Category Archives: Maths: Women: Money

Sex and Power

Sex and Power

House of Commons UK
As the 4th wave of feminism slowly simmers to the boil, I hope it doesn’t dilute its power by aiming at too many targets.

Perhaps the first target should be the treasured seat of real power: Parliament, where women are not fairly represented in the place where their interests are decided. Currently, there are 5 male MPs to every female MP.

Because voluntary methods haven’t worked in nearly 50 years, until we have equal sex representation, perhaps we need to switch to a compulsory new system of female-only candidates on the selection lists of the most powerful parties: Labour and Conservative.

Then perhaps we could get affordable, completely tax-deductible child care.

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The Last Taboo

The Last Taboo


It is the last taboo.

Talking about it is not something a nice girl does in mixed company, it is indelicate, unfeminine.

Many women have been raised to think that men are “naturally good” at money matters and women are “naturally bad”. It’s not said directly, little girls pick up this idea by osmosis.

Outside the home, for a man to say he wants more money or ask for a raise is acceptable; it goes with the hairy chest and the company car. But many women feel uncomfortable about asking for money and they don’t want to think about why. Because they’ve been raised to believe…what? That discussing money will grow hairs on their chest? Or that, being a woman, they don’t deserve more money?

I’ve spent the last ten years researching women’s attitudes to money and maths. I asked many women if they would like to be richer.

To my surprise, they all said, “No.” Just like that.

I asked, “You really mean that you wouldn’t like more money?”

They said, “Well, just a little bit more.”

That’s the trouble with women. Women think small scale about money, in terms of housekeeping or being able to order a new kitchen, rather than being able to give a tablet computer to a quarter of a million people, as British entrepreneur, Felix Dennis, did.

Women need to think bigger, and women need to learn more about money – because they don’t get enough of it.

Why do women need more money?
Because a woman might – unexpectedly – find she is the main earner in her family. Marriage isn’t always forever, accidents can happen, jobs disappear.

Because the average woman earns up to 20% less than a man who is doing the same job, so no wonder some men still regard women as inferior to themselves.

Because children are the most expensive modern luxury; it costs more to run a child than it does to run a Bentley. To raise an average child costs over £227,000 – and that doesn’t include the cost of your time.

Zillionaires will tell you there’s only one thing more valuable that money and that is your time. But money can buy you quite a lot of that, given a home help, a nanny, a private jet.

There’s another reason that women need more money. Money brings independence, respect…and power.

Exactly what is power?
Many women don’t’ understand what “power” means, or why they should want it. But in the nursery, power is called, “getting your own way”.

In nature, power means physical strength. Rightly or wrongly, money has replaced physical strength as our modern measure of power; it defines our position in the pecking order, which rules our lives as inexorably as physical power does in the animal world of lions, stags or fighting cocks.

In history, think of Sixteenth Century portraits of the bejewelled Queen Elizabeth I of England in her gem-laden gowns. What is the PR pitch of those portraits? Wealth, status, power.

So what’s not to like about having power?

Purse power
The power of the purse means being able to get things done without using your own hands. Sweep that floor, dig that pond, catch that plane and privately educate your children to top status level or pay for a private tutor.

The power of the purse can mean privacy, having a room of your own in which to discover yourself, plus time enough to do it.

Money creates the power to do things: to train your ability to act, to sing, to dance, to hit, throw or kick a ball – and to entrance people with your performance.

You need money to study seriously, to develop ideas, to make discoveries that will improve your town, your country, your planet.

You need money to build a workshop, a church hall, a museum or a university.

Investment money produces inventions that will improve people’s lives, as did the steam engine, the hearing-aid and the bra.

The really powerful women I know – the big earners – don’t waste their lives lying in bed all morning or watching afternoon TV until it changes to evening TV, or drinking themselves stupid (well, not often). They get things done. They improve their business, their community and other people’s lives. They are big spenders. They know how to get power and how to use it.

This is why, as a sex, other women need to raise the bar, throw away the constricting whalebone corset that is our out-dated attitude to money, lift our focus above the housekeeping purse, stop being frightened of the big noughts, dump lack-of-confidence, man up, get more ambitious about money, and learn more about how to make more. Because, life is too short to be short of money.

Want a little bit, or a lot more money? Take a look at MONEY STUFF.

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Woman in red hat
When anyone asks if I’m a feminist, I say, “I’m a democrat,” because I believe in fair play. But I admit to having been involved, around 1970, in organizing demos, marches, sit-ins and the memorable torchlit march of 700 women to Downing Street to demand equality.

This may explain why I was invited to the London School of Economics for the opening of The Women’s Library in its new setting, and to view suffragette museum memorabilia. It was moving to look at the return ticket from Epsom in Emily Davidson’s little purse; it was exasperating to read a handwritten letter from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to Dame Millicent Fawcett to tell her, in 1928, that Parliament had at last agreed that all women should have the vote.

It’s a pity that we don’t use the vote better, to get a fair deal for women. Nearly fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, the average pay gap has widened to 20%, according to Yvette Cooper, MP of the Labour Party. But men still believe that they have a right to earn 20% more than women, for doing the same work. But why? Most men aren’t speciality sex workers.

Shirley Conran 2012, updated 2014.

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Perceptions of Sex

Perceptions of Sex

Fashionable ladies on the phone

Thirty years ago, the average man thought the clitoris was a Greek hotel and the average woman didn’t know how to enlighten him. A man’s sex education consisted of what his misinformed friends told him. As an editor on British national newspapers, I received letters from confused and timid women, which made it clear that sex, from a woman’s point of view, needed to be explicitly addressed.

During this period, despite the Swinging Sixties, the perception of sex was that everybody did it. You could sunbathe topless, wear see-through dresses and fornicate more than previously, but nobody actually talked about sex: it was considered embarrassing.

The contraceptive pill had appeared but few women felt sexually self-confident. Women – and young girls especially – were being pressured by their boyfriends to have sex. Girls were hesitant, confused about sex. Now that they didn’t risk pregnancy… should they or shouldn’t they?

Did first-time sex leave you feeling like a goddess or a doormat? Would he still love you tomorrow? What did ‘being good in bed’ actually mean?

A lot of women felt inadequate; a lot of girls acquiesced because they were frightened of being dumped; a lot of bewildered girls felt rejected when they were dumped. There was a lot of anxiety and disappointment.

At this point, I decided to write an informative book about sex for teenage girls. I spent eighteen months researching it.

The only sex education I had received from my mother was by way of book that featured goldfish – had I fallen in love with a goldfish I would have known exactly what to do. My friends were given similar birds-and-bees publications. We actually learned about sex from a banned blockbuster, Forever Amber By Kathleen Winsor, which was passed around school in a dust jacket of A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.

Mindful of this, I finally wrote my textbook as a novel, Lace. This book was subsequently described as the book that taught men about women and women about themselves. Lace gave the reader explicit information about sex. It helped women to discover their sexuality and take charge of it: it generated the murmur of bedroom guidance, ‘Up a bit . . . down a bit . . . more to the left . . . MY left’. Teenage girls passed Lace around in secret, so in a roundabout way, I reached my target audience.

Somewhat surprisingly, I encountered no negative reaction to Lace, except in one American city. On my American publicity tour I flew into Kansas City around midnight, only to be told that the City Fathers had forbidden me to make any appearances in public on radio or TV, because I was making my living out of sex. I was fifty-three years old at the time, a bit late for entry into the sex profession, but delighted to have a day off in the hotel, and wash my underwear backlog.

Today, girls may know more about sex but Lace’s message of empowerment and equality is as relevant and important as it was thirty years ago. It’s a pity that modern novels, especially informative ones, that involve women’s sexuality are put down as ‘mummy porn’, ‘bonkbusters’, ‘bodice rippers’, ‘beach-reads’, ‘wank-fodder’ or, simply, trash.

The worldwide success of Fifty Shades of Grey has made it clear that, for whatever reason, women want to read erotic books, although I don’t believe that millions of women long to be handcuffed and beaten on the behind – one thing can so easily lead to another and there is nothing sexy about a broken nose or a ruptured kidney. But what has clearly been proved, and what has changed in the last thirty years, is that women are far more openly interested in having an enjoyable sex life.

Because today in the West, the perception of sex is everywhere – you can’t get away from it. The other day I pressed the wrong button on my TV remote and there before me was a glistening eighteen-inch lavender penis, waving gently. Male magazines are in full view at the local corner shop, and where modern children learn about sex is on the internet. What’s that you mutter? The parental control button? Don’t make me laugh.

Unfortunately, sex-as-business productions are male-filtered, and so reinforce male misapprehensions about female sexual needs. They can also persuade some women that they must be abnormally unresponsive, when they are not.

The result of sex-as-business is that teenage boys expect a naked teenage girl to look like the plastic-enhanced ladies featured in the media, with melon-sized boobs propping up their chin, legs lengthened by six inches courtesy of Photoshop, and bald genitalia.

