In this weekend’s edition of The Guardian, a young woman writes into the paper’s agony aunt – Mariella Frostrup – looking for advice on how to navigate her sexuality, which she is now questioning after breaking up with her boyfriend. The columnist, however, ignores the bulk of the reader’s concern, instead telling her to focus on raising her baby and re-connecting with her former partner – neither of which are the focal point of the new mother’s concerns.
In the column ‘Dear Mariella’, the reader outlines her dilemma, explaining that she recently split with the father of her baby:
“Since the break up, I’ve noticed my attraction to women is very strong. I’m intimidated by the thought of having sex with a man at the moment and have realised that in every relationship I’ve had, I’ve never been truly satisfied sexually, even with the father of my son. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me.”
The young woman continued:
“I still love him deeply and care for him, but the way my body excites me when I think of a woman is completely different to how it excites to men. I always suppressed how I felt with women because I thought it had to do with how my first sexual encounter was being molested by a woman.”
The letter concluded:
“My mind is flooded with questions and I just can’t seem to understand what is happening.”
From the reader’s letter, it is clear that this woman is looking for reassurance that the questioning of her sexuality is perfectly normal and that exploring it is a healthy thing to do. Instead of offering her that, however, Mariella insists that the young woman should focus on motherhood.
The Guardian agony aunt Mariella writes:
“You begin your letter by saying you split up with the father of your baby. Forgive me for presuming that your main preoccupation in the aftermath of that is how to best raise your child. Instead, just four weeks after separation, you’re focused on which sex you physically gravitate toward.”
Rather than reassure the concerned woman, Mariella encourages her to stay in touch with her former partner, even though at no point in her letter does the woman suggest she wants to cut ties with him completely:
“If it’s all possible to keep your ex involved in your lives you should be working on it.”
The advice columnist then goes on to stress the importance of a father figure in a young person’s life, a peculiar response to someone who is experiencing same-sex attraction:
“Having a decent, committed male role model in a child’s life is of unique value. (….) Children can be raised by single parents or single-sex parents or adoptive parents, it’s the love they receive that counts, but it’s really important during your son’s developing years that he has access to both Yin and Yan.”
While the send-off line of the Guardian column seems, on the surface, somewhat empowering – “work on co-parenting with your ex and find yourself a lover you can have some fun with (either sex will do)” – it cannot be denied that her response to this woman is condescending, preachy and loaded with assumptions. Rather than reassure the reader of her capabilities, Mariella uses her platform to judge the woman’s attitudes to parenting, while simultaneously evoking a rhetoric in which mothers are viewed within a one-dimensional, singular and sexless angle.
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