interview:A Critical Conversation with Mom

shira wheeler
in conversation with her mom
rachael becker

 

s.w

When and how did you became aware of your body & sex as a child? Do you remember your mother ever being involved in this education? Where and how do you think you learned the most about your sex as a young girl?

r.b

When I became aware of my body, all my parents said to me was, “Just be careful that you don’t ruin your life for one minute of pleasure.” But that was normal in those days; that’s all they said and I had to figure out the rest.

We learned a bit about anatomy and the biological process of reproduction in public school in Israel, but I would say that I probably learned the most from reading literature. I was reading a lot of books at a young age, frequenting the library a lot… I was reading about young women developing—feelings and love. Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Anna Karenina—a lot of the romance novels. I became aware of the awakening in my body. And of course I had a boyfriend at around the age of 15. We fell in love—puppy love— right away when we were teens.

s.w

Do you think the social times played a role in how this was perceived? How did society affect your view (if any) of your body and how you took care of it?

r.b

Yes, definitely. Girls were not supposed to talk about their bodies or say or do anything anything about their desires… it was hush hush—sexuality, periods, all of it.  In those days, it was okay for guys to comment about how beautiful your legs were or how beautiful your body was and it wasn’t considered inappropriate. It was kind of fun to be admired, and I knew that I had a boyfriend so it didn’t feel threatening.

We went to mostly American movies—in those days they didn’t show as much as they show today, but the kissing and touching was exciting in and of itself.

We were aware of the free love revolution - flower generation, but my dad was very strict so if I tried to think of stuff like that I would get in trouble, so I was just faithful to my boyfriend. Even though we were dating from a young age, we didn’t have sex until we were older. We would fool around - kissing, hugging, smooching, but we were afraid to do anything else. My upbringing scared me—it was all about being careful.

s.w

How did your education (if any) or body perception influence you as a young woman and then as a mother?

r.b

My childhood love and I married and we moved to California after the mandatory army service in Israel. Eight years later, when I was 28, we divorced. It was still relatively taboo at the time, but I was liberated.

I started dating, I enjoyed that time of my freedom. Because I was so far away from my parents, I could feel free and live the way everyone does — have a boyfriend, change boyfriends, have a couple of boyfriends. Explore what I couldn’t have done when I was young. I was old enough that I felt confident and attractive and knew that I could get any man I wanted. [Shira laughs here] No really, there were a couple of disappointments, but I could basically get anyone I was interested in.

In the 70s we weren’t aware of the dangers of drugs and AIDS. It was a very nice feeling not to be afraid that you could get so sick from having sex that you could die.

Shira's Mom

s.w

Do you remember giving any advice or education about the female anatomy/body to your daughter [me]? Do you think you would have done anything different today if you were in the same position?

r.b

I probably did in a different way than my parents did, but I can’t remember exactly how. I wanted you to be comfortable in your body and to appreciate what you have in the moment because it’s always changing, but I don’t think I told you much beyond that. I do know that I didn’t want you to get pregnant at a young age. I wanted it to be the right time for you so I remember telling you when you were pretty young to let me know if you wanted to have sex and we’d get you birth control.

If I were faced with the same conversation today, I think I may have talked to you more about your body and what you should have expected from relationships and intimacy.

s.w

What do you most admire/dislike about the education & dialogue happening around women’s bodies today?

r.b

I’m glad that we’re no longer allowing men to abuse women in any shape or form; it’s become a public issue and men can’t get away with it anymore. I’m proud of the #metoo movement. It takes a lot of nerve and courage for a woman to open up about a time that she’s been taken advantage of.

Stormy Daniels has a lot of courage—to get the truth out, I’m proud of her. Stand up—all the way to the president.

s.w

Do you see any of these traits in your daughter?
Do you see any of these traits coming through in her mothering to their daughter?

r.b

Things become only better with each generation. Everything is more open and discussed.

I didn’t dare discuss these topics with my mother; look how far you’ve come. With ODDO Body, the openness, using it as a forum; teaching young women about their bodies. I’m proud of you.

