A Struggle too Long

One hundred years ago in the UK women got the right to vote. There! None of us can really imagine what a hard struggle it was to gain this crucial entitlement, but some brilliant, brave women strove for it and got it and we must never take it for granted.
There have, of course been many ‘watershed’ moments along the path to equality of gender but the most important thing to remember is that the path has not yet reached its destination. That is to say, women still have a long way to go before they can live lives as free and as privileged as men.
It seems to me that the principal reason for true gender equality taking such a long time to achieve is that, having enjoyed the benefits of privilege for centuries many men [not all] are unready and unwilling to give them up and the very fact of them being in positions of power and wealth [in boardrooms, for example] is self-maintaining.
You have only to glance at the vitriolic comments following any article on inequality to see how reluctant many are to surrender the superior lifestyles, the casual attitudes to degradation, the enhanced salaries and all-round benefits of not being a woman.
Here in the UK some areas are gradually improving. The number of women members of parliament has increased slowly over the years, although in 2017 the ratio was still 70:30 per cent in favour of men. There are some women cabinet ministers. The prime minister is a woman [although it is a downright shame that the only two women prime ministers in UK history are both from the political right].
But on the whole progress is slow. That even within the ongoing ‘me too’ campaign, an organisation [The President’s Club] sees no shame in staging a men-only night of debauchery in which women are paraded and objectified demonstrates how little men of certain wealth, status and notoriety care or notice. And until men [mainly white and older] begin to sit up and take notice and understand that they should not abuse their power in this way gender equality will continue to be an uphill slog.
Then in the wider world, daily, systematic abuse of women continues, with underage marriage [still legal in a number of US states], rape as a weapon of war, slavery and traffic endemic in many countries, repression and deprivation of rights rife in still more.
I had my own brush with the equal pay issue over 40 years ago when a student, working a summer job, nights in a soup factory, where we students manned machines packing powdered soup. Six or seven of us would work at the machine, moving place every hour in a non-discriminatory way. When I discovered the male students were paid more each week and asked why I was told that they ‘might be required to lift something’. Were they ever? What do you think?

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The Power

Last month, while away, I read ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is an imagined world in which the tables are turned when teenage girls develop an ability that puts them in the position of becoming the more powerful gender. It is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns and is both gripping and thought-provoking. The real shame is that it will only get read by those who understand and believe the message it conveys.

The press is awash with current revelations of sexual harassment and worse, brought about by abuse of power. It set me to recalling incidents in my life that made me feel, at best uncomfortable; at worst degraded and humiliated.

Having grown up in an era that was supposed to have been sexually enlightened and having embraced the hippy values of ‘free love’ at an early age did nothing to alleviate the feelings of shame and misery after I’d unwisely and naively believed a man who’d claimed he was a photographer and wanted some ‘head and shoulder’ shots of me during one long, summer vacation from college.

Then there was the young man who kindly offered to give me a lift home from a party and expected much more than thanks when we arrived at my door. His outrage at my refusal was astonishing, even then.

At school my clarinet teacher felt it was his right to touch and grope. So frightened was I that I got my friend to walk down the corridor and wait outside the door every week. I was also scared to tell my father I didn’t want to learn clarinet, because as he constantly told me, he’d invested so much money in the lessons and the instrument. I was never tempted by musical instruments again.

It’s good that incidents of abuse are getting an airing. Nobody should underestimate the terrible feelings of victims. In recent times I’ve heard casual remarks from intelligent, educated males about the Savile era abuse, remarks such as ‘the young girls must have liked to have been paid the attention by the DJs’. This type of comment shocks me. How would anyone who has not experienced such abuse know how they felt?

In the comments section of the Guardian website, in response to an article about the recent Harvey Weinstein abuse there is a sewer full of outraged, invective laden protest from men who feel their entitlement is threatened.

I’m older now and more confident to tell someone when they are out of order, like a neighbour who persisted in saying to me ‘Give me a nice smile’; although I still seek to avoid contact with him since his manner is no less creepy.

Yes-I know that men can also suffer hideous treatment-this is not in contention. But I’m weary of waiting for gender equality to arrive. However compelling ‘The Power’ may be it will only be preaching to the converted.

 

Mind Changing

Husband, in his blunt, down-to-Earth, masculine way, considers that I change my mind with the weather. And it is true that to procrastinate, to wax this way and that may be seen to be a negative trait. It could be construed as dithering.

But to change your mind need not be a bad thing.

You can change your mind about people. Impressions formed at the beginning of a relationship [I’m using the term broadly here, not just for partnership] may alter as you get to know someone and learn more about their behaviour. I have come to grief in the past from forming an opinion too hastily!

Changing your mind over intentions can be annoying for others. Politicians are inclined to do it, frequently angering large swathes of the population. These procrastinations are often termed ‘U-turns’ and are part of the UK’s folklore, if not anyone else’s [‘This lady’s not for turning’ springs to mind]. Our current leader is no different.

I grew up with my father’s staunch labour party views, although it became clear as I grew up that his left wing leanings were of the champagne variety [or at least of the cheap Spanish plonk sort]. My mother towed the party line, following my father’s views and rarely expressing anything but his opinions.

As a student I inclined towards the left, taking part in marches for the miners during the early seventies even though it was more in a spirit of gung-ho than in any deep understanding of the issues. Residing as I did in halls of residence, I rather enjoyed the three day week with its blackouts which prompted us to light candles and trip around as if our long, hippy skirts belonged to a bygone era.

In the eighties I was persuaded to join the Greenham Common protests, another leftist protest, albeit with a feminist slant and I found sisterhood empathy to be a pleasing, empowering sensation, especially since I was at the time a somewhat beleaguered, unwaged, stay-at-home mum. Whilst I only took part for a day, to help with an encircling of the camp, the shared sentiments stuck and reinforced what I’d felt since reading Marilyn French’s ‘The Women’s Room’ years before at college.

The return to work, the transition to a single mum and the acquisition of my own house were all events that continued to shape my views, however I realised that living in the comparatively wealthy South of the UK gives little opportunity to change local voting results. During the last few decades I’ve attempted tactical voting by choosing lib-dem-[a lost cause here and one that last time allowed the Tories to sneak back in. Husband is fond of reminding me of it].

Since I’ve now accepted that it’s pointless to try a tactical vote I’ve opted to place my cross where my heart lies. This is with the Greens. I have no expectations that they will ever be required to form a government in my lifetime but hey-I like their policies and this, reader is what matters.