Feminism was BAD for two-thirds of woman, says FAY WELDON: Outspoken She Devil author risks infuriating working mothers by claiming their cause helped to drive down men’s wages by half
Author Fay Weldon has risked infuriating fellow feminists by claiming their cause left two-thirds of British women worse off.
In an interview in The Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine today, Weldon, 85, says the feminist revolution had adverse implications by ‘halving the male wage, so it no longer supported a family.’
That meant some women had to get jobs, even if they would rather have been at home with their children. ‘Women had to work to support the family. So for two in three women, it really was a problem.’
Elsewhere in the interview, Weldon also launches an astonishing attack on the ‘bad’ women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment. She argues that the US President’s ‘foolish’ and ‘neurotic’ accusers are trying to make a fast buck out of the situation.
Weldon is never afraid to express an unpopular or controversial opinion: ‘I think Trump hatred is a very foolish move. It seems to me to be a sort of neurotic fear of something new.’
‘I suspect the kind of women who Trump molests are not necessarily against the molestation but hope to make money out of it,’ she says. ‘Because not all women are good women. There are as many bad women as bad men.’
Weldon, who worked in advertising before finding fame as a novelist in the late 1960s, claims that behaviour now classed as harassment was looked upon differently in her day.
She adds: ‘In my youth, what is now seen as sexual harassment was seen as welcome attention. Actually, if men took notice of you in an office, you were very pleased.’
Her views on Trump will anger fellow feminists who have come to regard him as a hate figure because of his alleged treatment of women.
But Weldon says it’s time women stopped seeing themselves as victims. ‘This was right and proper 20 or 30 years ago when they couldn’t earn, they couldn’t work, they couldn’t join the professions. Well all that has changed.’
It is not the first time Weldon has courted controversy. In 1998, she provoked uproar by claiming that rape wasn’t the worse thing that could happen to a woman.
She is also likely to ruffle more than a few feathers with a sequel to her best-known novel, The Life And Loves Of A She Devil. In the Death Of A She Devil, the She Devil’s grandson Tyler undergoes a sex-change operation so that he can get his hands on her fortune.
And like Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray, Weldon says she came to the conclusion that men who have a sex change can never really become women.
Thirty years after her terrifying tale blazed onto screens, She Devil creator Fay Weldon returns – with views on the sex wars that’ll leave feminists fuming
The She Devil is back. Thirty years after she made men shudder and women laugh with her most famous story – a feminist revenge fantasy in which a wronged wife steals her husband’s money, gets him put in jail and has plastic surgery to look exactly like his mistress – Fay Weldon is reviving the characters in The Life And Loves Of A She Devil for both page and screen in the modern age.
‘Women have won. The balance of power has moved. Men do now envy women because women have it so easy,’ says the veteran novelist, who loves to make mischief. She knows the world has changed dramatically since the original book was made into a hit television series in 1986, starring Dennis Waterman as the unfaithful husband Bobbo, Patricia Hodge as his beautiful mistress Mary and Julie T Wallace as Ruth, the wronged wife.
So now she has written a sequel, Death Of A She Devil, which pitches her straight into one of the most bitter debates of our times: transgender rights.
Weldon knows the world has changed dramatically since the original book was made into a hit television series in 1986, starring Dennis Waterman and Julie T. Wallace (above)
‘The only way men have of fighting back against the natural superiority of women is by becoming women themselves,’ says the new book, a brilliant black comedy that sees the original heroine’s grandson attempt to inherit her multi-million pound feminist empire by copying her tactics and having therapy and plastic surgery to try to become a woman. Except he doesn’t quite manage it, because transgender men never really can become women and have no right to say they are, insists Weldon.
‘As Jenni Murray [the presenter of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour who attracted fury for her comments recently] said: “If you have not been brought up with all the trials of being a woman, to claim you’re a woman in later life is hardly fair.” That seems to me to be the case. They haven’t earned the right.’
Her willingness to fly in the face of political correctness – even while speaking up for women’s rights – made Weldon a star performer on radio and TV in the Eighties and Nineties, and at the age of 85 she still wants to wind us up, get a chuckle and provoke a thought.
‘I think Trump hatred is a very foolish move. It seems to me to be a sort of neurotic fear of something new.’
Isn’t he abusive to women?
‘He’s the hooker’s best friend.’
At this point her third husband, Nick Fox, a poet who is also her manager, leaps across the kitchen and tries to stop the interview. ‘I think that’s enough!’
She lets him have his say, then quietly insists on finishing her thought. It’s incendiary.
‘In my youth, what is now seen as sexual harassment was seen as welcome attention. Actually, if men took notice of you in an office you were very pleased. I suspect that the kind of women who Trump molests are – though I may be completely wrong – not necessarily against the molestation but hope to make money out of it. Because not all women are good women. There are as many bad women as bad men.’
