I’m sitting on a sisterhood seesaw, and it’s making me fidgety.
Did you know that the men in charge of Switzerland waited until 1971 before they finally decided that their womenfolk, despite posessing inferior female brains, might be allowed the democratic right to vote?
This surprising nugget of trivia stuck in my head as I read the global chronology of women’s suffrage that features in the end titles of the film ‘Suffragette’ which premiered on UK TV last Saturday.
It’s bad enough that British birds had to wait until 1928 for the vote but it put things into context for me seeing that only a year before I was born, European countries were still grappling with their patriarchal fear of Petticoat Rule. Interestingly, I happened to be born in Malaysia, a mostly Muslim country where women had already been enjoying the right to vote for 14 years. (It gets worse; the last European country to grant women suffrage, in 1984, was Lichtenstein!) But I am starting to wonder just how far we have actually come on this ardent quest (or is it a merry-go-round?) for sexual equality, and I’m intrigued how some rare modern civilizations manage to wangle a continuing matriarchal social system.
It’s no secret that I am a rather feeble feminist. I was thirteen when my politically strident and admirably independent big sister played me Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’. Now, I remember with a squirm how, when she asked me what I thought the song was about, I listened carefully and eventually postulated, “…Nuns?”
Today I continue to let the side down by being a little bit in love with my new Dyson vacuum cleaner, and as a result I am enjoying an ongoing stint of blissful domesticity, passively chewing the cud of media servings about the monsters Weinstein and Trump, while cheerfully hoovering up boot-scrapings, and dog hairs. Don’t get me wrong; I do experience occasional manageable bouts of militant indignancy. Like when I recall how a customer once told me that a department store manager refused to sell her a washing machine without first seeking the permission of her husband. From time to time I also have internal battles about the ‘Me Too’ campaign, which leaves me with mixed feelings on the subject of ‘inappropriate behaviour’.
Issues of Gender Equality, Feminism, Women’s Lib, and the Pay Gap leave my head swimming or bring about feelings of helpless rage, and so, I mostly try not to think about it too much. I think that’s called repression.
However, on Saturday I noticed that ‘Suffragette’ was on TV, (quite by chance, as the remote control usually stays under the close guardianship of the Man Of The House) and, satisfied that all my chores for the day were done; piles of clean clothes left optimistically in bedrooms, (to be scattered on the floor later) and the kitchen surfaces wiped like only a woman can, I settled down on the sofa to watch it, but I soon found myself alone. Perhaps it was the sight of floral bonnets and leg-of-mutton sleeves that sent him running to his bed, but a part of me started to gnash and bridle at the thought that my husband was in fact, making a snub in the general direction of the Women’s Movement, and it wouldn’t have been for the first time. If we’re not tuned to Dave channel with it’s melodramatic music, monotonous re-caps of dusty redneck blokes, hyped up on testosterone, gold nuggets, rusty bikes, and tree houses, then it must be ‘women’s stuff’. (You only have to observe their reaction to a Tampon commercial to see how upset men get when confronted with ‘women’s stuff’.)
I’m not averse to a bit of lad’s telly, in fact I avidly watched every episode of the recent series of ‘SAS Who Dares Wins’, and not just for the smouldering looks of Ant Middleton, who, I must stress I do not objectify in any way. (Danny, retired army captain, pointedly does the crossword while its on, with a ‘been there, done that’ air of smugness.)
But since Saturday night, I’m all riled up again about gender equality, thinking that I should really have chained him to the sofa and prized his lids apart with matchsticks to make him watch the painful truth. The film, starring one of my dearest girl crushes, Meryl Streep, was a reminder that not so very long ago, women of my Grandmother’s generation were completely subservient to men. (Unless they were wealthy bluestockings or outrageous gender benders, on the edge of society). My dear wise Mama, in turn, has instructed me in the old fashioned virtues of wifey conduct: Be nice. Look nice. Be kind. Try not to upset the apple cart etc. And in fairness, these rules have saved my marriage and kept my family unit together under one roof, but now I am plagued by the guilty feeling that I am a sell-out, letting fellow females down in our collective pursuit of freedom from the shackles of male oppression.
To make up for this inadequacy, I made damn sure that Danny watched the fascinating documentary on Channel 4; ‘Secrets of a Suffragette‘ this week, which also revealed in painful detail the horrors that Emily Davison, and others, were prepared to endure to bring the issue of women’s suffrage to the fore, and win me my vote, for which I am truly thankful.
My biggest mistake as a woman, (okay, there have been loads, but this one’s important), and one that I urge all young women to heed carefully, is that I lost my financial independence when I gave up work to have children. I was a profligate spendthrift in my youth, believing, as you do, that I had all the time in the world to save up. So when I stopped working, there was nothing in my piggy bank to tide me over, and I surrendered completely to my husband as protector and big hairy hunter/gatherer. He has provided amply, and at great cost to himself, while I was cast as the spoilt stay at home mum. As a result, there exists an unspoken and unspeakable, sense that everything we have ultimately belongs to him, because he earned it. Seven years ago I attempted to break out of the daily grind of laundry and loo brushes, to find financial freedom by setting up a small business, opening ART&ROSE Gallery, but that was a gamble, and caused much friction and stress all round. I eventually realised that my favourite place was motherhood, and decided to go back to my old job as PA, facilitator, mediator, supporter and, yes, domestic drudge too. I was lucky they took me back! The stigma around ‘not working’ still bugs me and the gender issues in my own small world can get quite gnarly, but for now I am content.
The broader picture niggles me though. I suspect that amongst even the most hardened feminazis, there is a tinge of regret that as a result of the scales tipping, modern men, even the nice-smelling and kind ones, are now damned every which way when it comes to women. I felt rather cheated that when I did once elicit a wolf whistle from a scaffolder, I was required by law to feel aggrieved, and couldn’t enjoy it properly. A friend nearly didn’t go on a second date with her now husband because he was ‘just a bit too gentlemanly’.
Danny, while sharing some chromosomes with a T Rex, does occasionally display metrosexual traits, but I have expressly banned him from doing any housework because he’s just so bad at it. Therefore I have no one else to blame but my control-freak self when it comes to drowning in dirty school socks or battling with a king size duvet cover.
I’m lucky that I’ve always owned the right to say “F–K RIGHT OFF!” in the event of someone behaving especially ‘inappropriate’ towards me (particularly since I started wearing red lipstick). He, or she, quickly understands precisely what they should do with their job/pervy ideas/pathetic texts or wandering hands. So here’s a confession that will make me unpopular; it bores me that, despite ethical conduct laws protecting us, certain women seek attention in the media by simpering about how upset they feel when their boss’s knob accidentally brushed against them next to the photocopier. Sadly, we can’t go around smacking the offending protuberances, (apparently there’s another law about common assault or something), but my advice would be, ironically, to get some balls, deal with it, and move on.
Dim memories of my own appalling ‘inappropriate behaviour’ towards men have surfaced in the light of the ghastly Presidents Club dinner and the ‘Me Too’ campaign, so I wish to publicly apologise to the achingly handsome Alastair for that time I lifted your kilt at a college Summer Ball. Also for the time when, on a punt at Grantchester I was part of a drunken hen party that convinced a poor under-grad puntsman to take off his shirt while also bare chested we sang bawdy songs and skinny-dipped. (I hope he got counselling) Then there was the odd occasion when I might have dragged a defenceless man home with me at the end of the night. But more worryingly I have lost count of the times while in conversation I might have touched a man on the knee or fondled a bicep. I’M A MONSTER….To be fair, I have never held a position of authority senior enough to abuse, but that’s not the point.
Seriously, how on earth are healthy humans supposed to interact with each other in these days of so-called sexual liberation and societal permissiveness? I am dreading the day that flirting is outlawed. Soon there will officially be no fun left in the world. Until then I’ll keep a check on any militant grumblings that surface within me as I labour under the muddy jackboot of patriarchal oppression, while at the same time I will instruct my son in the use of a Dyson and remind him not to objectify women, (which he doesn’t) and I’ll teach my daughter about the women of the Mosuo tribe, and give lessons in how to kick a pervert in the goolies, verbally. Being a woman, I’m supposed to be good at multi tasking so this should be a doddle.
Meanwhile I propose that all of us, whatever gender, should abide by Mother’s rules and Be nice. Look nice. Be kind. And don’t upset the apple cart, (unless it looks at your tits).
#womenslib #equalrights #suffragettes #worldgonemad #genderequality