STYLE

Do We All Secretly Want To Be Betty Draper?

25/01/2011 10:56 | Updated 22 May 2015

Okay, so this is a bit of a silly question. Yes, she has an enviable wardrobe (though even the biggest vintage-fetishist might balk at the painful undergarments required to keep everything hoisted), but what other parts of her life would you actually want?

Strained relationships with barely acknowledged household servants, not to mention children? Check. Cheating and now estranged husband? Check. Untold boredom and frustration resulting from the lack of an outlet for your obvious intelligence? Check again.

But it seems it's not just the fashion, home décor and general home-making expertise of the 1950s and early 1960s that modern women lust after: it's also the gender relationships that have long made us regard that era as stifling and repressive.

A survey by The Sunday Times recently found that 64 per cent of women would have preferred to marry a man who earned more than them. Asked whether, were money not a worry, they would prefer to stay at home and look after their children, 55 per cent said yes, while 53 per cent agreed that society puts pressure on women with children to do paid work.

The survey was sparked by a controversial new paper by Dr Catherine Hakim, a senior research fellow in the sociology department at the London School of Economics who has become something of a hate figure amongst feminists.

In Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine, Hakim says that women still want to marry men who earn more than them and argues that "despite feminist claims, the truth is that most men and women have different career aspirations and priorities". She concludes: "Financial dependence on a man has lost none of its attractions after the equal opportunities revolution."

Much as I hate to admit it, I think she has a point.

While we are young and free and working full-time, it's easy to believe that some measure of equality, by which I suppose I mean same-ness, is possible in a heterosexual relationship. Both parties might work, earn similar amounts, go out, do the cooking and do the housework (okay, maybe not that last one).

But once children come along it's a fact of biology that it is usually the woman who stays at home, whether that's for a few weeks or months or on a more long-term basis, for example by working part-time. And much as many women find it hard to break the belief that going out to work is the only worthwhile occupation, the fact is that once they have kids, most want to be the ones to look after them, and to hell with the career consequences - at least for now.

Given that, last time I checked, caring for small children and looking after the home is still an unpaid role (and the cut in child benefit will take even that small measure of independence away from many), it helps if the man that you are with, if you are with a man at all, can help keep a roof over your head and pay the bills for a while.

I am not saying that this is an ideal situation. Far from it. But until we find a way of financially compensating women for looking after children we shouldn't be surprised when surveys reveal opinions that we thought died out with the polka-dot pinafore and cupcake stand. Hmmm, hang on a minute, aren't those back too?

Laura Smith is a freelance journalist, writer and editor who has written for publications including The Guardian, The Independent, Marie Claire and the Evening Standard. www.laurasmith.org

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