Teenage girls have always felt not-good-enough, but now, as a result of male comparison and criticism, they borrow dad’s razor, buy their own Ladyshave or save up for a full Brazilian; they plan to have breast implants and facial silicone injections as soon as they can get their hands on enough cash. Sometimes feeling not-good-enough leads to bulimia, anorexia or a victim mentality, and it always leads to lack of self-confidence.

This is as worrying as that Cinderella update, Fifty Shades of Grey which – forgive my psychobabble – clearly illustrates the adult female’s childish wish to dump the tedious responsibility of her life on somebody else, preferably a handsome, rich, good-tempered cardboard-cut-out man. Apparently, modern Cinderella doesn’t want to plan her career, work for her success, or buy her own car. But in fiction and in real life, a modern man should never be seen as a woman’s meal ticket, exchanged for sex with the woman bound, beaten and humiliated. Young students should not be groomed for sex in this way, as is the heroine of Fifty Shades.

What has changed since the ‘Eighties is that now women talk frankly about sex over coffee in a work break, in the kitchen at home, or when choosing lingerie at an Ann Summers gathering, the modern equivalent of a Tupperware party.

What is not yet discussed by either sex is female masturbation, which remains a taboo subject. Men think it is a) filthy, b) an affront to masculinity and to themselves personally. Nice women don’t do it.

But we do.

On the other hand, male masturbation a) is only natural, b) provides a healthy relief before marriage or when a woman is not available, such as in prisons, warships, tents and tanks or anywhere, anytime, when alone and unobserved.

After the nine o’clock TV curfew, when all fourteen-year-olds are safely tucked up in their bed, TV comedians hurl male masturbation jokes at audiences, which roar with the laughter of recognition.

The French writer Colette once wrote that a good lover is one that can do it better than you can. Maybe that’s why men don’t like the idea of a woman being able to please herself. This is one perception that hasn’t changed a bit in thirty years – both in bed and out of it.

Shirley Conran, 2013

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How to be an Author

How to be an Author

About 100,00 British authors are published every year, and they all long for their publishers to pay for a publicity tour.

William Shakespeare

Many moons ago I wrote a book about how to minimize housework. When SUPERWOMAN was published, my publishers were a tiny Dickensian outfit in a Bloomsbury attic, and they hadn’t had a bestseller since before the first World War, when it was poet Rupert Brooke: they had little money to spare for publicity.

On the Sunday after publication, the publisher woke me at 7am and said in a disbelieving voice, “You’re number one. You’ve beaten Wisden!”

“Who’s he?”

“Wisden’s Cricket Annual. Now you must go on a publicity tour.”

I agreed to provide my new Citroen estate car, so long as the publisher insured it and paid for a driver.

I spent most of my payment-upon-publication on clothes for this tour – items that might be worn by a country bookshop customer – tweedy skirts and jackets. I was advised to buy something flashy for Glasgow, so I got an uncomfortable, scarlet velvet, mermaid-clingy dress with a low neck-line.

The Tour

Cut to tweedy me, signing books for an appreciative small crowd at the back of a bookshop, when there’s a commotion at the front. My entire small crowd speeds off like lemmings. Blonde film star, Diana Dors has appeared to publicise her autobiography; she is wearing – at tea time – a white, satin topless gown and her shoulders are shrouded in white fox fur. I realised that booklovers do not want to meet an author dressed like a bookworm, but one dressed like a Christmas tree.

My next publicity stop was for TV in Glasgow and, as we sped northward, I realised that my driver was the worst driver on the planet. The red velvet dress was a success on TV but afterwards we found that my suitcase had been stolen from the unlocked – so uninsured — boot of my now-battered car. Goodbye all new clothes.

Red velvet for breakfast

My media schedule was crammed as full as a baby’s first Christmas stocking – TV studios, radio stations, local newspaper office and functions such as the Yorkshire Literary Luncheon. There was no time to stop ‘n shop, so I wore the red velvet for twelve days from breakfast TV to bedtime, and I grew to hate it.

One wet and windy night on the way to Norwich, the chauffeur smashed my new car, the last in a six-car pile-up. My driver had forgotten to insure the car. My first publicity tour cost more than the revenue from sales that it was supposed to promote.

Ted Heath

Towards the end of this tour, I was joined by former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who had just knocked me into 2nd place on the best-seller list with his first book on sailing. At every bookshop, blue-rinsed matrons and decent chaps in cricket blazers queued round the block to purchase Ted’s book. He had to organize a production line: one clean-cut chap would take the money, a second one would thrust the opened book in front of Ted, who barely had the time to scribble his signature before a third young man snatched it away, to make room for the next one.

