I was born in the era of baked beans and the Feminine Mystique; and unlike the Heinz slogan, my title actually does mean something: as of yesterday I am 57 years old, and I was born in the year ’57. I am a child of the Cold War; one of my first words was triggered by news about President Truman (‘hernia’) and I remember vividly the winter of ’63 when it froze so hard that a pile of snow my Dad had shovelled for me to make a snowman, froze solid for weeks. I never did make that snowman… I remember school milk and the subsequent slogan when That Woman was Health Secretary; ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher’ – however, I do not remember the Feminine Mystique. This phenomenon, analysed by Betty Friedan in her book of the same name, was the attempt to make sure men returning from the war had full employment by dispatching women like Rosie the Riveter smartly back into the home.
This was achieved partly by promptly sacking all these women who had done such sterling work during the war, but also by trying to persuade them that housework and all its attendant drudgery was in fact romantic and fulfilling. See this advice to women from a Singer sewing manual in 1949:
All this, however, passed me by, as in general women in our family worked for a living. Our mother began teaching when the local primary school was desperate for staff – asked by the Head whether she could help, she objected that she had a three-year-old at home. ‘Bring her along,’ said the Head briskly – and so began a long career in primary teaching. My aunt also worked once my cousin was in school, starting as a secretary and working her way up in the teeth of boardroom sexism, to sit on the board of the firm. Even my grandmother worked and had a trade, though after marriage and children she had to give it up. Women in my family were, however, primarily responsible for the household: although my father helped, it was our mother who did the cooking and shopping and who off-loaded jobs like cleaning and laundry as soon as we were old enough to do them. We never had brothers (not even of any kind) but she always said any son of hers would have been taught to look after himself; and I have proceeded on that same principle. Daniel knows how to use a washing-machine and does his own laundry; he can cook simple meals and is made to tidy up after himself. This has been a bit of an uphill struggle but I refuse to raise a son who thinks that women are made to run around after him.
Anyway…. bit of a ramble today. Thanks for all the birthday cards and wishes yesterday – I had a very chilled day drinking wine and watching DVDs.