Sunday, July 27, 2008

Singled Out

Millions of men were killed in the First World War across Europe. In Britain, even before the war, there had already been more women than men, caused in part by men emigrating to take up remote posts in the Empire. By 1921, the imbalance was nearly two million.

Virginia Nicholson has written a book about these women, called Singled Out. I heard Joan Bakewell enthusing about the book on BookTalk. Lynn Knight's review in the Guardian was called Batchelor Girls.

Two million women who would never marry, never have children. Most of them worked, many of them as teachers. Lots of them wrote - after all, they had more time to write.

Some male novelists may have felt threatened by these women, and there were many caricatures of the "spinster" in their novels. But these women collectively made a powerful and positive change on society.

Most girls who went to school any time between the 1930s and 1960s, as well as many boys, were taught by these women. They learned some important lessons. That a woman could have a career, and an important and respected role in society, without having a husband or children. That a woman could be respected for what she achieved, not whom she married. That education created opportunities for girls as well as boys.

War and empire created this generation of women, and this generation of women in turn created a new society, a society in which women would take a more assertive and respected place. It's an ill wind, as they say.

No comments: