Respect Ladies, please
Last week Amanda Platell wrote an article in Femail about men leaving their wives and girlfriends for younger women. She cites Brad Pitt as an example of the ultimate swine. He left Jennifer Aniston for the much younger Angelina Jolie and then immediately had a baby with her. Amanda gives several examples of women who have lost out to younger models. She calls it “a social tragedy in the making”.
It is a tragedy, but mainly for the women involved. The men couldn’t be more chuffed. I have a friend who left his wife last year for a twenty-five year old marketing executive. When I asked him how he could do such a thing his reaction was one of total amazement.
“What would any man rather have? A nagging old bore at home who can barely stand the sight of you or a young thing who adores you and wants to make you happy?”
He has a point. If I’m honest I have to say that most of my friends probably treat their pets better than their husbands. They view them as vaguely irritating facts of life, rather like mosquitoes. Even A-list celebrities are not immune. Paul McCartney says Heather treated him like a “doormat”.
A few weeks ago I visited an old friend of mine who lives in Surrey. Her husband works in the City. Every weekday he gets the 7.01 into London Cannon Street and doesn’t get home until around 8pm. His salary means they live comfortably and send their three children to local fee-paying schools. My friend doesn’t work. She does the school run, the shopping and looks after their toddler in the afternoons, he is at a nursery school in the mornings and the older two are at school all day. She may her lot as unfair but I think her life pottering around her lovely house not having to work sounds rather idyllic. Especially as she has a cleaning lady three days a week.
The particular Saturday I was with them I came downstairs just as my friend was walking out of the door.
“I’ve had them all week,” she was telling her husband who was sitting at the kitchen table with their three boys. “Now it’s your turn.”
“I was hoping to play some golf,” he said. “Maybe I could take Tom with me.”
She shot him a fierce look. “Any more of that talk and you’ll get a seven-iron in your head.”
Although I am very fond of my friend, at that moment I loathed her. The injustice of it seemed to me almost unbearable. Here is a man who gets up at the crack of dawn every weekday to provide for his family. At the weekends when he wants to relax he is told to baby-sit. Of course he wants to spend time with his children, but as we all know, there is a big difference between spending time with them and just looking after them. I was almost tempted to offer to look after the two younger ones myself so he could go and play golf with Tom. But I’m not that daft.
However, had he been my husband, the scenario would have been very different. I have always worked and intend to carry on doing so. But there are days when I sit at my desk and daydream about a life that doesn’t involve earning any money, a life where someone else does it for you and all you need to worry about is being at the school gate when the bell rings. If that were the case, I would only think it was only fair to take on the domestic side of our lives, while my husband earned the cash to sustain us.
Of course I am not suggesting a return to the bad old days of my mother-in-law’s generation who, incidentally, would get the breakfast organised for her husband and three sons before commuting up to London to work and then come back from work and clear off the breakfast things before starting on dinner. Happily things have moved on. But in my view they have moved on too far.
I now live in France where the divorce rate is a third lower than the UK. Women here are happy to work at their relationships. They like looking good and they see no shame in making an effort for their men and being nice to them.
I have a friend in Paris whose husband works late and doesn’t come home until she’s ready for bed. She’s the kind of French woman you hate but also secretly long to be like, with her perfectly styled hair and tiny waist. She works in fashion PR and always looks like something straight from the pages of Elle Magazine.
“So I expect by the time he gets home you’re in your old leggings and have taken your make-up off?” I asked her a few weeks ago.
“Not at all,” she told me. “I am in my pyjamas. But they’re very superior pyjamas; 100 per cent silk.”
“And the make-up?”
“I leave that on until we go to bed,” she told me. “He works hard all day; he deserves to come home to me looking my best.”
This is not an attitude you find in Surrey. “So what if he works hard all day,” would be my friend’s argument. “So do I, looking after the children and the house. I’m entitled to be comfortable at home, why should I make an effort to look good for him at all times?”
Because he makes an effort to work hard for all of you would be my response.
I think we should adopt a more French approach to marriage. Men are essentially fairly simple creatures who really just want to be looked after and adored. I am not suggesting you start behaving like a desperate-to-please housewife. But instead of shouting, use your feminine wiles to get the best out of your man. In my experience this is a much more effective way than behaving like a harridan.
Of course there are plenty of men who deserve a good shouting at. I know a man whose idea of helping around the house is making himself a cup of tea. His wife works all hours and he spends most of his time improving his serve.
There is no denying it, men can be pigs. Let’s look at the facts. They are essentially lazy creatures with hair in all the wrong places (ie their noses and their backs) who think a good way to spend an afternoon is watching other men dressed up in shorts kicking a ball from one end of a field to another. While they’re busy doing this they expect the women in their lives to do just about everything else. This includes earning enough money to keep them in beer, collecting the dry cleaning, keeping the house tidy, ironing their shirts and, oh, I almost forgot, raising the children.
So what is the point of them? If you want a light-bulb changed you’re better off doing it yourself unless you want to hear what a DIY genius he is from now until next Christmas. If you want to go dancing you’re better off going with the girls who can at least move without looking like they’re trying to shake off a swarm of killer wasps and will also focus on the beat as opposed to the other girls on the dance floor. If you want money, you’re more than capable of earning it yourself.
At a wedding a couple of weeks ago I was lugging my suitcase along a country lane in Surrey on my way from the church to the wedding reception. Several cars, all headed to the same event, passed me by. The only one to stop was being driven by a charming gay man and his boyfriend. Is it only men who think they are women who know how to behave these days? Seems to me, if faced with a beer-drinking nose-hair sprouting badly behaved specimen most of us would be delighted to be shot of them. There really is no need for them whatsoever.
Ah, I hear you say, but you need men to have babies. WRONG! Technically you just need their sperm and you can probably get that on Ebay. In fact the government is in the process of introducing legislation making it possible for mothers to go it alone, or if the mood takes them, with another woman. Yet another great Labour family-friendly initiative.
This will be welcome news for my daughter who recently announced that she is going to have five children.
“Who are you going to marry?” I asked her.
“Oh I’m not going to get married,” she told me. “I’m just going to have an au pair.”
Rather scarily it might soon be possible to have children without even going within a five-mile radius of a male sperm. In Germany several white mice have given birth to offspring using sperm grown from their own cells. Theoretically if you extrapolate this to humans, women will be able to be mother and father to their children. Ideal, some might say. Mad is what I say.
Women need to take a step back and stop being so critical if modern marriage and relationships are to stand a chance of survival. Paul McCartney apparently split up with Heather due to her confrontational nature, their constant rowing and the fact that she constantly took him for granted. We should all try to learn from her experience. No man will stand an unlimited amount of abuse. Especially not one who could easily go out and find someone else. And whatever men’s faults, there is no better way to raise a happy family than with two parents who are happy to be with each other.
I blame feminism. It started out as a good idea, but it just got silly. Women fought desperately to be treated as equals, but now they want to run everything. They’re not happy with being ball-breakers, they want to be ball-terminators.
The Revd John R.J. Burley who was officiating the wedding I went to has been marrying people for several decades and advises women to take a less aggressive stance in marriage. “The fact is women have always been in charge of society but they were a lot more subtle about it,” he says. “My wife knows exactly how to control me and men enjoy being controlled like that, it appeals to an instinct in them. We feel understood and appreciated.”
And a man who feels understood and appreciated is unlikely to run off with the first bit of totty that comes along.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019