There are some occasions that you post things that are very graphic and that makes me a little uncomfortable, but I understand that this is your goal and it makes me question why I’m uncomfortable.  

s.w

What are you most worried about for your daughter and granddaughter coming up as women in today’s society?

r.b

I’m mostly worried about this world in general.

I know that you will fair well. You’re bright and educated and driven and I’m sure that you’ll pass it on to your daughter and she’ll do well or better. My concern is that those in power don’t share our value system—the values that inspired me to come to this country. I come from a country that has always been at war, and I’ve disagreed with administrations in the past, but there’s a lack of empathy and awareness that I think is important in a well-functioning society. It’s disheartening that we’re not learning from past mistakes in history.  Hatred, discrimination and abuse of power seem to still be prevalent, unfortunately.

s.w

Is there anything at this stage in life that you’d like to know about your body?

r.b

I think I know basically all I need to know except for the aging process. Slowly but surely everything is changing.

s.w

Finally - what are some of the most outrageous lingerie trends you can remember over your lifetime? What are you happy to see out of the market? Anything you want to see come back to the market?

r.b

My mom used to wear a girdle most of the time and that is a trend I’m glad I didn’t have to experience.


I’ve always tried to wear cotton underwear as much as I can. The trends have changed over the years and I have definitely have found myself wearing more synthetic materials as seamless underwear came into style; after a time I always come back to cotton though.

Abigail's Mom

abigail gerow
in conversation with her mom
alice handy

Shira's Mom

 

 a.g

When and how did you became aware of your body & sex as a young child? Do you remember your mother ever being involved in this education? Where and how do you think you learned the most about your sex as a young girl?

 

a.h

I don’t remember much education if any outside of our standard sex education in gym class. It was very basic and we never talked about it with my mother. I do remember my father having a “lesson about boys” with my older sister before she went off to College, but somehow I escaped that talk because he said I didn’t need it...whatever that meant.  Also - funny story - you know Grandma used to make all of our clothes, but whenever she wanted to have an indulgent purchase that she didn't want Grandpa to know about she used to report them in their financial book as “feminine expenses” - he wouldn’t ever ask about them.

 

Now thinking about gym class, I do remember we would take a shower with our towels wrapped around our bodies - we’d only wash our arms and legs. But it wasn’t like we were sweating much, girls didn’t really play sports back then. But I do remember the towels, we were very prudish in that way. I remember being less so at home with my mother and two sisters, but with my peers we were absolutely private and didn’t show anything.

a.g

Do you think the social times played a role in how this was perceived? How did society affect your view (if any) of your body and how you took care of it? How did your education (if any) or body perception influence you as a young woman and then as a mother?

a.h

I regret that I didn’t know more about enjoying sex. I was very unprepared and there was no one talking to me about it. In college there was a lot of pressure around sex, but it was also an interesting time because it was the start of free love, pre AIDS, and during a time when women like Gloria Steinem were talking about  female rights & sexual revolution. I remember taking a train with my roommate down to New Haven to go to the Planned Parenthood to get birth control. It was still very new so there was a lot unknown about the pill. Back then if you got pregnant, you got an abortion. It was very scary - there were a lot of illegal abortions, one friend I know had a botched abortion and became sterile. Another friend got an IUD and an infection led to her becoming sterile as well. There was very little education or awareness around ANY of it.  AIDS really changed the world in terms of free love.

a.g

Do you remember giving any advice or education about the female anatomy/body to your daughter? Do you think you would have done anything different today if you were in the same position?

a.h

Pretty sure I didn’t teach you anything. If I could do anything differently I absolutely would have taught you more about your body and more about the pleasures of sex. But I don't think I was aware enough to talk to you about it then. I’d say there is still a lot I don't know today that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my daughters. You know far more than I ever did and I think you see that more and more in the generations coming up. Everything is cumulative.

