Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Nan Was Convinced the Neighbours Were Trying to Electrocute or Poison Us

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Nan Was Convinced the Neighbours Were Trying to Electrocute or Poison Us

Article excerpt

An article in Prima has given a glimpse into how women s lives today compare with our grandmothers'. Here's what the "research" in the magazine found: 1950s wives scrubbed more and sat down less. Millennium mum snacks more but dusts less. With astounding predictability, this information is being used to make us feel guilty about our lives. Guilty that we eat well, guilty that we go to the gym, guilty that we leave the house at all while a single one of our husband s socks remains undarned or the scullery floor unmopped.

Using the fact that women in the 1950s had slimmer waists but consumed more calories as a leaping-off point, women from different generations have been pitted against each other in some sort of battle of the housewives. So it was that Sybil Appleyard proudly told us how her peers "had no need to keep fit in the gym" because "everything had to be done by hand. It was hard, physical work." Meanwhile her granddaughter oozed shame at a professional lifestyle that allowed her to get out once in a while but has denied her the wherewithal to cook a wild-hare pie for tuppence ha'penny while knitting clothes over a hot stove--or something like that.

It's as if dishwashers and drip-dry shirts have turned modern women into self-obsessed gadabouts. We neglect our children and refuse to please or care for our husbands (which is, after all, what we have been created for). Worst of all, despite increased "leisure time", we've put on weight and let ourselves go. The pictures used in the papers all showed slim, attractive, postwar housewives with slender ankles in corset-tight pinnies or housecoats.

In the 1950s, it seems, all mothers looked like Doris Day or Betty Grable.

If my Nan had been buried instead of cremated, she'd be turning in her grave. For 50 years, she was a housewife who fought a daily battle against dirt without any labour-saving devices--and she hated it. …

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