Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Real freedom is being able to do as you please

I gave up on time-bound jobs so I could cook and pick up my daughter from school
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Sam Baker, editor of Red magazine, announces the result of an interesting poll. Its readers are mostly thirtysomething. And what do they seek? Surely not? Can it be true? I don't believe it! They hug domesticity, long to stay at home while the hunter-gatherer male goes forth. They want to ferry kids around, make fresh pasta and the perfect tarte tartin. To wear aprons.

Baker christens these restless things the "Nigella Generation", a new breed of able and bright professional women who are drawing back from an all-consuming work ethic and refusing to live by the rules knocked into them by embattled gender warriors. Domesticity for decades was assumed to be voluntary enslavement; freedom was paid employment and takeaways every night. Mrs Beeton was kicked into the gutter and school domestic science was buried.

Well now, according to this latest survey, of employed females only 5 percent would carry on working full-time after having babies, and only 1 percent say work is the most important thing in their lives. These interviewees are different from the perpetually leisured ladies, daughters and wives of the abominably rich who have always been with us , doing lunch and gym and spa.

Red hit the stands 10 years ago. I remember it well, just as I can recall the heyday of Cosmopolitan and my favourite (still) Marie Claire. These, I say in the husky voice of the M&S adverts, were not just magazines, they were F&S magazines, feminist and sexy, unlike the feisty yet joyless Spare Rib which policed sexism well enough but never understood that women are contrary, complex and capricious creatures. This survey reveals just that. We stepped out, heads held high, moved assertively across the floor and now, like tango dancers, we swerve and dance back in the opposite direction.

I like that. Shows guts and self-awareness. Nothing, nothing in life is so sacrosanct that it can't be questioned; no commitment should make people absolutists. And at least in the west, although we still have a long way to go on gender parity, irreversible gains will not be lost just because some women want to ease off a little or to reclaim some of the lost pleasures of the past.

My mum read Woman and Woman's Own magazines. She loved the cooking and sewing but insisted on having her own bank account, and taught me to do the same. She hated the way the mags assumed women were content to occupy the restricted spaces reserved for them. George Eliot, in Felix Holt, describes with painful accuracy what that felt like: "A woman can hardly ever choose ... she is dependent on what happens to her. She must take meaner things because only meaner things are within her reach."

Those Victorian and Edwardian attitudes lingered on through the Sixties in spite of the two world wars, the Suffragettes and early calls for equality between the sexes. They prevail in most of the "developing" world today, including the two giant new Asian economies. Feminism here freed our minds and lives. We aimed high, jostled for space and resources, changed society. In the past decade within dual income families, genuine mutual respect has become the norm.

We still bicker about the housework – sometimes needlessly in my view – and mothers do too much of the childcare, though again, I would argue that part of that problem comes from society. Institutions and businesses are coldly unsympathetic to modern fatherhood. Real men don't do daddying except at weekends, that is the assumption. In spite of these difficulties, professional women have never had so much power in and out of the home, and a very good thing too. So now they want to bake cakes, go indoors a little, give up the commuting and battle against exhaustion. They want to give their children more time instead of getting in an endless run of nannies. Why shouldn't they?

Doesn't make them either weak or treacherous or stupid or in the words of an incandescent feminist columnist, "ridiculously retro". Domesticity is like nice frocks and flirting, a sensual marriage and lovely lullabies, silkiness you need to offset the bruising realities of modern existence, that deep unhappiness and anxiety afflicting us all.

I gave up on time-bound jobs long, long ago, so I could cook, pick up my daughter from school, sew on shirt buttons, collect the dry-cleaning, remember birthdays and, most precious, of all use my own time as I please. It feels like really freedom, genuine choice. Still have my own bank account and income. And yes, it has made us all happier. So go for it gals, but keep some independent income rolling in. Men, even good men, do bugger off, and you don't want to end up on the scrap-heap of life.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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