I am surrounded by strong-willed women. Most of the time, I like it. My grandmother, my mum, my nanny (I mean, my daughters’ nanny of course), my female friends and my daughters all have their own (strong) personality. There are fights, sparks, and arguments. It is a high-pace life. It must be my lot in life to be surrounded by alpha females. That said, I have always believed in women’s right to be educated, right to have a career or right to choose to stay at home. I have been brought up thinking that everything was possible, and I actually am grateful for that, even if, in fact, everything is possible but that little bit more difficult for girls.
In the run-up to the 11+ exams, I had to visit a few secondary schools in and around London. First of all, where we live, most secondary schools are single sex. After all, why not? But then, most schools pride themselves in showing you their Home Economics Labs (in other words, their kitchen) where they teach the girls to cook and run a home. And they boast about it. The feminist in me was outraged and I had to force myself not to make a comment. My husband, who knows me well by now, made me understand that I had to keep quiet. After all, all I had to do was to nod politely, just like the other Mums. But I was asking myself whether they were also teaching the girls to be good wives and it was killing me. Some schools didn’t even show the science lab. I am French, and in France the Holy Grail of education is Science (and maths, actually). I felt that I was travelling back in time. I wanted to run away and escape. How could this country be the first to allow women to vote and still be so conservative?
Don’t get me wrong: knowing how to cook in this country is part of your survival skills if you want to avoid bread that tastes like the plastic it is rolled in. But you learn this at home and I don’t want to pay school fees for it.
When I tried to express my concern to other Mums, the response I got was along the following lines: “but why would you want your daughter to study maths or science?” “What is the point, for a girl, to study hard?”. The best one was “You don’t want your daughter to outshine her husband, do you?” I thought about it long and hard and came to the conclusion that, here, it is rude for a girl to be bright. You need to have a pretty face, be polite, be able to sustain a decent and interesting conversation. Oh, and I forgot: under any circumstances, stay skinny and keep your sunglasses. In short, shut up and be gorgeous.
For such Mums, the secondary school is just some sort of finishing school where you can meet the right people and learn to manage how to run a household. Well, I have decided that I will be rude and that my daughter will go where she can keep being strong-willed.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London