpus Christi procession, a black Protestant in white curtain-net.

I realised even then that rituals are important. Being part of a community is important. In lots of cultures there's a ritual for children around the age of seven or eight, when they leave babyhood and achieve "the age of reason".

Okay, I did also find references to child sacrifice and genital mutilation at this age in certain cultures. But mostly, surely, it's a ritual of celebration, because this was the age at which parents could begin to hope the kid would live to be an adult.

As the First Communions loom at this time of year, the naysayers start whingeing about the fake tans and the horses and carriages and the white limos.

Personally, I can do without the bling, but overall I think it's a wonderful feature of Irish life that so many of us try to celebrate our children in this special way, at the start of the summer. All without excluding those who celebrate in different ways -- the non-Catholics in my son's class were a crucial part of the event, had the suits, came to the church and then went on to their own party.

LUCKY

So bring them on, I say, those little men and women in white, we're bloody lucky to have them and we should remember that.

And this weekend one big Protestant feminist will go shopping in town for white tights and white shoes and a little white flower for her beautiful tomboy's toffee-coloured curls.

hnews@herald.ie


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