Christina Patterson: The hangover that women can't shake off

Yes, we need cheaper childcare, but the real question for women is ‘Are you hot?’

Share
Related Topics

"It is difficult," said an official report to the director of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service, "to support the appointment of women." It was difficult, apparently, because although a "relatively young, attractive woman could operate with some effectiveness in a subordinate capacity", the appointee "would not stay young and attractive for ever". And that could well "become a problem".

It was difficult because "relationships with businessmen would tend to be somewhat formal and guarded" and because it was "doubtful" if a woman could stand the "fairly severe strains". It was difficult because "a man normally has his household run efficiently by his wife", but "a woman Trade Commissioner would have all this on top of her normal work". And it was difficult because "single graduates" would "probably marry within five years", but "a spinster lady" can turn into something of a battleaxe."

You can see why the report might conclude "that the noes have it". Too young, too old, too pretty, too ugly, too weak, too bossy. Too exhausting, in fact. Better, much better, to stick to the status quo. Women "in a subordinate capacity", ideally "young and attractive". Which, I'm afraid, is largely what we've done. Forty-six years after the report (one of thousands of gems in the National Archive of Australia) was submitted, the situation relating to women and work is barely better.

The pay gap between men and women in this country has actually grown wider: from 21.9 per cent in 2007 to 22.6 per cent in 2008. And a quick glance at the website of that tax-guzzling disgrace of a body assigned the tricky task of looking after the interests of the minority that isn't a minority (along with other minorities that are) confirms that the overall trend isn't good. "New report highlights shocking lack of women in positions of power and influence in Wales" is one of the cheery headlines you get when you tap "women" into the website for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Or "Sex and Power report reveals fewer women in positions of power and influence". Or just "Fewer women in top posts".

It's all so drearily familiar that even this battleaxe can scarcely be bothered to type it. And for the non-"spinster ladies", the ones who mess up the work place with their big bumps, and leaking breasts, and bags of baggage and nappies and problems and excuses, and their tiresome maternity leaves, and their tiresome guilt, and their tiresome worry, it's even worse. More than a third of working mothers want to leave their jobs to look after their children, according to a new report commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. And a further six in 10 would prefer to reduce their hours.

Leaving aside the women MPs who will almost certainly be leaving their jobs to "spend more time with their families", that still means that nine in 10 mothers are unhappy about their jobs. The Government can extol the virtues of work as much as it likes, but when the work available to you is tedious and poorly paid then it's not surprising that the "balls" (in super-remunerated Cherie's memorable phrase) seem barely worth juggling. No wonder Sarah Brown sticks to home baking and Twitter.

The arguments about work and motherhood will, of course, run and run. Yes, we need cheaper childcare; yes we need to combat the macho, long-hours culture; yes we need to remember that it takes two people to create a child and the responsibilities of one of them doesn't cease at conception. And yes, we need to address the inequities of a public sector which allows half the workforce to absent itself at the first whisper of a child's cough and a private sector which barely glimpses daylight.

But there's another issue here and it's got nothing to do with children. More than 80 years after women were given the right to vote, we seem more convinced than ever that the chief role of women in our society is adornment. Want to be a receptionist? You'd better be hot. Want to read the news? You'd better be hot. Present a chat show? Judge ballroom dancing? Write a book? Be an MP? Well, why would you want to, but you'd better be hot. Oh, and young. Ideally, under 30.

Fail this test, and you'll suffer. Even Ann Widdecombe, remember, dyed her hair and went to fat club. Jacqui Smith was accused of driving her husband to porn. And if you want to survive as a woman over 50, you'll have to make an effort. You might – think Anne Robinson, think Julie Christie – need surgery. But don't think we're only talking about the public eye. Even the head of the Charity Commission wears short skirts and high heels.

On Saturday, I went to see The Hangover. It was quite funny, but not quite as funny as the male critics had said. I don't think anyone was suggesting that this tale of a stag night gone horribly, riotously, sickeningly wrong was any kind of a blueprint for a civilised society, but still, the women characters were a little depressing. A plain fiancée who's a pain. A silent, pretty bride. A super-sexy whore. The plain fiancée gets dumped, of course, for the tart with the heart – and very long legs indeed.

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'