Harriet Walker: Equality in relationships, as on the dancefloor, is an illusion

Related Topics

It's terribly unfashionable to say it, but women will never reach complete parity with men. How can we, when we still rely on them not to dump us and one day to pop the question?

How regressive, you may cry, in an age when women are told they can have it all: work, children, love, money. But you can't have it all unless someone else is willing to hand it over to you.

Cutesy Hollywood couple of five years Justin Timberlake and actress Jessica Biel, both 29, split up this week after reports of an awkward surprise party that Biel threw for her beau – where she apparently gave a highly charged, emotional speech about how much she loved Timberlake and how long she had waited for him to notice her. Soon after the mortifying spectacle of one of the world's most beautiful women throwing herself on the mercies of the man she was in love with, the couple announced their separation and Biel found herself on the non-stop express to Dumpsville.

Modern relationships, you see, are like ballroom dancing: women are not supposed to take the lead. Toes get stepped on; each romantic clinch looks, upon closer inspection, more like a bout of wrestling; and it doesn't half upset the other couples swirling around gamely to the strains of the Wurlitzer.

We might have strong-armed our way into jobs, boardrooms and public roles, albeit gradually and still with some resistance, but we can never truly be masters of our own destiny. Unless that destiny is one that doesn't involve a family or intimate relationship – in which case, you're a rock or an island, in the words of Simon and Garfunkel.

One can argue, of course, that all personal interactions are, by definition, out of our hands and dependent on the whims of another. But it seems unique to women, who have the capacity and capability to control just about every other aspect of their lives, that they're under concerted pressure not to try to take the helm of their own drifting love affairs. And they're surrounded by the shipwrecked women who have tried.

We grew up with the Spice Girls screaming at us about Girl Power – I remember distinctly the manifesto in which Ginger Spice encouraged us to just go ahead and ask out the guy we fancied, rather than hanging around and waiting for him to do so. As I was aged 11 and not as aesthetically blessed as Jessica Biel, this struck me as eminently practical.

"Oh, you don't want to do that," counselled my mother. "That's not how it works." Confident and righteous in my own progressive approach, I spent one breaktime suggesting to the scruffy urchin in question that we, y'know, get together some time. He didn't come near me for the next seven years.

Or leap years: that magical Brigadoon day at the end of February when women are allowed to propose to their partners. We, my worldly wise mother and I, once watched from between our fingers as our local weathergirl asked her boyfriend to marry her at the end of a live broadcast. She turned up again the following week, ringless and dead-eyed.

There are the age-old stereotypes of downtrodden husbands being ruled with an iron fist by their wives and hit on the head with a slipper if they start acting up. But as women came out of the kitchen, they lost their domestic dominion. An Englishman's home is his castle, they say, but good luck trying to get past the drawbridge before he's ready to let it down.

So why can't women be the ones to make the calls in contemporary love affairs? Because we're all still romantics at heart? Hardly. It's because anything that's chased runs away.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Nature Studies: The decline and fall of the nightingale, poetry’s most famous bird

Michael McCarthy
Theresa May was kept on as Home Secretary by David Cameron in his post-election Cabinet reshuffle (EPA)  

The Only Way is Ethics: Rights to privacy and free expression will always be at loggerheads

Will Gore
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine