When Hillary Clinton was asked about the “hair and make-up tax” on women — the extra minutes spent primping for work — she could only agree: “Amen, sister.” But she failed to acknowledge that titivation taxation has become radically redistributive. By which I mean ironing.
Ironing used to be done by mothers, sitting in the futility room. The master’s shirt-mountain would topple on them if they didn’t keep up, like a character from a fairy tale. But here’s the difference: women born in the past 40 years have likely spent upwards of a decade as a single adult.
During this time they uncovered an unfair truth: women do not need to iron. The way our conventional business attire works is that by the magic of dresses and synthetic fibres this is one area women where are not oppressed by wrinkles. But men are still chained to the ironing board. In my twenties I flat-shared with three blokes, and the morning ritual involved them queuing in their pants for the hissing iron, like half-naked train drivers in the age of steam.
I sympathised, but not so much that I would do anything to help, which is how a lot of inequality works. It was charming to watch while I drank my tea, but then I got out of the door in half their time, and have still never bought or owned an iron. In emergency, I may throw my top and some ice cubes in a tumble dryer (this works).
I think I’ve only ironed once — it was my son’s first formal shirt — but that was only because his dad wasn’t around to initiate him. It was a strange experience as it meant I also had to use my partner’s “novelty” ironing board cover (a gift) for the first time. It features a glamour model, whose bikini disappears when steamy enough.
This is a powerful symbol of change: a pair of overly singed boobs.
The old Etonian George Orwell spent much time tramping about as a class tourist, for he believed that to work out your politics you had to be informed on the lives of both rich and poor. In the 1930s Orwell noted that the wealth of the ruling classes was in decline, and so it behove him to study the growing destitute.
But now the interest is in looking up, as the ruling classes boom into “super-rich”. I’ve just read the new Primates of Park Avenue, in which the author attempts an anthropological study of the banking elite into which she married. This week it was the turn of Richard Kirshenbaum, an advertising mogul, to turn a sharp eye on his peers inIsn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1%.
I am struck by how similar the middle-class fascination / repulsion of the super-rich is now as it was then to the super-poor. Down And Out In Paris and London would only sell now if it was the sequel Up And In, In New York and London.
The quote below is from Orwell on middle-class perceptions of the poor. But how it captures our view of our new billionaire overlords: “They had coarse faces, hideous accents, and gross manners, they hated everyone who was not like themselves, and if they got half a chance they would insult you in brutal ways.”
There was a time, when Blair was in and then Cameron and Clegg were in and then the Milibands were out, that it seemed you could only think about being a British political leader if you were in your forties.
It’s the same for the current crop of Labour leadership hopefuls. All except one, Jeremy Corbyn, 66, the outlier in so many ways. Once we believed the cult of the “fresh face” youth would never end; now looking at the world stage we can see that the age of leaders is more like hemlines: up and down correlating to sociological cycles.
Is age more radical than youth? Certainly Corbyn has no career to risk by speaking his mind.