Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Some replies


Image (6)

Both comments perfectly true; but even Bessie Braddock MP and Alderman Mrs Pimlott had to live with  the legal restrictions of the era – as did all the powerful women of pre-liberation days. Their success depended on  being widowed or single or married to a man who didn’t exert his rights.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Having a letter published in The Times  would  at one time  have been the cause of great excitement, except presumably for the toffs and politicians who took their right to such things for granted. It's no longer such a big deal because The Times is no longer the most important daily paper. I don't actually know very many people who read it and my own motive for buying it is that I like doing puzzles on newsprint. The  iPod screen or a printout on typing paper just doesn't feel the same. But that's a diversion.

Friday, 16 December 2011

And this is the cover of one that didn’t change my life


The eunuch of the title is the woman who castrates herself . She sells  herself into slavery (psychic or physical or both) to a man.  She services him, their children and the home -  a prison where she will serve her life-sentence.

By the time this book came out, in 1970, I had all the attributes that Germaine Greer most despised: husband, children, house.  As a feminist my argument was a simple one: equal rights and opportunities  -  no less but also no more. Greer’s vision was of a free and child-free world of  unrestricted love and sex . Her  beliefs grew out of her own experience of being a woman. She was  disgusted by  marriage and despised domesticity.

There was no place for me in her world . 

(Nor, incidentally, for the clever, nasty image on the book jacket. I’m rather shocked to remember  myself as censor and vandal:  I  tore it off.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011



This is the  first edition of the book that changed my life.

It's not something much you’d much enjoy reading now,  and nor would I. It's preachy, repetitive and by this time an expression of the blindingly obvious. But when it came out in 1963 its message was literally liberating.  It would take more than one book to change the course of history,but I think it would be fair to say that it speeded up  the revolution.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Confession:

Until now I've been technically quite competent. There was even a time of gratifying role reversal when grandchildren would ring to ask me for computer advice. But I have to admit an  embarrassing  failure, all the more embarrassing because I can't do something that's supposed  to be simple. My confession: I simply can't master the programme I'm using here. How to insert pix? How to let comments take their proper place by the post they refer to?  How to smarten up the page arrangement? Until I learn, comments will have remain in their present obscurity. But thank you for them, Maxine and Marianne, it's good to know you're reading me!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Toughening Up

Last week in the Guardian newspaper  Kira Cochrane used statistics to demonstrate that British public life is conspicuously male dominated. Whether as contributors to newspapers or to radio and  television discussion programmes  - no matter what the subject  - a dogged byline count over a period of several weeks revealed that at the most about one quarter of credits are women’s. Actually I'm surprised that the figure is even that large. In my own particular field, of book reviewing, the names  both of critic and author are predominantly men’s. I'd made a similar complaint to a friend not long before reading this article, and when I was accused of exaggerating picked up at random the Sunday Times book review section. In the first few pages, that carry heavyweight reviews, no woman's name appeared as reviewer or author, and there were very few even on the frivolous pages devoted to children's books and genre fiction. Or take for example the magazine I write for (and admire, and enjoy) - The Literary Review. The index of the  latest issue lists 49 reviews  by men and  8  by women. 47 of the books are by male authors, 8 by female. Far worse is The London Review of Books – an almost  female-free zone.
It doesn't give me any pleasure to point out these statistics,  since  I'm about to publish a book whose thesis is that women's lives have infinitely improved in  nearly every way in the last 50 years. And I don't suspect newspaper and magazine editors of anti-feminism. After all,  many of them are female. I think in the end that  this disproportion is due to what seems to be a genuine sex difference. Very few women seem to be any good at singing their own praises or pitching for work. I'm probably typical in that if I offer some journalism, for example, and it's rejected, I shrink away to lick my wounds. I try to make myself believe that the rejection of  my idea isn't necessarily a rejection of me and intellectually I know that's true . But like most women, I feel "he – or she - hates me." Most men on the other hand simply ring again the next day with a new idea. So although the disproportion is infuriating, I have to recognise that it is partly our own fault. We must either toughen up  or give up.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

