Thursday, 10 September 2015

Victorian values

Yesterday Queen Elizabeth became the longest reigning monarch in UK history, surpassing the previous record set by Queen Victoria.  Cue outpourings of a sycophantic nature, general flag-waving and hurrahs all round.  Personally I find the monarchy of no relevance whatsoever, but I appear to be in the minority on that one.

So, how are we Elizabethans doing compared with our Victorian ancestors?  To be honest it looks pretty comparable.  In Victorian times we had the concept of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor.  The 'deserving' poor were the 'poor but honest' people, with a respectable reputation.  The 'undeserving' were the feckless, the lazy, the drunkards.  Sound familiar?  Iain Duncan Smith is doing his level best to put anyone claiming benefits into the 'undeserving' category, even those who have a long-term illness or disability.  There he diverges from the Victorian view that the sick and disabled were in the 'deserving' category, and helping them was seen as a religious duty.  IDS seems to be bent on returning us to long before Victoria's reign to the Middle Ages.  He forgets, however, that in the Middle Ages there was no income tax to support the political class.  Does that make him a benefit scrounger too?

What about the role of women?  Surely we have moved far beyond the Victorian ideal of the little woman, confined to hearth and home and concerning herself with running a household?  Sure, women can now have a career if they want one, expect to get maternity leave if they want a family and face no barriers to the professions.  Progress indeed.  However, there is a more subtle psychology at play.

The ideal Victorian woman was a fragile creature, unable to cope with the hurly-burly of the outside world and in need of special protection.  Oddly enough, we seem to be reverting back to this view.  What is the purpose of all-female shortlists for political positions if not an implicit statement that women can't compete with men in the world of politics and need special treatment.  It doesn't bode well for the female candidates.  How will they cope with Westminster or Holyrood?  Will they require all-female debates?

This week I also received an invitation to a women's social/political event, consisting of various stalls and talks by female MPs.  The stalls consist of jewellery, clothes, chocolate, candles, a nail bar, a weight-loss company and some sort of dietary supplement sellers.  Really?  All you need are stalls selling pink dye and shoes and you pretty much have the complete set of cliches about women's tastes.  And note the irony of having both a chocolate stall and a weight-loss stall at the same event.

I'm a child of the sixties, who grew up with feminism.  Now being a feminist appears to be to pander to self-indulgence, to police your body shape and to avoid men altogether.  Where finding a wealthy man to marry (eg a WAG) is seen as a valid lifestyle choice, if that's what you want to do with your life.  Where judging another woman is seen as oppressive.  Where all women are supposed to think the same as each other, and to avoid anything challenging.  It's as if Germaine Greer or Naomi Wolf needn't have bothered.

Well, I'm judging.  It's time to move away from Victorian values, which were predicated on a rigid class system and knowing your place.  It's time to get away from telling people that whatever they choose to do with their life is empowering, even if that choice to is be an exotic dancer or a kept woman.  Does that make me old-fashioned?  Probably.  But not nearly as old-fashioned as the society we seem to be becoming.

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