Monday, 30 March 2009

The art of ease; or, the state of the female nation; or, my rant for the day.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Here is what the women do: make it look effortless. (And when I say The Women, I obviously mean every single one of Britain’s 25 million ladies, because I would never fall for the evil art of generalising.) I can’t quite work out whether this is a fatal tendency, or not. It might be a marvellous, tremendously British, keep buggering on attitude. It might be verging on the Churchillian. It could be something that people should be writing anthems about. My fret is that it means that not enough people stop, every once in a while, and say to the ladies: bloody well done.

Here is what most women are: worker, bottle-washer, shrink, household CEO, cook, shopper (the lavatory roll must never run out, or dark things will ensue), mother, daughter, friend, dog-walker, domestic planner, teacher, nurse, and, quite often, accountant. On top of all this, they are expected to be informed, imaginative, and elegant. The magazines would very much like them to be a certain size and shape, and for them to keep their hair preternaturally glossy at all times. (It is no coincidence that the expression ‘bad hair day’ has gone into the lexicon.) If they can keep up with fashion and become a bit domestic godessy, that is a bonus devoutly to be wished. The spurious rumour that females are biologically programmed to multi-task – that hideous, managerial collocation – means that women rarely get credit for the many things that they do all at the same time. The talk of juggling fades into so much background noise, so that it is only noticed in the breach – ripples of shock when someone actually drops a ball. The endless articles about work-life balance take on a hectoring air – you are getting it right, aren’t you?

And so, the women, because they don’t want to make a fuss, because they are, after all, British, just get on with it. They do not moan or whine or go on strike or take to the barricades; so the appearance of effortlessness is born. Somehow, the work is done, the children are taken to school with the correct shoes and the right sporting equipment, the husband’s socks are daily located, the supper is cooked, the deadlines are met. Even those who write subversive pieces and blogs about how they are more domestic slattern than goddess do it in such a funny, self-deprecating way that the notion of ease is still somehow there. Women make jokes among themselves about how they must make the transformation from bug-eyed troll into glorious party creature with no more than half an hour, an eye pencil and their native wit; yet they still manage to leave the house looking fabulous. They will occasionally tell horror stories of being woken three times in the night by a small vomiting person, but they still get to work on time.

The absolute personification of this swan-like tendency – serene on the surface, tiny little legs paddling very, very fast beneath the water – is Kate Moss. This might sound a fraction counter-intuitive. But just stop and think about it for a moment. There she is, out every night, still managing to look glamorous even when emerging, dishevelled and slightly bleary, from a taxi at three in the morning. In her life, rather than in the tabloid depiction, she must guard her business affairs, invent new fashions every time she leaves the house, do some actual modelling, field endless requests for endorsements, go out with edgy musicians, design a clothing line, and talk to Philip Green (I imagine not the highlight of her day). It’s not splitting the atom or working the night shift in an NHS hospital, but that’s not the point. You try being a global brand. Everyone takes it for granted, because, you know, she’s just little Mossy from Croydon. But to go from Croydon to household name takes some serious paddling. To stay at the top of such a febrile profession for twenty years is quite an achievement, whatever you think about fashion. To do it whilst giving the appearance that all you do is go to parties is oddly miraculous.

Women don’t want to be put on a pedestal, besieged with bouquets and excessive congratulation. Most of the hundred things they do, they do because they choose them. But just because sometimes it looks easy on the outside, does not mean it should be taken for granted. Just occasionally, I wish someone would give the women a round of applause.


  1. I suspect we are not applauded because no one realises we do anything, precisely because we always do. If we were to stop for a while and then re-start then we would get acknowledged, but until there is no loo-roll, clean shirts, tickets booked, milk etc, etc it just ain't going to happen. (I got a very high mark in my Cynicism A'level)

  2. suffer in silence, isnt that the motto? my mother always told me, and still does, "please dont become like me when you grow up" (direct trans from urdu). she always told us to be the opposite of what and whom she was- she suffered in silence all her life. beautiful, gorgeous, always smiling. never revealing anything to us kids or her parents. (apparently ruth reichl has written a book about this- "not becoming my mother", but, after reichl wrote "comfort me with apples", i lost respect for her. i just dont like the genre of books in which authors open up their lives- about their affairs etc, etc.) my aunt is british, and she is also a part of the cultural kaleidoscope of british women- suffering in silence. i hope the new generation will change.


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