19 November 2008

Sugar and Spice? The Modern British Woman

Get ready for some really interesting numbers. This past weekend, The Sunday Telegraph published results of a recent survey of over 1,000 British women. The results are fascinating, and offer an intriguing glimpse into the mind and ways of British women, and a provocative commentary on British society & culture generally…

73% - # of women surveyed who would prefer to have a male boss than a female boss

38% -  Described themselves as “feminist”

46% - Believe couples should live together before they marry

49% - Do not believe couples need to be married before having children

66% - Believe it is better to divorce that to stay in an unhappy marriage

67% - Said they would rather hold out for “a perfect, romantic partner” than settle for a man who’s just “good enough”.

42% - Women who have never been on a diet

21% - Women who do not take any form of exercise during the week

50% - Were either “very happy” or “fairly happy" with their bodies

91% - Said they would rather have a new kitchen than a face-lift

30% - Lost their virginity before they were 16 years-old

9% - Met their husbands through the Internet

Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela topped the charts for “Greatest role models - female/male”.

Only 1.9% found Keira Knightly to be “the most attractive famous woman,” which, as far as I’m concerned, goes someway to rectify (though not excuse) the  somewhat scary fact that Jordan/Katie Price placed 3rd in the “Most Admired Woman” category, after The Queen (#2,) and Margaret Thatcher (#1). 

Jordan/Katie Price is a reality show “star,” from the UK version of the reality show “Big Brother.” I’m guessing that the American equivalent would be someone along the lines of  Tia Tequila or “New York,” from the reality show, “I Love New York.” (Interesting.)

So, what do all these numbers tell us about today’s British woman. Well, beyond the Jordan anomaly, today’s British woman seems a forthright, free-thinking gal, with a mind of her own; who’s not afraid to go against the grain in terms of tradition and conventionality; she has a take charge attitude, though she may prefer to remain the chief and/or only lioness in workplace pack; and I think most notably, she is not nearly as self-consciousness (dare one say self-obsessed?) about her weight, body, and/or looks as her American cousins.

To my mind, today’s “Modern British Woman” is not such a far cry from the modern British women of yesteryear. A few days ago, as I was recovering from my job interview woes, I was invited out for tea by Tracey, my neighbour, but one. (Don’t  you love that? “My neighbour, but one.” That’s a fancy English way of saying: “Tracy, who lives next door to the person who lives next door to me.”) I felt too woebegone to go along, but in the end I went, and met Tracy at the Machado Gallery on Wellesbourne Road.

The Machado Gallery is a snazzy little art gallery that is an institution here in Barford. It is “art central” for the village of Barford. I went there for a “Coffee Morning” a few weeks ago, and by the end of a two-hour visit, I had been “volunteered” to lead the soon-to-be-formed Barford Writers Group. 

Tracy and I were joined for tea by her friends, Sonia and Armelle. Sonia is the Barford “Lollipop Lady”. 

She stops traffic, and keeps all the kiddies safe as they cross  the road going to school. “Lollipop Lady” -- is that not just the most adorable name ever? You can’t help but smile when you say it! In America, we’d call her something utilitarian like: “Toddler Pedestrian Patrol Officer”, or “School Crossing Attendant”. Every time I see Sonia in her bright yellow jacket and hat, I nearly lose my life rushing across the street to hug her!

I was stunned to find out over tea, that Sonia is well over 60. She is so youthful and spry. She and Armelle kept us all in stitches with their tales of life in the “good old days”. Armelle, who is nearly 80, has a mischievous sparkle in her bright blue eyes. Call it writer’s instinct, but I took one look at her, and knew she had a story to tell.

1948. She was out with her “best lad”. He had taken her up to “The “Pally” - the Palace Ballroom  in Leamington Spa. Lo and behold, in the midst of the foxtrot and the waltz, Armelle urged her dance partner to let loose, and she began to dance “the jive”. Jive, then a new-fangled American import, was of course frowned upon in good society, and the Palace Ballroom Dance Master was swift to put an end to such nonsense. Clapping his hand upon Armelle’s shoulder, he declared her “barred from the  Ballroom.” Armelle and her escort were forced to leave immediately. But Armelle was a popular gal, and when her large gaggle of friends warned the Dance Master that they would all leave and never come back to the Pally -- unless Armelle was allowed to return, he changed his tune. As Armelle spoke, with her soft, gravelly voice, I could hear that old '80s tune, “Come Dancing,” by The Kinks in the back on my head. I used to watch that video on MTV, Armelle actually lived it.

And this was not her first scrape against the grain. Armelle was a rebel from the beginning. Her mother, who was French and very Catholic, sent her to “convent school” in Kenilworth, and Armelle hated it. She begged her mother not to go, but her mother would have none of it. With no other means of reprieve, Armelle set about driving the nuns to drink.  She regularly played truant, and eventually gave up altogether and got a job. And she became a Librarian. (Could this woman be any more my hero?)

Bad behaviour seems to have been rife amongst young women in 1950s Britain. Sonia, the mild-mannered Lollipop Lady, got barred from a ballroom in Hampton-on-the-Hill in 1950! Those were the days, they say. Of getting dressed to the nines, and walking fours miles home, over rolling, green English hills by the light of the moon. What days those must have been.


Nanny Debbie said...

I would just like to say that i love reading your blog ! I find it so interesting to hear about your experiences of being an American living in the UK, especially as I am British and have spent time living in America.
I would like to clear up though that Katie Price has never been on Big brother and she has done MANY different things in her career but she started off as a model ! Read more about her here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jordan_(Katie_Price) that is if you are interested !!!
have a nice holiday

An American Girl in the UK said...

Thanks for your comment, Nanny Debbie! And thanks for the info on Jordan/Katie Price. Cheers and all best!