The TV star with a retro recipe for a happy marriage ... Always put your man first
Published 17/08/2011 | 05:00
Kirstie Allsopp says picking his socks up and making his dinner will help in the long run, writes Bryony Gordon
A couple of years ago I sat in Fay Weldon's kitchen in slack-jawed amazement as she told me in great detail where I was going wrong with my love life.
"Women," announced one of the great feminists of our age, "want their boyfriends to be like their girlfriends, [to be] fun to go to the pictures with, but men are not like that. They want sex and they grunt. If you really want a man to be nice to you, never give him a hard time, never talk about emotions and never ask him how he is feeling. It's such a waste of time trying to tell your husband to pick up his socks or clean the loo. It's much easier to do it yourself."
I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. All I could think was: really? Is this what women burned their bras for, or chained themselves to railings over? To pick up men's socks? And if that was the case, how terribly depressing. I thought I would go and live in a convent.
But with age comes experience. So when Kirstie Allsopp announced in an interview recently that women should put their men first, I did not baulk, or think "KIRSTIE! What ever happened to that little thing called the sisterhood?" Instead, I just nodded along and muttered: "Yeah, she's probably right."
Speaking to Hello! magazine, Miss Allsopp, who has two children with her boyfriend Ben Andersen, said that being nasty to men was "pointless". "If I want to talk to Ben about something difficult, I shouldn't do it when he walks through the door after work. That is the best way to have a flaming row. If you want to talk about feelings, make sure they have a full stomach when you do it." Which seems perfectly grown-up to me.
This is the truth that dare not speak its name, the one we have desperately tried to ignore because it goes against everything our mothers and Germaine Greer and the Spice Girls told us: it's OK to be nice to men. It's fine to put a wash on for them, iron their shirts, or sew up a pair of split trousers. It's OK to cook for them, and occasionally shop for them. You don't have to feel like a terrible failure if you clean up after them. And none of this makes you weak, pathetic, a traitor to the cause or a desperate housewife who deserves to be cast back to the 1950s.
Here are some more truths: Men aren't all horrible little tosspots who should be viewed with suspicion. They are not the enemy (not all of them anyway). A lot of them are really very nice, and if you are nice to them they will most likely be nice to you back.
In short, we need men, and they need us, and it's about time that we all stopped pretending otherwise. After all, the world will not survive through turkey basters alone.
The battle of the boardroom has been rightfully fierce, but it has slipped into the bedroom -- somewhere it really has no place. As Weldon said to me all those moons ago: "There are women at work and there's mating behaviour and women get them confused. Women are right to refuse to make the coffee [in the office], but when you get home I'm afraid you have to."
This might seem submissive and housewifey -- but in actual fact it is very clever. When you smile sweetly and humour a man in the home, you gain the upper hand. You render him docile and put yourself in control.
"When I clean the bath after my boyfriend has used it, I don't do it full of rage at how useless he is," says one friend. "I do it with the knowledge that I am by far the more competent person in the relationship, which is always the best person to be."
So this is not about behaving like a doormat, running around at the beck and call of your boyfriend or husband. It's about using your feminine wiles to get the best out of a relationship.
And I bet you that for every weekend Kirstie Allsopp allows her partner to choose what the family does, she buys several days back where she can go off and run her businesses or shoot on location while he looks after the children. A relationship is, after all, all about compromise.
I return to the wonderful Fay Weldon to see if her position has changed. It hasn't. "'Yes dear' are two really rather useful and powerful words," she says. "Is it the end of feminism, of our dignity? No. I think it's important to stick up for your rights at all times, but you can do that and still have a quiet life. A lot of people put too much importance on being right. Well, I'm afraid I think it's far better to be happy."