Women, Don’t Fall for This One!


The excellent Viv Groskop wrote an article in The Observer newspaper this weekend (April 9th, 2017) about an apparent desire among young women to return to clearly defined gender roles. Here is an extract:

A series of new reports suggests that young people aged 18-32 (in this case, in the United States, but in line with trends elsewhere) are becoming increasingly convinced by the idea that it would be “much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family”.

It’s the words “much better for everyone involved” that I find particularly distressing for some reason. They have the ring of the capitulation Betty Friedan described in The Feminine Mystique, a kind of surrender that was traditionally best treated with Librium, Valium and strict observance of “gin o’clock”. Younger sisters: believe me, you don’t want this. I understand the lure of the siren call, but it must be resisted. No one is going to look after you apart from yourself. It’s an illusion.

These new studies by the Council on Contemporary Families (“a non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to providing the latest research about American families”) describe this change in attitudes as “an intriguing puzzle”. “Starting in the mid-1970s, youth increasingly supported equal sharing of housework and decision-making at home. But in the mid-1990s, the trend towards equality reversed course.” Whoa. Back up. The mid-1990s? That’s 20 years ago. And you’re saying it has only got worse since then?

I noticed this trend a few years back and wrote a post on it. It seems pertinent to share it with you again:

Are You Being Sold the 50’s Myth?

Have you noticed how much ‘mid last century’ is referenced these days? Both women’s clothing and interior design are picking up on the styles of the fifties and sixties with retro styles of furniture and wallpapers. This trend is extending to all forms of packaging too, especially make up, and there are a myriad of TV programmes set about 50 years ago.

It’s kind of persuasive (and pervasive) this image of womanhood that comes along with the packaging: glamorous clothes with full petticoats, pouting lips blushing red, feminine frills and pinafores, husbands taking care of everything, women lunching, smoking and drinking without fear for their health, and on and on…

If you weren’t around in the 50s and 60s you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a halcyon time, the advertising companies are certainly making it look attractive.

But it wasn’t a halcyon time, at least not for women and women’s rights.

I was born mid fifties when women were still experiencing the backlash of having had so much freedom during the war years. Jobs were for the men and there was an active campaign on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure women went back into the kitchen and left the real work for the men. Here’s just a few of the reasons I am not taken in by the ‘mid last century’ spin:

Women were paid less than men in all jobs and it was accepted by most as being part of the natural order.
Women generally had to give up work/careers on marriage.
Women had to get permission from their husbands to borrow money or make large purchases.
Women had no easy access to contraception unless married. Abortion was illegal and many women died having ‘back street’ operations.
Women who had babies outside marriage were virtually forced to give them up for adoption or hide their existence.
Divorce was shaming and women who were divorced had a far worse time than their ex husbands.
Physical violence against women in marriage was largely ignored by the authorities, and accepted by most of society as ‘just the way it is’.

So next time you see a glamour shot and a gorgeous woman sipping away at her glass of Babycham, remind yourself that we are often being given a rose tinted view of life back then. Things have changed and things still need to change. Don’t get hooked on the myths, just enjoy it for the fantasy it is and keep on fighting for gender equality!

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Posted on April 11th, 2017 by

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