Meanwhile at the next table, to avoid humiliation, I signed books for my little groups as slowly as possible, with personal dedications and long messages (“Tell me more about your aunt.”)

Together, Ted and I also attended glittery events, such as the Yorkshire Literary Luncheon. After my first speech, Ted looked a bit worried and coached me. We remained friends until he died, 30 years later. This man, who could seem huffy, had the rare gift of friendship, and at his big parties, as he approached, faces softened into smiles and eyes shone with love. Whenever I asked his advice, Ted’s reply was always good advice, whether it was about finance or the correct action to take when waiters don’t take any notice of you.

Shirley Conran, 2012

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Mother Stuff

Mother Stuff

Today, if I were twenty, I would decide not to have children because I would not want the stressful and expensive life of today’s working mother. It can cost more to run a child than it costs to run a Rolls Royce. Childcare is not tax deductible as an expense of working, like a chauffeur or a secretary. But without childcare, a mother – and some fathers – cannot work.

I would not want to spend their evenings and weekends doing the system – support work that children involve. (Statistically, mothers do far more work in the home than fathers.)

I would not want to give up – for 18 years – holidays, evenings out, most new clothes, hairdos, personal interests and the satisfaction of work and pay in order to care non-stop for someone they have not met… a baby.

I love my two sons passionately. I don’t regret the two children I had – but neither do I regret the other children that I didn’t have.

Shirley Conran, 2012

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To Pack or Not to Pack It?

To Pack or Not to Pack It?

Once, waiting at the airport carousel, I saw a flurry of pretty underwear coming down the chute. Poor woman, I thought, then recognized the nightgown. My cheap suitcase had burst open.

A novelist has to tour a lot, so as soon as I made some money, I ordered two of those expensive silvery suitcases, upon which baggage handlers can tap-dance without denting them – I had read that George Clooney traveled with fourteen of them. Later I discovered that they each weighed the complete baggage allowance when empty and the inside was perfectly planned – for a man: it was like an exasperating computer programme, you couldn’t deviate from it for your personal requirements: the shirts went in the shirt place, the pants went in the pant place and the underwear place allowed only a couple of y-fronts.

Shortly afterwards, when a New York cab driver admired them, I said, “You can have them if you buy me two tough, canvas suitcases.” He did, and years later, I’m still using them.

Traveling light

I despair when I look at packing lists of friends who whizz halfway around the world with only hand luggage, a cashmere shawl and Chanel sunglasses.

Packing plan 1

Joanna LumleyActress and National Treasure, Joanna Lumley’s miniscule packing plan was for a trip that was half camping in tents, half formal (an embassy visit). Her colour plan was black, white, khaki and one bright colour – pink (although it could have been purple or lime green). She took three pairs of comfortable trousers, two warm sweaters, t-shirts in plain colours, a lightweight, hooded rain-proof jacket, three bras, three pants, three cotton neckscarves and pyjamas. She added a warm jacket, in case the weather was colder than she expected.

Her formal outfit was all-black: heels, skirt, cover-up top, plus an interesting evening clutch, a string of pearls and as an alternative a handsome necklace.

Packing plan 2

Once I flew sitting next to the owner of a travel agency, who said she only ever traveled with on-board hand luggage because of the airport luggage holdups and losses. She showed me her bag. Inside was a change of beige underwear, two silk blouses, two no-crush silk jersey dresses, one crimson sweater, two pairs of navy pants plus two bikinis. She had flip flops, navy ballet shoes, one pair of really classy high heels, and a light, rain-proof egg-yellow jacket that rolled up into itself. She slept in a T-shirt. She traveled in a heavy wool jacket, skirt, plus sturdy walking shoes, and carried her heavy overcoat.

Packing plan 3

My packing prize goes to the late Jacqueline Onassis who once went to Cambodia on a short, jungle trip to see ruined temples, and this is what she took with her: her lover, two pairs black pants, two black shirts, black espadrilles, a gold jacket and gold sandals for evenings, two scarves, spare sunglasses and a change of underwear.

My handbag checklist:
1. It needs to be light.
2. It needs to take A4 size papers.
3. It needs a top zip on at least one section.
4. It needs to stand upright, not flop over, so that from my desk, I can throw stuff into it.
5. It needs to expand from slim elegance to wide practicality but…
6. … Not so large and lumpy that it looks as if you’re going to Outer Mongolia after lunch.

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