Gone are the days when women stayed at home bringing up several children, cleaning their houses, darning socks and preparing a meal of meat and two veg for their hard-working husbands. Pressures on women to go back to work have intensified over the past forty years as they now go back work to pay extortionate nursery fees (and reclaim some sanity). Convenience has also played a part in our lifestyle shift. Nobody needs to be slaving away over a stove for hours when you can microwave a packet of veg in less than two minutes. Without a doubt, the most significant contributing factor to how our relationship dynamics have so drastically changed is the evolving attitude of women.
21st Century Problems
Sadly, we still see the pay gap prevail in careers across the board. Women of child-bearing age miss out on promotions and job opportunities as they are treated with suspicion. Their womb may or may not be expanding to the size of a watermelon in the next few years; it’s best to air on the side of caution and appoint a man who will almost certainly not need to take two days compassionate leave to care for a child struck down with chicken pox. As recently as 1975, it was still legal to sack a pregnant woman, so we can all thank God for small mercies that we are living in changing times. We still have magazines aimed at women spouting rubbish about ‘how to get a man- and keep him’ (as if that’s the most important thing in the entire world). My friend and I were at a Halloween party the other night, and after chatting to another guest, he was loudly informed by his friends that he was ‘wasting his time’ because he wouldn’t get anywhere. The poor bloke wasn’t even trying to! My friend was telling him that she was recruiting people in his field of work at the time, it was hardly the flirtation of the century. It was a tumbleweed moment throughout the kitchen as we both delivered a frosty glare. How is it acceptable to say that out loud, as if women are just pieces of meat to be eyed up, but good for nothing else? I’d prefer to think it was the scintillating topics and wit that people came for, but whatever. I’m assuming we were supposed to laugh along in good spirit, but neither of us did.
1950s Advice To Avoid
We haven’t progressed enough yet. However, when we look at how far we have come in the past 60 years, it’s a notable improvement. The 1955 May edition of Housekeeping Monthly reportedly published a guide for wives on how to fulfil their role as chief babysitter/slave. Notions included:
‘Plan meals ahead and have them ready, on time, for your husband’s return [from work].’
‘Touch up your makeup 15 minutes before his arrival. Put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking.’
They even went as far to suggest that tidying up clutter and lighting a fire for your husband in the winter months would ‘give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.’
One of the more manageable tasks was ‘minimising the noise’ from your children before your husband gets home. Seriously. There were more than enough twitterings of bullshit going on by this point, but to think somebody printed the words ‘let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours’ is mind-blowing.
Fighting for Rights
All I can do is say a silent thank you that I wasn’t born in that era. I’m lucky if I can wrestle my makeup brush from my daughter’s grip in the morning, I haven’t got time to be fannying around tying a ribbon in my unbrushed hair. Laws have changed from women having the courage to stand up and be counted when it comes to inequality. Maybe the ribbon idea was what tipped them over the edge, who knows? The Equal Pay Act was passed as a direct result of women at the Ford factory in Dagenham striking and causing a near halt to production. Women have their uses, after all. They were an integral part of the Ford manufacturing machine. No amount of makeup or hair ribbons was going to re-start work in that factory.
Since 1970, women have been raising eyebrows at the degrading cattle market that is Miss World. Lining up women to be judged on their looks is a disgrace. It’s woeful that this still goes on today, although it was side-splitting when the wrong contestant was handed the crown at Miss Universe. It is now dressed up as a loosely based talent contest, where skinny women twirl batons around after they’ve applied their makeup with a trowel. Not forgetting that they all wish for ‘World Peace,’ of course. I’d rather watch paint dry than sit through one of those televised freak-shows, which is why I have largely based a lot of the above information on the film Miss Congeniality. Wouldn’t everybody be more impressed by average-looking, normal bodied women being able to string a coherent sentence together? I have more respect for female police officers, doctors, nurses, soldiers and firefighters than I do for women with zero cellulite and perky boobs. Congratulations if you’re reading this in one of those careers and you have both!
In the early 1970s, women were only allowed to drink in parish clubs if they were accompanied by their husband, and once a week if they were lucky. I have been informed that some women did frequent pubs alone, but they were of a certain reputation, so read into that what you will. My Gran, I am proud to say, made her mark on the scene in Chorley by setting up a Young Wives Group for St. Mary’s Parish. Pioneering the initiative for young women who did not want to be knitting in a chair at night, she put forward the idea at a deanery meeting that women should be able to use these facilities alongside men. It was initially met with hostility by men who thought that a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but now it’s unthinkable that we would not be granted the same social privileges. I have it on good authority that hundreds of women were united through the Young Wives, enjoying activities together that sometimes involved a good old knees-up. Hilda Henry can take her place as a rebel woman in history that made a stand resulting in equality.
Biologically designed in a completely different way to men, there is no disputing that there are some activities that come more naturally to men than women, and vice versa. We would only have to look at the World’s Strongest Man and compare this to the World’s Strongest Woman. That is not to say that this woman couldn’t beat most men hands down in this kind of strength battle, but physically, men can develop their strength to a level women simply cannot. However, women can grow a human in their body and tolerate an incredible amount of pain to deliver that human. Women can be astronauts, professors, world leaders, athletes, scientists, artists, activists, authors or managing directors. The possibilities are infinite. In another 60 years time, I envision a woman writing about a patronising list she read from a 2017 Cosmo edition and shaking her head in disbelief. Let’s give her something else to write about too – the progression of equality and how we made a personal stand of our own. One last tip I would like to share from Housekeeping Monthly is that ‘a good wife should always know her place.’ That place is not inferior to any man, husband or otherwise.