Harriet Walker: Have the courage to go Dutch


Wednesday 17 November 2010 01:00

Eat like a French woman, goes the saying, and you'll never get fat. Work like a Dutch woman, is my advice, and you'll never become depressed, overworked, desk-bound or eaten up with acrid ambition.

Fewer than 10 per cent of women work full-time in the Netherlands, hardly any have impressive titles or the sort of ritzy corner office that comes with them, and the gender pay gap remains enormous. Twenty-five per cent of Dutch women don't even make enough money to be considered financially independent.

They should be outraged by this, surely? They should be marching around burning their clogs and pelting politicians with tulips. Not necessarily – they're actually entirely comfortable with this state of affairs. And all of us whinging workplace harridans would do well to take a leaf out of their book. If we had the time.

It isn't regressive to point out that as women have neared a sort of equality, their happiness levels have dropped. Because it wasn't that men had to back-pedal to a level that everyone could be comfortable at (and nor should they have had to), it was our job to strain towards the heights at which the fellas had already brokered their own deals. This is no bad thing: a lot of women like having that corner office and the title of Lady High Executioner. I'm mentally planning the seat arrangement, room fragrance and scatter cushions for my own office as I write this column.

But the liberty to drop out of work, to stay at a certain level if that pleases us, to prioritise doing other, womanly stuff (and I'm not talking about spending ages in the bathroom, for instance) without people (and other women in particular) thinking we're wimps or throwbacks eludes us still. Think of the disappointment and scorn that Harriet Harman faced when she announced she was not running for the Labour leadership – as the chief female voice of the party, not to mention a voice that so often makes brilliant but unfashionable feminist stands for women and women's rights, it was unfathomable to some that she wouldn't want to make this final push for ultimate domination.

But that trait in women is not as dominant as it is in men. To deal briefly in sweeping generalisations, most women prefer a work-life balance to making sure they're indisputably the Top Dog. That's what Dutch women say, and that's why they enjoy their part-time culture. It's a far healthier state for a society to be in when its female members are strong enough to do as little as they like, rather than as much as they can physically manage before burning out or missing the opportunity to have children.

When I was younger, I used to rue the day the suffragettes marched out for the vote – if it wasn't for them, I reasoned, I wouldn't have to do sport at school, I wouldn't have to go and get a job, I wouldn't have to do anything at all. Then I grew up. While I'm certainly not suggesting that most Dutch women are sitting around embroidering cushions or eating tiny cucumber sandwiches, their Edwardian state of reliance on husbands or fathers for financial security leaves me a little anxious. But that's their choice.

What we're forgetting here, of course, is that the 10 per cent of Dutch women who work full-time are probably 90 per cent more efficient than the men doing the same, so it all balances out anyway.

Culture for idiots

This new, rap-lite Yeo Valley advert has had a profound impact on me. It ignites the sort of impotent rage normally reserved for George Osborne and clothes from Next. I simply can't bear what it stands for: namely, that yoghurt is fun (it isn't), and that being any of the following is cool: posh, corporate and culturally empty (they aren't).

Novelty songs are despicable at the best of times, but at least they claim to poke fun at the establishment, by revealing some cutesy social quirk or keeping Simon Cowell's monolithic drones off the Christmas number one spot. The Yeo Valley rap has no such redeeming feature: it's essentially a corporate ruse designed to engender common mirth among idiots, which in turn is designed to engender a spike in yoghurt sales.

And we're supposed to love it because it speaks for Britain – playing off the smug hilarity that results from West Country accents rapping about something as mundane as a bio-culture. Oh please. Actually, it's all too clear why it provokes in me the same fury as Osborne and Next do: they're also shamelessly transparent constructs purporting to be universal and beneficial but in fact relying on our innate stupidity in order to wrangle cash from us.

You see? I'm practically fermenting.

The painful truth about female orgasms

After somehow persuading some women to masturbate while wired up to brain monitoring equipment (there's a line you don't often hear at a cocktail party), Barry Komisaruf of Rutgers University has found that pain regions of the brain are highly active at the point when women reach orgasm.

Does this make us masochists? He also found the zones that deal with memory and reward are engaged during the grand finale. It's a bit like training a dog: a treat when you do well and a chop on the muzzle when you don't. But combined! We've always known the process can be a pain in the neck for all involved, and here's the proof. Thanks Freud.

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