I went to talk about "writing about one's mother" at  a gathering organised by our friend the poet and novelist D.M.Thomas. In THE FIFTIES MYSTIQUE, which is coming out  next spring. I've  written about my  family since the book's feminist arguments are based on my own experiences growing up in pre-women's lib days. It's obviously difficult to write  candidly  and truthfully on that subject, but  I decided not even to try to discover or expose my parents'  secrets. I don't even know if there were any to discover. I had two reasons for this restraint. One is that I wasn't an only child so any confidences wouldn't be my own to share. The second is that the purpose of  describing  my own memories of  the forties and fifties was not purely autobiographical. It was to demonstrate how women's  lives were  transformed by the feminist  movement. My audience this week clearly thought I'd wimped out. and   I've certainly been very restrained in comparison with the authors I mentioned and quoted, who included Nigel Nicolson (about Vita Sackville West), Antonia White's two daughters Susan Chitty and Lyndall Paserini, Blake Morrison, Judy Golding about William and Ann Golding and Joanna Hodgkin, whose Amateurs in Eden, due out early next year, is about her mother Nancy, Lawrence Durrell's first wife. Actually, if I ever do write about more intimate memories, it will probably be in fictional form.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Has hell frozen over?

 I've just been reading an interesting interview with A. D. Miller whose first novel was a thriller shortlisted for the Booker prize. It was a  revolutionary  decision by the judges. Only three years ago,  the Chair of that year’s panel  had said, “Hell will freeze over before a crime novel makes the Booker Shortlist.” As a matter of fact in 1986 the Booker long-list included crime fiction by P.D.James, Ruth Rendell and me (for about a week I supposed it was a practical joke) but on the whole, ours  has always  been regarded as an inferior genre by the literary establishment. When I started reading it in the early 1950s I always felt  guilty about wasting time in which I could have been doing homework or at least reading “ important literature”. Who would have guessed then that the books of the decade that would still be read 50 and 60  years on would not be the serious, weighty  novels written by  authors with names nobody would know now and solemnly discussed in literary journals - but detective stories written by women like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A piano-playing dog.

There’s a hideous fascination in programmes like Mad Men which showed women in the workplace before women's Lib. They were automatically treated as inferior. And it was what they expected. As secretaries, they were handmaids  to men, present only to wait on or sleep with them. When one  did some real work, and did it well, her boss remarked, "it's like watching a dog play the piano." The assumption during those years between the end of the war and the coming of women's liberation was that girls would have a jobette until marriage and then stop. How could a married woman go  out to work? Why, if she had a job she mightn’t  be able to cook her husband’s dinner  or fetch the children  from school!
       Volumes could be written about the solutions women  now find to the problem of running a home and doing the school run. I'm not saying it's an easy one. Of course emergencies happen. But when the Conservative MP  Louise Mensch walked out of an important meeting smugly saying it was more important still to fetch  the kids  from school, she must have set  the perception of women politicians back by decades. Why did she come to the meeting in the first place if she knew she couldn't stay to the end? Why doesn't she have some arrangement for picking up the kids? It may have been a carefully calculated move to make her popular with women voters. It may even be that some women voters will warm to an MP with such perverse priorities. But I think even more will agree with another commentator who remarked, "You'd have thought on an MP's salary she could afford a nanny.”


For the first time in nearly 150 years The Fawcett Society  has organised a  demonstration. In towns and cities all over Britain, marchers in 1950s housewife gear - rubber gloves, headscarves and full-skirted frocks - took to the streets. Their  protest is against austerity measures  which will 'turn back time' on women's rights.
The time they fear returning to is the 1950s - and it's true that some people are nostalgic about that  decade.
I was a schoolgirl, student and young married woman in the 1950s,  and was  perfectly happy too -  but that was because I didn't know any better. Between the end of the war and the coming of  the women's liberation movement girls and women simply took the limitations  on their freedom for granted. We were second class citizens and I don't believe that anyone who has grown up in the last half century would put up for a single minute with the rules, regulations and restrictions that kept women down when I was young - or with unequal pay and  limited job opportunities.  The  Fawcett Society is absolutely right.