Stories explore ‘tropes of older womanhood’

Your Body Was Made For This
by Debbie Bateman

Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2023
$21.95 / 9781553806929

Reviewed by Carellin Brooks


Years ago, university women’s studies classes and theorist Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies taught me how Western cultures organize meaning through dichotomies: self/other, white/black, male/female. 

Men’s bodies, the myth goes, are hard and impermeable: their contours do not change. When compared to men, women, in contrast, are the Other: soft and slippery, their shapes dissolving and reforming, their physicality unfixed. 

If there are two times in a woman’s life when this horror-movie version of femininity seems most plausible, they are puberty and menopause. Both involve startling changes in formerly reliable bodies, as well as a slew of cultural messages about sexual availability, at puberty, and obsolescence, at menopause. It does not matter whether girls and women buy into or, conversely, actively resist these insidious overwritings of their own experience. Either way, they must grapple with how others see them, as well as how they see themselves.  

Author Debbie Bateman
Author Debbie Bateman

Southern Vancouver Island’s Debbie Bateman, in the wryly-named Your Body Was Made For This, is wise enough to take the tropes of older womanhood and use them to fuel this excellent collection of linked short stories. Her characters, mature now, repeatedly refer back to the onset of menstruation: the pamphlet given to grade five girls along with a pad, in its “pretty plastic wrapper of white lace over powder blue” in stark contrast to the blood they will soon produce. 

Here we meet women who, decades later, are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, no doubt helped along in their ire by the hormonal vicissitudes of late middle age. “I want sex,” baldly declares one character, adding to her hapless husband’s discomfiture that “It’s been over a year.” 

Pauline, the speaker above and the main character of “Secret Workings,” the first story in this collection, has also been nudged towards her rude awakening by that unlikely cliché of white womanhood: yoga. To be specific, during a yoga challenge—“And then, in a moment of precarious balance, her ever-tight hips tear open, her generous buttocks unglue, her hamstrings rip.” Et voila!, Pauline rediscovers her body. 

Other grim later-life commonplaces appear in these pages. “People say cancer is a teacher. Brianne thinks only a person who hasn’t been to school would say a thing like that,” muses a woman stricken by disease. Grace, in “The Point of Failure,” will only be loved if she keeps herself thin, the man in her life decrees. She lost weight once, attracting reams of publicity in the process: “Everyone took my measure, laying bets for how long it might last. Well, yeah… Six months later, I weighed more than ever.” Brianne turns up again in this story as Grace’s workout buddy and inspiration. 

Men are no longer the sole focus of these women’s lives. Grace, the woman who lost weight at her husband’s behest, regained it and is now finding a new equilibrium. She thinks of how he’ll take the news if she completes a marathon: “Wait till he found out what she’d done. She’d divorce him nonetheless.”

“The Love Drug” chronicles a woman’s discovery of Ecstasy in midlife: 

People who’ve never been high can’t imagine. Colours buzzed, sounds sizzled on my tongue, I felt the touch of life in every vital organ, my heart did calypso, my brain pirouetted. My skin was so tender the air could bruise me. Because let’s be honest, until then, I’d never been awake, even during the most important moments in my life. The birth of my son. My mother’s death from lung cancer. 

That son, an adult now, eventually has to drag Mom to rehab–not exactly one of those uplifting experiences to include in the annual holiday newsletter. 

In “Crossing the Line,” characters from earlier stories form an unlikely trio to run their first marathon. They first experienced the complexity of female friendship, allyship, and competition in schools where girls were taught about their own bodies. At midlife, the troubling mix continues to flavour their interactions. In the end, two of the women cross the finish line together, quite literally holding each other up. 

In a world that tells them they no longer matter, and after a lifetime of absorbing, denying, or otherwise grappling with the lesson that their bodies are monstrous and unclean, these characters discover meaning in defining their own stories, deciding for themselves what they’ll do and why. Like all of us, they stumble and make mistakes, recover and try again. That Bateman’s characters are completely believable in doing so is down to her skill as a writer. 

These stories paint an ultimately hopeful picture of women at midlife and after. A poignant collective portrait that pays close attention to the actual circumstances of older women’s lives, this is a collection not only for women but for anyone who loves one. 


Carellin Brooks

Carellin Brooks is the author of the poetry collection Learned (Book*hug, 2022) and four other books. She lives in Vancouver. [Editor’s note: Learned (Book*hug, 2022), a poetry collection about Brooks’ time at Oxford and in the fleshpots of London, was reviewed in BCR by Linda Rogers. Brooks recently reviewed Michael V. Smith, Buffy Cram and Maryanna Gabriel for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

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