27 January 2014
Feminism Grows Older
I may not have been one of the early pioneers of feminism but when I was in my early twenties, life for young women was very different from what it is now. Jobs were readily available for new graduates. However, I remember being very angry even when , armed with my ink-still-wet degree, I was told by a specialist recruitment agency for female graduates that if I wanted a book- or writing-related career I would need to acquire shorthand and typing skills, both with excellent speeds. Gnashing my teeth because it was not advice given to male graduates, I refused to take myself off to secretarial college...instead I got myself a poorly-paid job in a bookshop. I loved it, nonetheless. In fact, that bookshop so happened to be part of a company that has since been taken over twice and has now morphed into a well-known British book-chain that is still somehow in existence although struggling as is the whole industry in the digital age. But that's another story.
However, had I persevered with book-selling and not pursued a much more secure salary and promotion ladder, who knows? I might be James Daunt. (Don't laugh.) To be more realistic. I could have been the manager of a large Waterstones store before I retired. If I had, would I have still chosen to write fiction when I turned forty? And the answer is probably yes - but it would have been different. I might have had the right contacts.
But I digress. We can all play the game of what-if? (After all, that's what being fiction writer is, after all.) What I really wanted to use this blog post for was to think back to my first steps beyond education and explain that, even now, women still get judged by their looks by society rather than their brains even in these days of equality. Yet, it's not young women writers who face inequality. They're doing very ell thank you, very mush. It's we much older women writers. And heaven help women like me who long ago, gave up the struggle to be photogenic. (It's not just writers. I'm thinking of the wonderful Professor Mary Beard as I type this. The nasty comments by men, many of whom should know better because they have been educated (A A Gill, I'm taking to you, sir) but still women are judged by their appearance.)
It just so happened upon this earlier today. Written by the equally wonderful Fay Weldon for The New York Times (hence the American spelling and vocabulary) it makes clear that the struggle for equality is by no means over - even for a writer with such a glittering career as hers. I saw her speak at the Harrogate History Festival late last year. And fascinating listening it was, too. However, I don't agree with it. Only those women writers who originally made it when young can now emerge older and wiser and able to be appreciated by what they write and not how they look.
For the majority of us, there's still a lot of work to do. But it's unlikely that young, fit and healthy young women will take it up. As Fay Weldon says, editors know what the market and readers want. It applauds old women but only when they've made their mark already and can now add longevity to their many accolades - and that includes Fay Weldon herself. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. But then, so is fame to those who have already achieved it. The old still get hungry.