She will forever be known as Superwoman, following her book for women who hate housework, and Shirley Conran is still standing up for her sex. She talks to GH about feminism, money and how she taught girls to be more demanding in bed...
Superwoman Shirley Conran
Life is too short to be short of money. This mantra is my update on ‘life is too short to stuff a mushroom’, which I wrote in Superwoman. We’ve come so far, but women don’t like talking about money – it is still considered unfeminine and nasty. I’ve found that teenage girls are refreshingly different. Girls of 13 and 14 like a particular shade of pink, they like chocolate, they like kittens and they like money. I think this is tremendously healthy.
I am usually all for bribery with children. When one of my grandsons was about six, his parents were worried because he couldn’t count up to 100. So I got 100 £1 coins and poured them out on to the kitchen table in front of him. After he had played with them, I took them all back and I said, ‘Next Saturday, if you can count to 100, you can have them all. You are only going to have one go and if you get one wrong, I am taking the lot back.’ The next week he counted to 100.
It frustrates me when women say they can’t do maths. They would never say they can’t read, but somehow, when it comes to maths, it seems to be acceptable. It won’t be by the time I finish! I want teaching methods to change. They are outdated – we should push out things like trigonometry and calculus. My aim in setting up the online course Money Stuff was to teach enough maths so you could get through life, run a business, understand stocks and shares.
My book Lace taught girls what to ask for in bed. When I started it in 1979, the sexual revolution was in full swing, but everything was still from the man’s point of view. At that time, the average Englishman thought the clitoris was a Greek
hotel. So I wanted to write a non-fiction book about sex for teenage girls. Then I got a bit bored. I have always wanted to write a novel. I also remembered the romantic novel Forever Amber, which everybody read in my day. I thought if I can write a book like Forever Amber, then the girls can pass it round in brown paper bags or whatever – and they did!
My son Jasper didn’t speak to me for years. I still don’t know why, but we made up after he asked to meet me for lunch. Afterwards, I thought about how we didn’t even discuss why [he hadn’t spoken to me] and then I thought, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are together again.’
My female friends have always been important to me. Now the hardest thing is losing them. If I’d had these losses when I was young, I would have howled, burst into tears and let everyone know how I was feeling. Now I don’t say anything to anyone, but I have no energy for weeks and I have to force myself to do things. It is a form of depression.
I am a great believer in letting work distract you. I work from 8am until 5pm with an hour off to sleep at lunchtime. I have suffered from ME for more than 40 years. It doesn’t get better; you just learn to live with it and not to do too much.
I don’t have any problem calling myself a feminist. I was at the barricades in 1970. I was one of the ringleaders! We were dubbed ‘man haters’, and the most problematic thing was being forced not to wear a bra! I remember someone saying to me, ‘Of course I am not a feminist, but I do believe in fair play.’ That is what feminism is!
Shirley: ‘The sexual revolution was in full swing in the 1970s, but everything was still from a man’s point of view’