THERE was a time when I never thought I would ever utter the words, ‘the young people of today…..’
Because, of course, until fairly recently (emphasis on the ‘fairly’) I was young myself and quite certain that I’d never be a saggy old giffer. Blindness to one’s future frailties is, sadly, a characteristic of youthfulness.
Many years ago I remember reading an interview with Pamela Stephenson during her years as a comedienne. She said that she was never going to get wrinkles. At 29 she had given her face a thorough examination in the mirror and could see no signs of ageing. She had decided she was going to pass on the dreadful business of getting old and remain young forever.
I almost believed her because I was a similar age and also deluded.
And now, here we are, both of us, older and wrinklier. Although, it has to be said that she’s still looking pretty damned good, especially after the firming effects of being on Strictly Come Dancing.
Since my middle years arrived I find myself saying things like ‘the young people of today can’t imagine what it was like before everyone had a mobile phone’ (they are frequently scandalised when I tell them there were waiting lists for a British Telecom land line), or ‘the young people of today think they have a hard time at school but they don’t know the half of it’ (my Year Six teacher used to cane us all on a regular basis as a preventative measure).
Yes, I have reached that age when I find the expressions ‘when I was young’ or ‘when I was your age’ fairly trip off my tongue.
I did a lot of that on Saturday evening while watching Made In Dagenham, the Nigel Cole film which tells the story of the Ford machinists whose battle against the motor giant in 1968 led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970.
It wasn’t that I was ever on the receiving end of unequal pay because the National Union of Journalists won one of the country’s earliest equal pay agreements, getting pay parity for women journalists on Fleet Street as far back as 1918.
But I was old enough in 1970 to remember the furore when the act came in and the dire predictions that businesses would be ruined and family dynamics changed forever. The former never really happened – or not because of equal pay – while the latter was happening anyway, part of a wider social movement that probably owed more to the sexual liberation and improved contraception.
My own parents said that the act would lead to men being paid less and families plunged into poverty. I can remember them arguing that a single woman didn’t have to keep a family so therefore didn’t need to be paid as much as a married man. I used to point out that single women still needed a roof over their head and had bills to pay.
Of course, they belonged to a generation of people who lived with their parents until getting married and believed that the nuclear family should consist of a working father, stay-at-home mother and children raised on home-baked high teas and hand-knitted jumpers.
It is how I was brought up, but by 1970 the times were changing and these days young women would be horrified to be paid less than their male colleagues.
But, of course, vast swathes of the world still operate on this system, while in many countries women are not just second class citizens but people without rights of any kind at all.
Last weekend I also read an article in a magazine about the madrassas of India and Pakistan where girls are essentially locked up until they are of marriageable age. Their ‘education’ consists of learning to read religious tracts and little else. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia a women has been arrested for daring to drive a car.
I’ve never really understood why women, who are the life-givers and nurturers, have, throughout history, been treated so badly. But, I suspect, it would take a mind greater than my own to explain this.
A man’s perhaps!