Recently, intellectual blogger Mrs Lettice Leaf has been broadening my appreciation of English sayings. For example, yesterday she called me "a broth of a boy" and not so long ago she introduced me to the saying "No names, no packdrill" - I'd never encountered it before. Anyway, this has set me thinking about other sayings we have in the vast treasure house that is the English language. With Lettice firmly in mind, I would just like to pause to investigate this well-known saying - "A woman's place is in the home".
Back in 467BC the Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote "Let women stay at home and hold their peace."
In 1732 after researching proverbs and adages, Thomas Fuller recorded this one - "A Woman is to be from her House three times: when she is Christened, Married and Buried."
It seems that it wasn't until the early nineteenth century that the ancient notion began to be preceded by "A woman's place..." - whereby in 1825 The Edinburgh Magazine recorded this version - "A woman's place is in the bosom of her family; her thoughts ought seldom to emerge from it".
Now there may be some male dinosaurs out there who are smirking and nodding their heads in agreement with this proverb and its historical predecessors but I am not one of them. No siree! I am an ardent and unashamed feminist, happy to live in times during which women around the world have been steadily acquiring increasing measures of equality.
In contradiction, we are advised that living in a multi-cultural society means we must respect the beliefs and traditions of other cultures. But how can I, as an ardent feminist, accept the subjugation and side-lining of women that is characteristic of several branches of Islam? In this country thousands of Muslim women are still trapped by the belief that "a woman's place is in the home", playing second fiddle to their menfolk. Many hardly speak any English even though they may have been born here. In spite of myself, whenever I see Muslim women wearing headgear that hides their faces, I want to unveil them and say "No! We are not in medieval times. Claim your equality! Remove this material that hides you from the world. You are in England now!" But I realise I'll never say it because (yawn) we must respect other people's beliefs even if they are steeped in bigotry.
I think of sixteen year old Malala Yousafzai who has come to symbolise a new kind of feminism - growing away from the straitjacket of Islamic fundamentalism. Perhaps the times they are a changing after all:-