This morning I woke thinking, “metaphorically speaking, I live in Cranford!”
I’ve not been conscious of that thought before. What sparked it off was remembering something my father said. He died years ago, and I suddenly realized that though there are men around, I live surrounded by women. There are no men ‘in my life’ as such.
I wasn’t one of those who grew up with brothers. For a time I even went to an all-girls’ school. All that I thought I knew about men when growing up was garnered from Mills and Boon and Georgette Heyer. Also Maurice Walsh, John Buchan, Neil M. Gunn, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, John Steinbeck, T.H. White, J. R. Tolkien, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and C.S. Forester, just in case you think ‘trashy novels’ was all I read!
(I kept adding to that list while writing this blog post… I better publish this quick before I have time to add more).
Not that any of those books really helped. Maurice Walsh in particular seemed (in his writing) to elevate women (those that counted) to a sort of pedestal of goddesshood. I found that attractive, of course — considering myself always a woman who would count. But it doesn’t tell you anything about what real life is like, and how sometimes people don’t really see you as a person in your own right…. or would see, but don’t have time to.
Right now I’m reading two books about Jane Austen’s life; one of them said that people had to fight very hard in her family ‘to count,’ and if you didn’t, you just disappeared. One woman wasn’t mentioned beyond a certain point in surviving letters… out of sight, out of mind, perhaps. But the fact that whe was out of sight is significant.
Usually when I heard about a girl who had grown up ‘in a house of boys’ and knew more than I did about the nature of the beast, my thought was usually, “that can’t have been very nice! Smelly socks and muddy footballs!” But today my reaction is more “well don’t hold that out to me as a virtue! You lucked out in having a wider experience.”
I have men friends of course, but have not seen any for years, as they have all married and are emailing from other places (not that frequently). Having wives and children makes them somewhat awkward as correspondents. And this morning it occurred to me all of a sudden that, nowadays, (in my day-to-day life; blogs, other websites and emails aside) I only interact with women.
Actually, it could be that many women (even married mothers) would feel something similar! I don’t discount that at all.
Years ago, Mum was talking to a friend and neighbour, and turned to me. “What about you?” she said. “Do you find it easier to talk to a group that’s all men or a group that’s all women?”
I automatically answered “women!” After all, that’s how I grew up. Then I had second thoughts, drawing on my own experiences… and admitted that actually I wasn’t sure; sometimes a group of men could be very easy-going and courteous, whereas women would be quite catty… either to you or about someone not in the room.
“Yes, that’s what we were saying,” said Mum.
But, I added, the absolute worst kind of group includes both men and women! Suddenly the atmosphere is completely different. Perhaps they are more territorial about who belongs to whom; trying hard to look good in front of the other sex; avoiding subjects they would normally discuss only with their own gender… there’s a much more formal element to the gathering.
It crossed my mind to wonder if this ‘one-sideness’ in my life contributed anything to the agoraphobia. It’s often repeated that the statistics show that most agoraphobics are women, but it’s generally dismissed as indicating that men are less likely to admit they are struggling. I’m sure that’s true too. But even while that is being said, it’s also said that some women are prone to agoraphobia because their lives have been too sheltered! All decisions are made for them, including who they’re allowed to see. All of a sudden they’re expected to go forth and multiply, and do well in a world full of men, making their own decisions every day. It’s particularly hard when you’re quiet and not so out-going, and have to fight to be seen and to count.
‘They say’ that there’s a difference between academic qualifications and the wisdom of the streets, and it’s usually those with the latter talent who do best. For centuries, they’ve said ‘people who read books are dreamers’.
Somewhat connected: ‘they say’ that people with the best quality university degrees aren’t guaranteed success. Sometimes the less academically-apt (even at university) will do better, usually because their lives didn’t become all about the studying.
‘They say’ that people with a poor and deprived childhood will often grow up stronger (I’m sure that’s not always true. Often my memories of my happy and loving childhood are both reassuring and supportive).
‘They say’ that the most successful know how to manipulate get on with other people… that would include both genders!
All in all, it was a very interesting train of thought to wake up to, and I was paralyzed by it for about 15 minutes…. then I went downstairs, got myself a bowl of cereal, and picked up one of the Jane Austen biographies. Started a new chapter, and it was headed ‘Boys’! Apparently she was one of those annoying well-balanced women who grew up in a household full of these mysterious creatures. She had one sister, but also six brothers (including one who was mostly ‘out of sight’ — was he deaf?), and her parents ran a small school for boys.
Oh well… lucky her. But regardless of that, perhaps I’m about to read about how she didn’t really count that much in her family, being unmarried and childless. That might be what all this talk about ‘having to fight to count’ is leading up to… or perhaps it’s entirely the opposite, and is all about what an intelligent, independent individual she was; well able to hold her own, even in such a family!