I’ve been shouting at the television. Has anyone else been able to stomach Women on BBC4?
I grew up in the 70s aware of the Women’s Liberation Movement and absolutely convinced of my right to be equal to any man. This does not mean I subscribe to some of the dottier things they did. I’ve generally thought my bra quite supportive even if I have wished for a smaller bust that wouldn’t need one – if only I was young enough not to find showing the straps acceptable!
Like the brave women who fought for the vote I applaud the ‘liberation’ of women. In my teens and twenties I had no interest in settling down with a man and a family; I was going to Save British Industry.
The first episode interviewed the chief activists (all mad according to A A Gill in the Sunday Times). The second interviewed a (very middle class professional) tiny set of mothers and their other halves about how they ran their marriages and who did what work. The key question seemed to be ‘In what way is your life different from that of a fifties housewife?’
It was at that point that I started to shout! The difference is that these women (and me too, being a middle class professional!) had chosen to lead the life they were leading. Some had given up work, but others were juggling work and family. There was some pointed stuff about who cleaned the bath, but little was made about the lower standards that we accept today. (Go on then: how many of you scrub your doorsteps, dust and vacuum daily?) And, since she was interviewing people with money, they all had washing machines and dishwashers. The hours my mum spent bent over her twin-tub, or my grandmother using her mangle, have been replaced by a machine that largely does the work while you do something else. The fifties housewife, of course, not only rarely did the sort of managerial work that a woman can do today, she also had to give up work if she married.
There’s a way to go! I’m not saying we’ve got equality. My adult life has been more different from my mother's than hers was of her mother's. I had a successful career and was on level pay with Husband when I gave up work to follow him to Germany. We had discussed our work and our wish to have children and made a conscious decision that he would support the family that I would bring up. As it happens Husband does a great deal more in the way of domestic chores and childcare than Father ever did. Regular readers will know that housework has never been of great interest to me. The things I do do are many and varied, but while Husband is bringing in the money it must be my task to spend it wisely… as well as do most of the chores.