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Friday, August 1, 2014

One hundred years ago - what has changed?

A century ago this month, one of the most cruel, pointless and destructive conflicts ever known (and it’s had some stiff competition since) broke out in Europe. By now, everyone must be familiar with the stock images of WW1 – of the trenches, the rain, the horse-drawn gun-carriages mired in the mud, the barbed wire, the mutilated and blinded soldiers who fought in those terrible battles.

Did anything good come out of this dreadful time? Yes, I think it did. As I researched my novel The Silver Locket, which begins as Europe prepares to descend into chaos, I discovered this period was when women - rather than men - laid the foundations for the society we have in the UK today. As the conflict dragged on, women ran businesses, managed farms, set up schemes to promote mother-and-child welfare in some of the most deprived parts of the UK, and of course went over to France and Belgium to work as volunteer nurses in the field hospitals there.

Before WW1, the UK was not a democracy - how could it be, when half the adult population had no say in the way the country was governed? It was not a just and equal society - how could it be, when a married woman was more or less her husband's property? The suffragettes had already made the population aware of the massive social injustices perpetrated against women, but the war itself demonstrated that women deserved to play an equal part in running their own country.

Eventually getting the vote was to some extent women's reward for all the effort they had put into winning the war, and quite right, too. But even today - a hundred years later - women don't play an equal part in the fairer, more just society they helped to create. There are still glass ceilings everywhere. Most men - even young, well-educated men who should know better - still seem to believe that a mother's place is in the home and that she should shoulder all or almost all the burdens of childcare and housework. How many married men out there personally ensure they have a clean shirt to wear every day because they've washed and ironed their shirts themselves? Who organises the school run? Who makes sure the family doesn't run out of milk and cornflakes? Who does the gardening, buys the children's shoes, reads the bedtime stories, takes the dog to the vet?

What has changed since the advertisement below was produced, an advertisement which candidly accepts the fact that many women work longer hours than men, and which doesn't appear to wonder if anything might be just a little bit wrong with this situation? Okay, many washing powders have added brightener nowadays, but how many cleaning products are advertised with male consumers in mind?

There has certainly been some forward progress. Hey, ladies - nowadays, we can even go into public houses on our own and men won't (often) spit at us! But some animals are still more equal than others. I'm hoping it won't take another massive cataclysm to change the way society works and to give one half of it automatic parity and equality with the other half once and for all. 


  1. Thought-provoking post, Margaret. You're so right about attitudes today. My own husband does more than his fair share around the house but the husband of a friend of mine is a neanderthal and won't lift a finger!

  2. Hmmm - some people have a long way to go!

  3. Great reminder, Margaret, that there's still a way to go. BTW I saw a copy of a 1911 census form recently where the women had left the house for the night (which made it illegal for them to be added to the form) since 'if they don't count, they will not be counted'.

  4. I have to say that I am lucky, as my husband does an awful lot around the house. And I usually get to choose which 'outings' and holidays we go on. But is that because I am now nearly 70 years old?! It was a different 'kettle of fish' when I was younger, and bringing up the children in the 1960s! I used to go apple picking, and house cleaning, as well as everything else you mention. So maybe getting older has it's advantages for women. Great post ....

  5. Thank you for your comments, ladies. I have to own up now and admit I have never got down on my knees to scrub a kitchen floor! #BornLiberated?