Abigail's Mom

a.g

What do you most admire/dislike about the education & dialogue happening around women’s bodies today?

a.h

How can there be any cons ?!?! I think the progression of women in power is very important and that with more women in charge and more vocalization of change - there is more public space for important topics and dialogue around our health and sex.

a.g

Do you see any of these traits in your daughters? Do you see any of these traits coming through in their mothering to their daughters?

a.h

You know when I was starting out in the investment industry women had to wear pant suits, they had to dress the part of a man. People are always asking what happened to me with men in the industry and honestly I just had to ignore most of it in order to succeed - I always tell you that our generation had to fight so that we could give you the choice.

 

I think as a mother, you lead by example - You once said to me “I’m going to grandmas to learn how to be a mother” - but I think  that the idea of being a stay at home mom never crossed your mind as you got older because that’s not the example you and your sister grew up with - you have the freedom to choose now, and choose how you want to express yourself creatively.  I remember my mother being horrified when I left you kids at home to go to work, it just wasn’t done back then.

a.g

What are you most worried about for your daughters and granddaughter coming up as women in today’s society?

a.h

I worry a little bit that feminism is leaving men behind - I worry that men have not come as far as women have and that we need to be cognizant of the different worlds we live in as men vs. women and to not leave them behind in the progress and awareness.

 

I worry that women will get too angry and I don’t want us (women) to give up everything - I want women to still want to be sexy and vulnerable. Men should be vulnerable too. Anger doesn't accomplish anything, we are of course justified in being angry, but we have to be sure about who we are angry at so we are not angry at the world.

a.g

Is there anything at this stage in life that you’d like to know about your body?

a.h

Yes, as a woman now 70 I’d love to have a better sense of the changes in my sexuality and sexual needs. I know what the rest of my body is doing, arthritis, sagging, but there is little information around sexual health.

a.g

Finally - what are some of the most outrageous lingerie trends you can remember over your lifetime? What are you happy to see out of the market? Anything you want to see come back to the market?

a.h

Oh god, everything. I remember my mother having pointy bras. There were no panty hose, only garter belts & stockings. Also we had garter belts for your menstruation pads - no tampons. Oh honey, you had blood on your underwear all the time! No one wore pants. Always a mess.

Shira's Mom

04    Latasha

“the enemy”

**sings**Memories I have with panties. So I think dealing with a really strict Latin mom forced me to buy a thong underwear by myself because...you know what she wasn’t having it...but i bought it anyway and in high school wore my first thong underwear senior class spanish and you know i think it was like green and this guy in the back was like “yo green...yo green” and I was like “why does he keep calling me green?” Then I realized low-rise jeans are the enemy...but also...not the enemy you know? ;)

03    Lara

“naughty little extra”

My first memory of underwear is being about 6 or 7 years old in school in England. And it occuring to me to be a really sassy idea to dare all the kids (all of my friends to come in with no underwear on, I guess we’d call it commando now. The head mistress found out and called me to her office and asked why I would do such a thing and if I actually understood what underwear was for...what the purpose was. To which I remember being completely flummoxed, I had zero idea. She explained to me that underwear was designed to keep a person warm in these areas, it was a protective garment. This was news to me--I thought it was a naughty little extra.

02    Abigail

“WHITE. White. white”

Ok so my most vivid memory of a piece of underwear was...I was at belk with my mom back home in Virginia and my sister and I had just both gone through the birth of our first child and I go...but it's impossible to find cotton underwear which is what you want after you’ve gone through that body trauma. So we went into belk and I come upon the Jockey section and there are these huge, high-waist cotton underwear and I’m sooooo pumped that I call my sister immediately

“Jenny, how many pairs do you want?”

And I come home with a bag full of high-waisted jockeys.

What color were they?

White. White. white.

01    Shira

“whale tale”

I guess the first time I remember caring about my underwear, I was probably 13 or 14 and I was at the mall with my mom in a store called Mandees. There were this really sexy, leopard print thong...synthetic pair that caught my eye from across the room. Somehow, I convinced my mom that it was okay to buy even though she only let me buy 100% cotton underwear. I really wanted to wear them sitting in front of this really hot, kind of morose but smart wrestler in calculus class and lean over so that they would be peeking out that back...which I believe is called a whale tail.