I am going to explore the real world of women and girls, not the one in glossy magazines where women glide effortlessly from breastfeeding to boardroom to sex goddess, writes Susan Dalgety.
My mother celebrated her 80th birthday a few days ago. Born into a poor Irish Catholic family in rural south-west Scotland, she spent much of her early life fighting – sometimes literally – for survival.
Bad enough that her father was a migrant labourer and her mother a dairy maid, she was also female. Working-class Scots-Irish girls were firmly at the bottom of Scotland’s social heap in the 1930s. A landowner’s cattle were often treated better than his farm “servants”. His horses most definitely.
A bright girl who passed her 11-plus, she was forced to leave school at 15 to earn her keep, and once married, she had to give up her job to concentrate on her new career as a wife.
Looking round the restaurant where we celebrated her birthday with not one, but three, cakes, it was easy to believe that society has been transformed for the better since young Mary O’Hare was born. Not least for women and girls.
The 14 females in our immediate family, ranging in age from 11 months to 80 years, were glowing examples of a national health service, free at the point of need. In fact, half the women, including my mother, worked in the NHS at some point. There was a primary school teacher on maternity leave, an undergraduate studying to be a primary school teacher, one college lecturer and a self-employed beauty therapist.
Everyone was dressed in their High Street finery, paid for from their own bank account, from sparkly leggings to designer bargains snapped up in House of Fraser’s closing down sale. “I felt a bit guilty,” said my sister, showing off her beautiful jade green dress. “All those people losing their jobs, but it was only a tenner.”
Every one of us had benefitted from the progress made by women since 1938. The introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961 – only to married women at first – released millions of women, including my mother, from the terrible burden of constant child bearing, and opened up the world of recreational sex.
The Equal Pay Act of 1970 meant that women had the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues for work of a similar nature.
“It is a basic act of justice ... another historical advance in our struggle against discrimination,” declared the woman responsible for the legislation, Labour’s Barbara Castle.
And the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s challenged the old male order. Women of all ages demanded equality in the workplace and at home, even in the bedroom.
“A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after,” said the godmother of feminism, Gloria Steinem, defining the dream of modern womanhood in one memorable sentence.
Now that we can all have sex, sometimes without ever getting married and not always with a man, and we can all work, sometimes even as Prime Minister or a brain surgeon, have we won the battle of the sexes?
Will my mother’s three great granddaughters grow up into a world free from sexism and gender inequality? Will they step effortlessly into the job of their dreams, whether as an astronaut or a landscape gardener?
Will they earn as much as their brothers or male cousins throughout their lifetime? Will they, finally, shatter the glass ceiling their aunties – and Hillary Clinton – keep bumping their head on?
As we surf the fourth wave of feminism I would love to believe that those little girls, in their unicorn dresses and sneakers, will never need the support of the #metoo movement, will not be judged by how well they pout, or mansplained by a stupid bloke.
But I am not optimistic.
Nearly 50 years after Barbara Castle’s equal pay legislation, women in Scotland still earn 14 per cent less than their male peers.
We may have a woman as First Minister, but the UK Labour Party – the self-proclaimed party of equality – has never had a female leader (note to pedants: Margaret Beckett’s and Harriet Harman’s spells as caretakers do not count). Fewer than a third of councillors are women.
According to Equate Scotland, only 18 per cent of students in computer studies are women, and only 11 per cent of engineers are female. It seems that many jobs are still for the boys.
And in a week when the country has faced arguably its biggest threat to our economic and political stability since 1945, social media was concerned with more pressing matters. The newest member of the Royal Family, Meghan Markle, apparently committed a serious breach of protocol when she made a surprise appearance at the British Fashion Awards a few days ago.
The duchess had the temerity to not only wear a dress that showed off her pregnancy, but worse, she cradled her baby bump.
“Who the hell does she think she is, Madonna and child? Something VERY creepy going on in this woman’s head,” screamed Twitter.
It seems that, even in 2018, a pregnant woman should hide her condition, lest it upsets those more sensitive souls who still believe storks deliver babies.
There are many glorious aspects to being a woman. Stroking your baby bump to calm the fidgety foetus inside is just one of them.
We live longer than men. And we are less likely to go bald.
There are some downsides too. Menstruation is, often quite literally, a pain. Bleeding from your vagina once a month is no fun; worse, being described as a bleeder rather than a woman, so as not to annoy over-sensitive trans women, is simply offensive. Misogynist even. And so is the gender pay gap and blokes who think sexual abuse is office banter.
Now that I have returned from my US road trip, I am going to explore the world of women and girls.
The real world, not the one in glossy magazines where women glide effortlessly from breastfeeding to the boardroom to sex goddess, without breaking a sweat or a shellac nail.
The real world, where most Scots women earn around £10,000 a year; where, even in Scotland, women and girls are trafficked for sex and violence against women is commonplace.
The real world, where 15 million girls of primary age will never go to school, and child marriage is still celebrated.
As the glorious Gloria Steinem once said: ”The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”