Sunday, 6 March 2016

What has Women's Lib done?

Now I want to point out before I start this blog that I respect every modern woman who is fighting for equal rights today and don’t want to lessen their achievements or their aims. What I would like to do is point out to some of the younger people amongst us what it was like for women when I was young and what equal rights has meant for us.

Suffragettes had already won the right for us to vote. Women could train as professional people although not many did. But I’m talking about the day to day equal rights that women did not have.

The marriage vows used to say ‘love, honour and obey.’ For those who took the vows seriously and not as just something to say to get married, this was a very restrictive vow. An example of what this meant is illustrated very well in the Doctor Who episode The Wire, where a very mean spirited man rules the roost. This vow was changed to ‘love, honour and cherish.’ Not sure when but it was in my lifetime as I can remember the debate about the change. Quite a debate it was, too!

When a couple got married the woman took on her husband’s name. In all formal communications she was addressed as Mrs John Smith. Even the Guide Association adhered to this right into the 1970’s. Imagine that. The second half of the 20th century and women were still addressed as if they were the property of their husbands. No wonder women were campaigning for equal rights.

A woman’s income was not taken into account when applying for a mortgage or other major loan. It was expected that women would stop working to raise children. Even if the woman earned more than her husband, her salary would not be counted. It was the husband who bought the property, not the woman.

And the thing that everyone is familiar with – women got paid less than men for doing the same sort of work.

So this is where we were in the nineteen seventies.

Have the changes made a difference and have we benefitted?

Obviously it is great that women are no longer considered as merely an appendage to their husband. Equal pay for equal work is equally valued although it is still not universal.

But not all pushes for equality have been good, in my humble opinion.  Looking back, it seems to me that the massive increase in house prices started when people could get bigger mortgages because two incomes were allowed. I was on the cusp of this change. We bought the house that was to start our family solely on the basis of one income and have stuck to that policy ever since. I must be one of the last generation to be able to say I gave up work to have a family and have never done more than part time work mainly because I was bored not because we needed my extra income.

I never wanted a career (apart from writing) so I was lucky. I never needed to work thanks to a hard working husband who actually loves working and doesn’t want to retire. But I do feel sorry for all those who have to work in ordinary jobs, the office workers, the shop assistants, the receptionists, the call centre workers, the people who keep things going for the high flyers, who now have to work all their lives to help pay the bills, where once they could take a break while the kids were growing up and maybe go back for a second chance later in life.

Being a working mum and then expecting everyone to lend a hand looking after the kids is something I never had to do. I suppose it is the way of life these days. The current government seems to frown on stay at home mums. But then again the number of stay at home mums is dwindling as mums can’t afford to stay at home. I have never been a great advocate of maternity leave, which may be surprising. I believe that if you decide to have a baby then you should be certain you can afford to have it without returning immediately to work. By immediately I mean within six months to a year in which time you get a certain amount of pay plus a guarantee that your job will be waiting for you when you decide to go back. Obviously there are lots of unplanned babies, so that makes things more complicated, but you can understand some employers being reluctant to take on women if they might have to pay for them not to work. And it’s the ordinary jobs I’m talking about again, not the high flyers.

Society is changing. Women need to work while they are also raising families. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Mixing in nurseries can be good for children, it helps them to socialise. But it gives less time for them to learn from their parents on things like moral values. It makes it harder for children to relate to parents. Their carers are the people who tell them what to do, why should they listen to parents who do little but get them up in the morning and put them to bed at night? It is possibly too early to say how these children will react when they reach adolescence and adulthood but this could be the reason for the ‘entitlement’ culture that is growing as parents give their children everything they demand maybe subconsciously trying to make up for not being there in the early years. I’m not a psychologist so I’m probably talking rubbish but it is something to consider.

I do think dads should be allowed a limited amount of paternity leave. New mums need help and it can be a very lonely place in those first months. Maybe dads should have every Wednesday off for the first couple of months so that mum is never left alone for more than two days at a time. This may help reduce the incidence of post-natal depression. Just a thought.   

All in all, I do appreciate the steps that have been taken in equality. But I do feel women need to make up their minds just exactly what they want. We need women to have children, otherwise our species will die out. It is a fact that this job cannot be given to anyone else other than a woman. It is time to think that this as equally important as building a house or working in a shop. Maybe it is time women were paid to have children, freeing up thousands of jobs on hold because of maternity leave and re-establishing the pattern of young people taking jobs until they started a family then giving up their jobs for young people to work, or for older people to return after the family raising break.

Just my thoughts.