Jane Bradley: Vital guidance for girls of today

'It was only after I became pregnant that I really noticed just how unequal many people still regard the female sex'. Picture: PA
'It was only after I became pregnant that I really noticed just how unequal many people still regard the female sex'. Picture: PA
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FORGET burning their bras – most of these girls won’t even wear one yet.

When questioned for a recent report into equality by Guiding UK, three- quarters of Girl Guides said they believed that sexism was a priority issue for their generation. Hallelujah. At last.

I don’t think people my age (I was born almost exactly a year after Margaret Thatcher came to power) would have agreed if asked the same question as teenagers.

We are the lost generation when it comes to feminism – wandering around in a vintage-inspired blur of glittery cupcakes and pink ruffled aprons.

I wouldn’t have described myself as a feminist until I was well into my twenties. Not because I didn’t believe in equality – I did. But because the idea that men and women were not equal had never really crossed my radar. I didn’t understand that we had anything left to fight for.

When I was 16, I went to a former boys’ school which just five years earlier had begun to admit girls. Months before I arrived, they had built a new science block – but failed to include any women’s toilets.

By law, they had to provide a disabled toilet – and one stood, proud and unused, in the department’s entrance hall. Us girls, however, had to hold it in until we made it back to the main building. I campaigned until a women’s toilet symbol was eventually erected, next to the little stickman wheelchair user on the door of the disabled loo. But I still didn’t register quite how serious these sorts of incidents were – I just found it funny.

It was only after I became pregnant that I really noticed just how unequal many people still regard the female sex.

Mouths dropped open when I said my husband was planning to use some of his parental leave entitlement to look after our baby for a month after I returned to work.

One mother commiserated with him that he must be “between jobs” to be free to take our daughter to a music class on a weekday morning. When he explained, she was amazed. Despite having a son the same age, she had no idea that men could – or would – choose to share the care of a young baby.

During a discussion of last week’s announcement of changes to the government’s parental leave scheme, friends insisted that their partner’s employers would “laugh in their faces” if they tried to take extended pat­ernity leave. They can laugh all they want – but it is a legal right.

Other women admitted (in a display of their own blatant sexism), that they would not want their husband to take time out of work to look after their child.

I have met men my age who don’t want their wives to work and others who refuse to so much as change a nappy when it comes to a child who they chose to create. Some refer to the odd time they look after their son or daughter alone as “babysitting”.

What worries me most is that I have also met women who do not challenge these views.

Of course, all families find their own path when it comes to chores and childcare. It may be that one or other of a couple chooses to be a stay at home parent. Or that one is better at cooking – while the other prefers to do the washing-up or the laundry. Fine. But it should be a choice which could, potentially, apply to either man or woman – without ridicule.

Us girls of the Eighties were brought up to believe that we could earn a place at university, travel the world, even become prime minister one day, if we so wanted.

But many have reacted against this plethora of choices, creating a homely, alternative world, where they are domestic goddesses of their own domain, both at home and professionally. Independent baking ventures (read cupcake-sellers) in Britain have more than trebled since 2009, while the number of baby and child-related businesses run by “mumpreneurs” has exploded.

There is nothing wrong with either of these things in themselves. But it is when some women play up to a game of Stepford Wife all in the name of kitsch – giggling at the idea their man might do the washing, talking (with a roll of their eyes) about childcare as “women’s work” – that seeds of sexism are planted, not just in their own minds, but in the minds of the men in their lives, who often carry these views from home to office.

Thank goodness for the Girl Guides. It might be too late for my generation, but perhaps they can save themselves.