Ah … tea and cake. I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart. English afternoon tea. Floral frocks. Knitted tea cosies. It’s not so long since I was worrying that all these were about to disappear for ever. Swept away in a torrent of microwave lasagne, leggings and lattes. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against any of these things. Apart from leggings. I could write a whole blog on the evils of leggings … I love a good latte as much as anyone. Especially a chai one. I’m not a Luddite or a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist. I just don’t much like the way the old can get forgotten when the new muscles in on the scene.
This afternoon I had a good, long natter with a friend. She and I are much of an age, so the inevitable happened. We began to reminisce. It wasn’t the usual it’s-not-like-it-was-in-the-old-days conversation though. It had more of a wow-all-these-things-are-coming-back-again feel to it. The Great British Bake-Off. The Sewing Bee … also Great and British but it sounded kind of repetitive. The fact that the local wool shop has undergone a revival, instead of closing down. The number of young people on the allotments of a weekend. Technology has forced itself upon us. For good or ill. Most of us have embraced it. I’ve no problem with that. I use it all the time. But it’s failed to edge out the traditional skills, as I once feared it might. Instead, people are learning dressmaking techniques from YouTube. Buying fabrics on eBay. Exchanging gardening tips on Twitter. Posting photos of their creations on Facebook. It seems human creativity is a resilient beast.
Many of these blossoming skills were once considered the preserves of women. Part of the traditional female role. They were sometimes scorned precisely because of that. I’ve been sneered at for knitting. Looked down on for baking. Asked what was the point of sewing. Usually by men. Sometimes by other women. Often because we all confuse equality with sameness.
At my core I believe all human beings are of equal value. No matter who they are. I’ve considered myself a feminist from the start. But looking back at the heady days of early feminism, I think we missed a trick. We bought into a myth. Assumed our role was second-class. Scorned our own traditions. We assumed ‘equal’ meant ‘the same’. We missed our chance to change the world.
I don’t have time to elaborate the consequences here. That would take a book. Or two. Spiralling housing costs. Ongoing income inequality. Marginalisation of ‘female’ roles. Stress from juggling employment. Housework. Childcare. Most men have side-stepped that one rather neatly. Capitalism saw us coming. And rubbed its hands with glee.
You’re probably thinking I’m about to advocate a mass retreat to the kitchen sink. A nostalgic return to the way things used to be. Not a bit of it. I love my freedom as much as anyone. It’s just that in an ideal world, that freedom would include being able to care full-time for my own children. If I chose to. Regardless of my gender. Without being penalised. Marginalised. Looked down on. And for that role to be considered of equal value with any other.
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. So they say. Maybe we were a bit quick to give that one away. With all the skills that went hand in hand with it. Baking. Sewing. Knitting. Growing. That’s not even the half of them. They’re flourishing in new ways now. In the hands of a new generation of feminists. Maybe they’ll value our traditions more then we did. Find more creative ways to breathe life into them. But as I said. I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart …