Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

We might as­sume the Seven­ties were a time of women’s lib and new­found free­dom, but this provoca­tive piece by GH writer Hazel Meyrick shows we were still strug­gling against so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions…


The pre­miere was over, and at the swish Lon­don ho­tel where they were stay­ing overnight, film di­rec­tors Richard At­ten­bor­ough and Bryan Forbes were col­lect­ing keys for their re­spec­tive rooms.

‘Just a minute, gentle­men, you can’t take those ladies with you,’ said the hall porter, bar­ring the way. ‘Those ladies’ were, in fact, their wives, Sheila Sim and Nanette Newman.

But wasn’t it a com­pli­ment, re­ally? Isn’t it rather nice to be thought of as your hus­band’s girl­friend, rather than just his wife?

‘I think English wives are par­tic­u­larly bad at this girl­friend busi­ness,’ says Fran­coise Du­vaigne, a French di­vorcee now work­ing in Lon­don. ‘They are like English pud­dings – heavy and bor­ing. They have at­ro­phied, and only seem to come alive when you men­tion chil­dren or cook­ing. And their clothes! They seem to be stuck with plain, un­fussy, un­ex­cit­ing things. Yet English men get more at­trac­tive all the time.’

Mary S. could be one of the wives she is talk­ing about. Mary doesn’t think of her­self as a wife any­more. She is, in her es­ti­ma­tion, a mother now. Her skirt, which stayed mid-calf for years, has at last caught up with the midi-look, and threat­ens to be­come fash­ion­able. Her hair is a no- non­sense shape. At par­ties, you’ll find her in the cor­ner with other moth­ers, gos­sip­ing away about the par­ent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tion. She doesn’t seem to no­tice men at all and they, in turn, don’t no­tice her. Mary’s hus­band is hav­ing an af­fair with his sec­re­tary, but Mary doesn’t know about it. If she did, she would prob­a­bly con­sider it a child­ish pec­ca­dillo. Mary makes a won­der­ful mother but, de­spite her in­tel­li­gence and her de­gree in eco­nom­ics, she has got lost, some­where along the way, as a woman.

Why should we cease to be good com­pany just be­cause we hap­pen to be mar­ried? And are we re­ally so hard up that we can’t buy a belt to smarten up an old sweater, or try on a dress that we think won’t suit us, just in case it does?

Run­ning a home, coping with chil­dren, per­haps be­cause it is done largely alone, does seem to bring some wives down. But when a spilled packet of corn­flakes be­comes a ma­jor tragedy, it’s time to get back a sense of pro­por­tion. Girl­friends are, on the whole, amus­ing, well turned out, slightly sexy – and fun. Is there any rea­son in the world why wives shouldn’t be the same?

’s front cover in 1971

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