Despite more and more women becoming the breadwinners and bosses in the home and the office, that age-old habit the world has of telling us what to do is as prevalent as ever.
Rarely a week goes by in which a government department, social policy think-tank, health organisation or parenting body doesn’t dole out some joyless instructions for women on how they should live their life.
We’re told what to wear, what our weight should be, whether or not we should have cosmetic surgery, when to have babies, whether we should breastfeed, how many hours we should work when we’re parents, how much housework we should do or how often we should have sex with our husbands.
No area of women’s lives is safe from regular expert advice.
This week it’s ‘eating during pregnancy’ and the ‘ideal female shape’ which we have been rewarded with more direction on. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is warning us that the old adage about ‘eating for two’ in pregnancy is actually a deeply dangerous notion, designed to encourage us to embrace killer obesity levels. Instead women should “eat healthily and do gentle exercise” while they await their newborn.
Meanwhile, government Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has announced that Christina Hendricks — who plays hourglass-proportioned Joan Holloway in Mad Men — has the ideal body shape and is the role model ‘normal’ woman should aspire to.
Both stories made me wince. The NICE advice is beyond patronising.
The suggestion that pregnant women believe they can guzzle every four-cheese pizza that creeps into their eyeline without a single niggling concern that the resulting extra four stone might not be improving their health is ludicrous.
We all know pregnancy isn’t a gift from the God of Fat. Some of us just struggle to curtail the ravenous appetite another person growing inside our body can bring and — get this, NICE folk — we worry about the consequences while we struggle.
We don’t need a man — or a woman — from an official organisation telling us to be healthy, as if the thought never entered our pretty little heads.
All NICE are doing here is making us feel worse about an issue which already tests the most resolute among us, so that even that cheeky slice of cake we treat ourselves to becomes a harbinger of anguish and guilt.
As for all of us ‘relaxing’ into Christina Hendricks’ figure — that’s about as easy as getting up to do ‘gentle exercise’ when our pregnant ankles are wider than our necks.
Hendricks is estimated to have a figure somewhere around 38-32-38, with a cup size of D. She has been blessed with fabulous natural assets — including a neat little waist — that most of us can only dream of.
As psychologist Deanne Jade has commented: “Usually in the real world, the bigger breast goes along with a bigger tummy or wider waist.” You don’t say.
While men are generally left alone to live as grown-ups, women are still treated like children.
Popular culture rolls its eyes at men’s ‘funny old ways’, but it doesn’t constantly issue them with rules on how to conduct their lives, keep their house, maintain their marriage or bring up their kids.
Could it be that, despite women’s huge advances in the last 40 years, society still sees us as not entirely trustworthy or capable, and thus feels it necessary to order us around and offer us self-evident ‘guidance’?
Perish that naughty thought Miss Graham!