Weldon with her son Samuel in 1980: ‘I have four sons and Nick has three, so naturally you begin to think boys have a hard time. And it’s the girls at the top.’
Weldon with her husband Nick Fox at a book launch in London. They met after she left her previous husband, Ron Weldon, who died of a heart attack the day their divorce came through
That’s an astonishing thing to hear from one of our leading female voices – described by the writer Caitlin Moran as ‘a tribal elder’ – but she does love to spring surprises. Appearances are deceptive with Weldon. Never mind the soft blue velvet jacket or the neat, silvery bob. Look at the steely eyes, watch her insist that she will be heard.
She had to fight hard for that in her youth. Weldon studied psychology and economics but left university when she had a son. She married a man 25 years older, who put her to work as a hostess in a Soho nightclub. But she left him and went into advertising, becoming associated with the successful slogan, ‘Go to work on an egg!’
She was married to a jazz musician and in the process of having three more sons when her debut novel, The Fat Woman’s Joke, became a success. But it was The Life And Loves Of A She Devil that brought real fame and money in 1983. ‘My mother said, “If you’re going to call a novel that, nobody will ever take you seriously again.” It shows how wrong mothers can be.’
These days, when the She Devil wakes she must remind herself who she is.
I am in my 80s now and I see no one fit to follow in my footsteps. Who can be trusted to come after me? My children and my children’s children will not even speak to me. Who will take over when I am gone, will leap out of bed every morning to look after and improve the world? Who will rule in the High Tower?
But I am Lady Ruth Patchett, the She Devil. I am the one who has dominion over the High Tower and all its satellites. I am President and Chief Executive of the Institute for Gender Parity. Once upon a time Mary Fisher, a wicked purveyor of romantic fiction, a teller of lies, ruled here in the High Tower, but she is well dead and gone. Where once she sipped champagne, lit her scented candles and slept with other women’s husbands, notably mine, now I, Ruth Patchett, She Devil, rule the roost. I am as good as any man, and crow the triumph of the true, the proud, the honest working women of today, the ones that we set free. Gone with the wind are Mary Fisher’s simpering ninnies, raising their doe-eyes in adoration of lusty dinosaur men, and thank the gods for that – though gone too, come to think of it, are the lusty men. Lusty is so out of fashion.
But still I wake uneasy in the mornings. And aching too, as one does at 84. All is not well. Is it conscience that troubles me? When I step out upon the ground it seems to tremble – is it that the sea batters the rocks on which the High Tower stands, or is it just that my limbs are old? I always did the best I could, surely, within the limits of my own nature. I am without guilt. So why am I so hated? Why do I hate myself?
Why does no one bring me my coffee? Surely it’s time?
Morning light seeps round the edges of the blinds. I have work to do. The nation needs me. Women need me.
Back then, the cosmetic surgery that Ruth the She Devil had was considered extreme. Now nips, tucks, injections, face-lifts, boob jobs and more drastic work are commonplace. ‘It’s absolutely horrifying. The idea that God gave you a certain appearance and you played your cards as best you could – which is very good for people’s character really – has vanished. And the idea that looks are everything has taken over.’
Weldon accidentally reveals that we can expect to see a fresh TV version of the classic series as well as the sequel. ‘They’re going to remake the first one and do this new one as well. I don’t know if this is public knowledge.’
She has written more than 20 other novels as well as screenplays, so why revive this one now? ‘People have asked me to revive the story for a long time, but I couldn’t see what there was to write about really, until Germaine Greer denied transgenderism by saying chopping off someone’s d*** didn’t make you a woman. That I thought was very interesting and seemed to be where feminism had come to.’
Dennis Waterman and Patricia Hodge starred in the 1986 TV adaptation of Weldon’s original book The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which was filmed on location at Belle Tout lighthouse
Greer was forced to drop out of a speech at Cardiff University in 2015 after a petition was raised calling for her to be banned. The transgender comic Rebecca Root described her views as ‘absurd’ and ‘grossly offensive’. But Weldon clearly shares them, having thought hard about whether a transgender man can ever really become a woman. ‘This is investigated in the novel and then you realise that no, it has not convinced me. Tyler does remain a man, because although his body changes his masculinity has not.’
He does not have the operation to remove his Adam’s apple and change his way of speaking. ‘You can have your vocal cords attended to and have a little nice sweet voice, but men tend not to do that.’ She cites Caitlyn Jenner, the television personality formerly known as Bruce. ‘She keeps her voice because it is the voice of power.’
The book opens with Tyler’s grandmother Ruth, the original She Devil, presiding over a community of women at The High Tower, her seaside mansion, with her mad, frail husband Bobbo locked in the top room and the ghost of the mistress Mary raging as she haunts them all. ‘The women of the world gave up romance, subservience and submission, and once empowered, took to hard work, truth and reality. Much good has it done them.’
Weldon remains firmly in favour of the ‘bloodless revolution’ that was feminism, but believes that only one woman in three really benefited. ‘By going out to work they halved the male wage, so a male wage no longer supported a family. So women had to go out to work to help support the family.’
That meant others had to get jobs even if they would rather have been with their children. ‘So for two in three women it really was a problem,’ she says.
‘The advent of the nursery has been awful. Because it’s so convenient. Because you don’t have the responsibility of bringing up your own child. You put its care, its information, its understanding, into the hands of someone else, who is – because the women who look after babies are paid less than the women who are going out to work – not going to be on the same level. So painful though childcare is, it is still a sacrifice, a sacrifice I would have thought has to be made.’
It’s time for women to stop seeing themselves as victims, she says. ‘This was right and proper 20 or 30 years ago when they couldn’t earn, they couldn’t work, they couldn’t join the professions. Well all that has changed. Women can choose who they marry, how much they earn, whether they have children – they have choice, which is sort of enforced by law. So why do they see themselves as victims? I don’t know. But they go on thinking men are their oppressors.’
As a part-time professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, Weldon is distressed at what she sees. ‘Younger men have it very hard indeed. They’re very nice about it but there is a general assumption from the women in the class that the men don’t know what’s going on. And they’re sort of pitied, rather than respected.’
In the old days, she says, young women lacked confidence and had too little self-esteem. Now the opposite is true.
‘Young women need classes in low self-esteem, not in high self-esteem. This is the same for both men and women actually. They’re brought up now to have an unrealistic view of themselves. It makes them very hard to relate to the real world. It makes them live in a sort of bubble. It makes them long for safe spaces. They won’t listen to anybody else. They deny the existence of other thoughts and other people, which makes thought rather difficult for them. It makes them terribly easy to offend.’
What can be done?
‘Give them cushions and wait till they have their own children and all things will become clear. You’d hope universities would help them grow up but they just give in to them straight away, as they as parents probably gave in to their own children.’
Weldon on Caitlyn Jenner: ‘You can have your vocal cords attended to and have a little nice sweet voice, but men tend not to do that. She keeps her voice because it is the voice of power.’
Weldon was only 22 when she had her first son and she married a headmaster called Ronald Bateman, who was twice her age, in order to keep a roof over their head. ‘Poor Ronald,’ she wrote in her autobiography Auto Da Fay. ‘I was a heartless, practical monster.’
On the other hand, he needed a wife for his CV, wasn’t interested in making love and forced her to have sex with a stranger. The marriage lasted two years.
Days after the divorce she married Ron Weldon, a jazz player and artist, who gave her his surname and three sons. They were together for 30 years, until his new astrological therapist said the couple’s star signs were incompatible and became his lover. He died of a heart attack on the day their divorce came through in 1994. By then she had met Nick Fox in a bookshop he was running.
This smart, gregarious man with big, bushy eyebrows is 15 years her junior. He hovers in the background cooking scrambled eggs for us both until his Trump intervention. Over lunch, he’s surprisingly willing to interrupt and cut across her opinions. Fox is forceful but he’s also a charmer, and she seems to like him that way.
‘I have four sons and Nick has three, so naturally you begin to think boys have a hard time. And it’s the girls at the top. No one sympathises really with their wives. For the girls, jobs are easier, and girls are much more adaptable. Boys are much more full of pride and dignity, and they don’t want to have it attacked.’
She calls them boys but the youngest is in his 30s and the oldest in his 60s. Weldon also has seven grandchildren now.
The new novel explores old age and even death, as Mary haunts the High Tower, Bobbo approaches his end and the She Devil fears her own. But Fay Weldon is not afraid. ‘I’m a person who says to the doctors, ‘Do not resuscitate.’ I’ve done enough, thank you very much. I’m not frightened of death. One is frightened of the manner of one’s death, one doesn’t want it to be disagreeable, but once you’ve lived long enough, cessation is no worry.’
Weldon has had two near-death experiences, once as a teenager and again much later when her heart stopped when she was in hospital and she appeared to see the entrance to an afterlife. ‘My belief about the afterlife is that it’s not a reward, it is simply a continuation. I don’t believe in extinction.’
Armed with that confidence, she will go on speaking and writing as she pleases, wanting to make us laugh and think, no matter how much hot water she might land herself in.
‘I’m just looking at the world, I really am. Obviously, the hot water is a sort of danger – but one hopes to have subverted that, by the simple power of merriment!’