In Praise of 'Old School' Women

In Praise of 'Old School' Women

I sit on the committee of the Wylye Women WI Lite (like the traditional Women's Institute but aimed at younger women - think Mojitos and Mamma Mia rather than Jam and Jerusalem) and, more recently, on the committee of our local Rugby Club. The two couldn't be more different. Our WI meetings are held at someone's house, tea, coffee, wine and nice nibbly things are always served. The committee is, as you would expect, entirely women. The rugby club, on the other hand, meets up at the club, they don't put the heating on and you don't get so much as a glass of water. It is, as you would expect, almost entirely men.

The WI committee meetings often run on for hours, the agenda is something that is loosely adhered to, and the most common sentence uttered is 'so, back to the matters we need to discuss' as the evening invariably goes off in several tangents. That's not in itself A Bad Thing although it does sometimes make for a late night. Women seem pre-programmed to turn everything into a comfortable, social event and I'm all for that. At the rugby club (with the heating off), however, the men seem to have no need to turn it into anything other than a committee meeting, social interaction is at a minimum and generally saved for a few minutes when the meeting is over, most likely because it's so cold that you are numb from the feet upwards.

It is the first time I've sat on an (almost) all-male committee so it's interesting to see how differently they function. Men seem much more able to stick to the matter being discussed without the need to digress. Women seem much more able to digress without the need to stick to the matter being discussed. It's not because we are all barefoot, pregnant, tied to the kitchen and waiting on men who are unable to even put the loo seat down, so we need the social interaction. Is it because we are all accomplished multi-taskers so feel able to talk, discuss, gossip a little and drink wine? Men, on the other hand, are not quite so accomplished at multi-tasking, despite their ability to flick through the channels with the remote and simultaneously watch several different programmes (while you'd much prefer just the one you were watching).

On a Facebook discussion, a friend told me that 'modern women don't sit on committees' and that it's an 'old school' thing. I wouldn't, personally consider myself an 'old school' woman, in fact, I'm not even sure I know what one of them is. Certainly, looking around our WI committee, it includes a diverse mix of thoroughly modern women, all of whom are professionals, several of whom run their own successful businesses. The WI plays an enormous role in empowering women and campaigning for women's issues, far more so than some of these 'right on' websites who think they are empowering women because they print a few articles about vibrators and seem to exist solely so their members can moan about what A Hard Job it is bringing up their one or two children but never mind, there's always wine (or is it whine?).

I wonder if some of them would find themselves more empowered if they shut down their laptops and got themselves on a committee, or at least engaged a bit more with the outside world and less with the cyber one. Meanwhile, the WI is campaigning against changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the erosion of means of help for women suffering from domestic violence. I know which one I think is more empowering.

I think it's not so much a question of whether modern or old school women sit on committees but that so many younger people just can't be bothered. In my parents' village the Jubilee celebrations are being almost entirely organised by people over 70. The 'youngsters' can't help because they have A Very Busy Life. My mother says most of them don't work, unless you count the school run, and spend most of their day on their laptops (probably reading about other people's Busy Lives) while the kids run riot. She says there's probably little point in the private tutor to get Phoebe into the local grammar school because she'll probably end up pregnant at 15 just to get her mother's attention. She's spent enough of her life working with young people to probably be right. I wonder how these 'modern women' would have managed with her life, living in Iran at 20, thousands of miles away from her family and friends, bringing up her children as well as working in a country where is was absolutely against their culture for a woman to work. She's definitely 'old school' as she sits on about four committees and is probably worth a whole committee of 'modern women' (assuming you could get them to sit on it in the first place!)

I think it's such a shame that many younger women are so disengaged from their own communities; so content to sit back and let the others do the work, then just turn up and reap the benefits. When all these 'old school' women are gone who will be holding the community together? Back in the day, villages operated as co-operatives, with everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, pulling together for the good of their community. It was a happier, healthier way of living. People didn't die alone, their bodies undiscovered for weeks. Young women struggling with motherhood had a huge support network to fall back on. What happens these days if you are having trouble breastfeeding, for example? You might have your mother handy but if not you probably call a local lactation adviser. She in turn is most likely linked to a voluntary organisation, and that in turn is run by a committee. In our local area we have a group of volunteer first aiders who run a 'rapid first response' service to support the local ambulances. They can get to the scene of an accident faster than the ambulance and start to get the situation under control in those vital early minutes that can, literally, be the difference between life and death. The service is run by a committee.

Committees impact on virtually every area of our lives and if 'modern' women feel they don't need them, I say, think again. Live in splendid isolation if you wish but committees and the people who give up their time to sit on them perform a valuable service and our communities are better places for them.