I wrote about this last year, https://rebeccabrynblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/08/the-inequalities-that-inspired/ and much has changed since then. The pandemic has turned all our lives upside-down.
So how have I spent my year in lockdown? I finished my work-in-progress, The Chainmakers’ Daughter, the story of the white slaves of England – the women chainmakers who went on a ten-week strike in 1910 and won themselves a living wage of around eleven shillings a week; that’s 55p in today’s money and more than double their previous wage.
I went on to write a sequel, The Chainmaker’s Wife, which follows Rosie, Jack, and Mary Macarthur through the battle for votes for women and the horrors of World War One.
It was during WW1 that women’s worth really became apparent, and the government of the day began to take women’s matters seriously for the first time. Did you know, for example, that public lavatories for women didn’t exist in this time? The ‘urinary leash’ as it was known was designed to keep women from straying away from home. Home, doing ‘women’s work’, was where men wanted them, and any attempt by women to break out of the home was met with dismay at the possible loss of home comforts – well, so my extensive research suggests.
But war changed that. Women took on many of the jobs that the men at the front had previously done and showed themselves willing and more than capable. Farm work, forestry, nursing, making shells and ammunition as well as caring for their homes and families. And this precedent was carried on through WW2 as well. The road to gender equality is slow and laborious as anyone who has read The Chainmaker series will know, and recent reports suggest the Covid-19 pandemic has set back women’s equality. You see TV articles showing children being homeschooled, and I have yet to see a father shown doing this task. These reports aren’t helping the stereotyping of gender roles. I remember asking one of my sons to do something when he was a young teenager. His reply? ‘That’s women’s work.’ To say I tore a strip off him – being a single parent where everything was my job – would be putting it mildly!
I remember other stereotyping from my own youth. A lad was expected to ‘sow his wild oats’ – well ‘boys wil be boys’. Yet if a girl ‘put it around’ she was a slut and ‘no better than she should be’. Double standards or what? I could go on…
I know some men do their share of chores. My own husband does the washing up and often gets the vaccuum cleaner out, for which I am eternally grateful. One of my sons is working from home while his wife works in an solicitor’s office, so he has been childminding while the children were off school. My other son has been a house-husband for a while – a debilitating illness meant his wife had to become the breadwinner – tragically, she died from Covid in January, so he is now a single parent, and I know only too well how hard that is even if you’re feeling well. I am incredibly proud of both my sons.
My point? Women’s work, or the work that has traditionally been the role of women, no matter who undertakes it, has always been undervalued whether it’s work in the home or away. It is a salutary lesson that cleaners are paid very little, yet lack of hygiene spreads the Coronavirus, and there are still pay inequalities, opportunity inequalities, and homes to run. I have said before, and I can’t overstate it – raising children, in whose hands lie the future of society and our planet, is the most important job anyone can do, and the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is as true now as it was back when villages were real communities. Yet childcare is looked upon as something that has to be squeezed in by a woman between working, cooking, cleaning, shopping… not a thing of real value that deserves some recognition of its worth.
You can argue, of course, that women are the ones who have babies, so they should look after them, but that isn’t strictly true, is it? Couples have babies, and it’s incredibly important that a child has two hands-on parents who support one another in raising that child. A united front in matters of role model and discipline is essential if we are to avoid the yobs that roam our streets overwhelming society altogether.
In a way, the ‘freedoms’ afforded women by gaining the vote in 1928 has led to the very thing men were so afraid of a century ago, but the problem is not in allowing women off the ‘urinary leash’ to have a life outside the home so much as an inequality of tasking and responsibility within the home. And that is largely down to the unspoken and unwritten belief that still lingers and which is being thoughtlessly perpetuated. ‘That’s women’s work.’
Did you know that there was a time when men actually believed that a woman’s head would explode if she thought too much? Yes, really! Yet women have now risen to postions of authorty and expertise in every walk of life. Haven’t women proved their worth?
Want to know more about the lack of women’s rights in the 19th and early 20th centuries?
http://mybook.to/OnDifferentShores the plight of a woman left behind in 1841 when her common-law husband is exiled for life to Australia (trilogy) BOOK ONE FREE 7-9th March 2021.
http://mybook.to/ChainmakersDaughter the white slaves of England and the women chainmaker’s strike of 1910
http://mybook.to/ChainmakersWife the fight for women’s suffrage and the Canary Girls of the Great War 1911 – 1919.
http://mybook.to/DandelionClock lovers torn apart by WW1 – a woman’s role at home while her menfolk fight abroad.
More books at http://author.to/RebeccaBryn Thank you for reading.