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.