Search This Blog

Friday, 6 July 2012


For a few months in the middle of 1965, I worked in the Dartford Youth Employment Bureau. It was my "Gap" year between school and university. I cycled to work each day on my Raleigh Triumph.

One of my jobs was to issue National Insurance cards to school leavers.

One day a girl came into the office. There was something very odd about her. Her clothes were old fashioned, thick and woolen, though it was summer. She was wearing a hat in a style which to me was 1930s. She looked frumpish. She was 15, had just left school, and wanted her Insurance card. She seemed ill at ease and I guess I reciprocated

I felt something was wrong and later I asked my colleagues for an explanation. They knew of the girl. She was apparently very clever and her school had wanted her to stay on. But her family belonged to a Christian sect which required girls to leave school at the earliest legal age and go to work in family businesses until they married. The sect barred girls from all education beyond the minimum required by law. I suppose it provided their businesses with cheap and docile labour.

This was Kent, not Afghanistan. Googling today, I think it likely her family were Brethren of one kind or another [Plymouth, Exclusive]. The clothes were sectarian garments like those we more usually associate with fundamentalist Jews or Muslims.

Because these nasty little sects are isolationist rather than activist, we don't go after them unless some financial or sexual scandal becomes public. And, of course, they are very small. You can find Survivors' forums on the internet.

Nowadays we are much more likely to see young women in suffocating burqas than in the woolens of some purse-lipped and disapproving Brethren.

Feminism has been at its best - at its best for over 200 years - when demanding equal rights: the right to own property and the right to initiate divorce proceedings; access to education at all levels; the vote; equal consideration for employment of any kind; equal pay; equal respect. And even the right to wear non-restrictive clothing: remember Mrs Bloomer?

Most of the time, organised religions run by men (they all are) have opposed feminist movements for equality and continue to do so. In Italy life is more skewed against women then elsewhere in the European Union, the legacy of a church now merely rotten with corruption. But there are still women willing to do its flower arranging.

For all that they have indeed legislated for equality, governments in the USA and the UK find nothing strange in standing shoulder to shoulder with a regime in Saudi Arabia which denies women the right to drive cars. Among other things.

Feminism has been at its worst when it has adopted the vices of religious sectarianism and sought to prescribe whether women should wear make-up or mini-skirts, whether they should flirt, what sexual fantasies and sexual positions they are permitted (if any). This disapproving, purse-lipped Sunday School tendency wants women to live their lives in shades of grey, preferably woolen, and is now generally ignored. It still provides an income for Anti-Sex League journalists who write Opinion columns for the better newspapers.

No comments:

Post a Comment