CHARLOTTE BINGHAM -           Novelist and Playwright
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GIRLS DO COUNT

GIRLS DO COUNT!

         The inside page of COUNTRY LIFE magazine always makes me feel so happy, not just for the inevitably pretty young women pictured there, but for what has happened to the girls in pearls that used to be there. They have disappeared!  No longer can we gaze with respect on young ladies in strapless evening dresses wearing the traditional sign of purity around their swanlike necks, their delicate arms poised on the balustrade leading to their parents’ rose gardens, they are gone, and in their place have arrived not swans but tropical birds of every hue.

      I can’t help feeling just a little envious of new womanhood.  How wonderful to have just finished a course at Oxford, and to be going on to set up your own jewellery design business or follow a business course, or go to teach children in Africa - in between rowing or eventing, or running marathons for charity.  It seems that now, at long, long last the dreaded prison of old fashioned womanhood has been discarded, set alight on a bonfire of old fashioned prejudice. Way back then, to be a young woman meant to be correct, to try to be perfect for a lucky young man, to be in essence a  symbol of the kind of womanhood of which everyone else would approve.  You learned to have a ‘listening’ face at dinner parties, a gracious expression at luncheons, and always a grateful smile at balls and dances.  You must never have chipped nail varnish – and you must always know how to get out of a car, or a taxi, wearing a smile that goes with the assurance of one who knows they are not showing anything unseemly.

         So it was that I watched the women’s boat race on Saturday, and marvelled at the sporting skills of both Oxford and Cambridge, all the while remembering how brilliantly women had done rowing in the Olympics. As I saw the joy of achievement, and the calm of defeat reflected in the rowers’ faces, I gave a sigh of happiness that there was not a pearl in sight. They no longer have to pretend that they are young ladies, they are expected to be achievers, fit and intelligent. And how marvellous too not to have to pretend to be helpless little women in front of the opposite sex, not to have to dimple shyly at compliments, rather to be modest and generous at their own and their rivals,  sporting achievements.

        The heroine of ‘Rebecca’ is shy and easily put down.  Her husband has no compunction in calling her, several times - ‘you little fool’.  He wouldn’t do that now, just as she would not allow Rebecca, or Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, to push her around.  Nowadays she would be furious at Maxim for making such an ass of himself over a woman that everyone knew was cheating on him, before rowing smartly out to sea to drop anchor and fish for clues.  And as for Maxim calling her a little fool - he would never dare, far too afraid that she would undoubtedly produce her double first to hit him on his conceited head.  And when the house started to burn down she would be manning the pumps with the local volunteer fire brigade, for which she has only recently raised money running a marathon around Cornwall.

        So goodbye to pearls, and fond love to the girls who wore them – but as to fathers saying  ‘girls don’t count’[- I have news for you Fathers everywhere – they do, at long, long last they most certainly do.
 

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