Sunday, 8 June 2008

It makes you think....

So last night, I was knackered. I was too tired to do anything but slump on the sofa and have several glasses of plonk – purely for medicinal reasons of course. Anyway, in my comatose state, I decided I would watch one of the dozens of videos – yes I still have the old VCR as it’s going great guns – I had taped. I watched Emma – you know, by Jane Austen. I think the actor that played Mr Knightley is dead sexy…see left. So, I watched Emma and it got me thinking about how hard it would have been to be a woman way back then. Oh sure if you were born into wealth and you had an income you did okay – even better of course if you married and you were settled in your life. But what about the women whose futures were not assured? What about the women who had to work for a living?

Imagine being a scullery maid or similar? What a bloody hard life they would have had. They would have worked their guts out for a pittance and yet been glad to have the job because it would have given them a measure of safety at least until they could get married - another safety net to cling to. I used to work in a hotel in London. It used to
be an old mansion that would have had it’s hey day in the 1800’s. Like the servants did back then, we lived in the basement. The kitchen was enormous and the many, many rooms had amazing old style cornices and ornate pressed ceilings. But the thing that got me was there was no elevators. So being a modern day chambermaid, as I was, I had to run up and down many, many stairs, often lugging a vacuum cleaner and sheets. But I used to imagine doing that in long, heavy skirts, being restricted by a corset and carrying heavy trays of food to people who were too privileged/lazy to get out of bed to have their breakfast. What a hard life those young women had – cleaning, cooking, getting up early and finishing late, with one day off a week – if lucky – for a pittance. I swear there were times I could feel the ghosts of those girls and my going up and down all those stairs was nothing compared to what they endured.

And how about being a governess? A governess was generally a woman of ‘good birth’ who was viewed neither as servant or part of the family and she had to look after and try and teach kids who she knew would eventually grow up and she would have to find another position. How scary would that have been? Added to that, because you weren’t a member of family you would have rarely been socially included unless there was the dreaded ‘13’ at the dinner table. So, there you are a smart, attractive woman having to rely on people for your living and knowing the axe would fall when the kids no longer needed you. Maybe you could become a ‘companion’ to some old crotchety dame or maybe you would jump at the chance of marriage for security from your precarious situation.

Think about the women who took to the streets because they had no references and the only way to survive was to have strange, unwashed men pay a pittance for a shag. What horrible short lived lives these woman had. Think about the diseases that would have been rampant then.

Yes, it absolutely sucks today that some women are not paid the same as men and that in some offices only by having a penis can you get to the top, but spare a thought for those women who have come before us - what they had to endure just to have a small measure of safety. No, I’m not trying to depress anyone. I believe sometimes movies like Emma come to me to remind me how bloody lucky I am as a single woman that I control my life, my finances and I am not worrying about not having a man to ‘look after’ me. Think of the choices women have in their lives now. Those women in the past would have had limited or no choice at all. It makes me very grateful.

Have you see My Brilliant Career? It’s an Aussie book by Miles Franklin – a female writer. It was made into a movie with Judy Davis and Sam Neil. It’s about a young woman called Sybylla who is trapped by circumstance. She wants to be a writer but that does not fit in with what society expects of her. If you get a chance – watch it. It’s an excellent flick. It’s about unpopular choices a young woman makes.

The winner of the Unbreakable contest has been emailed. Thanks once again to everyone who entered. As soon as I get a response from the winner, I will post the name.

Right I’ll leave you to it. I have almost finished writing a ménage. Will a publisher want it? Who knows? That’s all part of this writing business – write it, put it out there and wait for a response. If you are told it sucks, move on and try again. Suckiness is but a momentary thing.
Go ahead: Live with abandon. Be outrageous at any age. What are you saving your best self for?


barbara huffert said...

You make so many excellent points. We are very fortunate, as women, to be living now. I think we all lose sight of that at times so thanks for the reminder.

Anny Cook said...

My grandmother (born in 1896) and I talked a lot about what it was like when she was a young woman in west Texas. She was nearly a hundred years old when she died. She talked about the lack of "appliances" for house wives.

When I was a girl, the old home place was still standing and we stayed there. No electricity. No running water. Outhouse out in the "bush". When you went out there at night you took a flashlight and a hoe. Flashlight to see where you were going--hoe for the snakes.

Hauled water from the well. Used kerosene lamps. Two rooms were connected. All the others were add-ons that you had to go out onto the porch to enter.

Surroundings were bleak. It was a hard life. And the unmarried women, even in a close family were expected to do most of the work because they weren't "busy" with husband and children.

Sandra Cox said...

Its must have been the pits for the women of the lower classes. And even having a man wasn't insurance against harsh times. What if he got sick, lost his job, etc.
As usual, excellent, thought provoking blog.

Unknown said...

Good luck on selling your menage story.

Yep, we're very blessed to live today. Since I had a lot of medical problems at birth, I may not have survived had I been born a hundred years or even fifty years earlier. Maybe not even twenty or thirty years earlier. We forget how hard life must have been for all but a few in the upper classes.

Molly Daniels said...

I'll have to check out 'My Brilliant Career'. It sounds interesting!

Another thing about 'back then'...women had no rights. If the man was abusive, then life was even worse.

Regina Carlysle said...

I love reading things set in this time period and watching the very wonderful movies about it. You must check out Sense and Sensibilites, too. One of my favorites. I ALWAYS cry at the end. We are very fortunate to live now and not then. Drudgery. Awful. The life expectancy in the American West was 28 for a woman. My grandmother was born in the early 1900's and died at a ripe age..almost 90. I was fortunate to have known her. My Mom says they lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere and Grandpa was gone when she delivered her first child, a still-born baby. He was breech. She did it herself. All alone. She suffered terribly from the ordeal but went on to raise seven children with NOTHING during the depression.

Yes. We are lucky these days. Still have our battles but we're getting there.

LynTaylor said...

Amen to that sista! Gawd, as much as I love that 'era', sadly the realistic truth is that it would have been an utterly MISERABLE place to be. All we really read/see are those who were privileged. Just imagine those poor women, sent out here (AUS) on those ships, in absolute squalor. Their role to be sexual relief aides to the men of the colony - convicts and navy alike. My ancestor was one of those women. It's just so hard to imagine that a woman with no options could end up with even less. To be treated with such disdain. We truly are blessed to be part of modern society.

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LynTaylor said...

Oooohhhh ... Comment Deleted. Who'd we upset this time LOL!