Terence Blacker: You can never discount the past

'Traditional values' are always nearby, waiting to reassert themselves

Share
Related Topics

How the audience laughed at Islington's King's Head Theatre on Monday when, as part of an evening of politically incorrect music called Taboo-Be-Do!, the singer Victoria Hart delivered a heart-tugging little number from 1928 in praise of a woman's domestic drudgery. The song "When I Am Housekeeping For You" came from the dark ages of gender relations when the best way for a woman to express love for a man was to wash his dishes and mop his floor, all the while singing, in suitably simpering tones, "Laughing not weeping/I'll go to my sweeping/When I am housekeeping for you."

Yet sometimes progress in these matters is not quite as rapid and irreversible as we like to think. The subject of women and housework was tackled this week in a report for the Centre for Policy Studies by the sociologist Professor Geoff Dench. The old female craving for dusting, polishing and tidying apparently is not only alive and well, but may even be on the increase.

The evidence cited is extracted from the annual British Social Attitudes survey. In 2002, when mothers of children of four and under were asked whether men and women should have different roles, a mere two per cent replied in the affirmative. In 2006, the figure rose to 17 per cent. Over a third of the same group believed that family life would suffer if a woman worked full-time.

Launching itself from the somewhat rickety springboard of these figures, the Dench thesis takes wing. "Women with young children are going back to the very traditional division of labour in which they want the husband as breadwinner," he argues. "Having tried full-time work themselves they have found the home much more interesting."

Reports of this kind, usually delivered with a plummy, fat-bottomed certainty unjustified by the evidence, risk prompting other, wider conclusions among those who read them. In this case, the first and most obvious is that one can take almost any statistics in the public domain and build an argument around them. The idea that, in spite of feminism, the emancipation of the market and a more grown-up attitude among most men to domestic life, an increasing number of woman now yearn to be at home and are pining for a male breadwinner is difficult to take too seriously.

Yet the report is interesting because it confirms, yet again, that one is unwise to assume that the direction of modern life is towards good sense, honesty and tolerance. There are lurches backwards. Old prejudices can be as difficult to shift as those stubborn stains which are the bane of a housewife's life.

Briefly, it seems that upper-class twit politics belongs to the age of Supermac, Boothby and Douglas-Home, the next the place is awash with Old Etonians. A few decades back, the military-industrial complex was discredited beyond redemption; with a new century, the old game was made new in Iraq.

No progress can be taken for granted. Those "traditional values" are always nearby, waiting to reassert themselves.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album