Our London Mayor, the obviously intelligent (speak for yourself – Ed) yet incredibly baffling Boris Johnson, has recently declared that women go to University ‘to find a husband.’ Does he really believe that or is he being deliberately incendiary? Boris likes to set gaffes like land mines and yes, the man was a well known character in the machismo swill of post-Brideshead Oxford, but is he really so very deluded?
It is undoubtably true that some women might go to University to ‘find a man’, in a more redbrick version of a Swiss finishing school, but those women are in a very small minority indeed. Two of my best friends happened to meet their now husbands at University. It was a happy byproduct of three years of learning and certainly not a shrewd and calculated decision. We went to University to find ourselves, not a man. We went to University to learn about Chaucer and paper penises and anapestic tetrameter. We learnt how to braid and unbraid friendships and how to use a tumble dryer properly (oh the chenille cardigans I ruined). It was a heady rush of independence with a safety net and it set us on our way to a fully-fledged adulthood.
Success, it seems in the eyes of a Conservative society, is measured out in John Lewis vouchers. These are the milestones of achievement that have been deemed deserving of congratulations and celebration. We buy and we buy in – housewarming gifts, engagement presents, the wedding Kenwood mixer, a Peter Rabbit anthology for the first baby. You have met, you have married, you have spawned. We visit, magi-like, and feel unworthy.
Why does marriage still hang heavy over the unwed as something to aspire to? Why do the hitched promise brightly that you will also find ‘the one’, some day? Are we to stand Snow White pretty whilst a Prince Charming mends his way to us by way of hedge fund banking and whoring it up in at Aura? I have already met the one - I am the one and I have a life that fulfills me because I created it by myself, for myself. My parents have a photo of each of my sisters‘ weddings in their living room, but none of me, the woman who went to see if London held success for her and who doubled her salary in four years. Who forged friendships and networks and a place for herself. So I sent them a photo and they felt guilty. That didn’t mean to but they saw success for their children as a settled future with a man who would take care of them. It did not cross their minds that we might care for ourselves, be financially independent, be managers of teams of staff, pay the bill for others in restaurants. It did not cross their minds that we might well marry but that would not be our greatest achievement.
Because success is a woman facing society on her own terms and standing on her own feet, regardless of whether she shares her life with someone else. Success is a contribution to that society. And success, perhaps, will be a Mayor of London who understands the incredible contribution of thousands and thousands of working women, who congratulates them for it and watches as they keep on rising.