Sunday, 3 February 2013

After women won the vote.....

.....we decided to hold a dinner party.  Not the usual dinner party, of course, that would have been dull, but an alternative one.

The fact of women obtaining the vote had been known about well in advance, of course.  The prospect had fuelled much speculation in our household and beyond in what the "new world" would be once women became equal to men.  It was said, jokingly, that as the number of women was greater than the number of men, they could vote an all-female government into power and do exactly what they liked.

There was even talk of a complete reversal between the sexes, with the women working and wearing trousers and the men in skirts minding the house and children.

It was this last theme that gave me the brainwave to have a dinner party, just amongst the family, but with the diners dressed as members of the opposite gender to their own, just for a glimpse of what might have been.

I put my idea to my family and, with one exception, they agreed that it might be a jolly wheeze to try it.  The date was selected and all preparations made.  Unlike a "normal" dinner party, this one would need a lot of extra work and attention to detail.

Finally, the evening of the dinner party came and the diners came in to take their places.  What a sight we made!

Mama and Papa were the first to make their entrance.  Mama was wearing men's evening dress - including trousers - for the first time in her life.  She immediately appeared more masculine and commanding.  Papa wore a burgundy silk evening gown that left his shoulders bare.  The gown was puffed out by voluminous layers of petticoats and it was obvious that he was wearing a corset.

Next to appear were me - Penelope - and my darling fiance, Algernon.  I was dressed in exactly the same way as Mama and with my bobbed hair I made a very boyish looking gentleman.  Algy, who topped six feet and had a very masculine physique, was wearing a filmy and clingy red flapper dress, silk evening gloves, silk stockings and high heels.

Last to appear were my younger brother, Henry, and Harriet, my youngest sister, and the baby of the family, and it was with these youngsters that the change in dress was most startling.  Harriet strode in confidently in boys' knickerbockers, a smart velvet jacket and boys' boots.  Henry hung back, reluctant to enter, dressed as he was in a girl's white frock with a very sweet pink ribbon at the waist that ended in a large bow at the back, and frilled ankle socks.

I should add that as well as wearing the outer garments of the opposite gender, everyone also had to wear appropriate underwear.  For instance, I wore a pair of Algy's cotton underpants whilst he wore a pair of silk knickers and a chemise.

Also, although they had not been asked to, the servants also switched clothes, so that our footmen became maids and our maids became footmen.  It was jolly nice of them to oblige us in this way and added to the spirit of it all.

As we took our places, I looked at each of the participants and judged that they all looked exquisite.  Although the diners were dressed appropriately, other aspects of their appearance jarred against their clothes.  Mama was wearing a ladies' wig to conceal her greying hair, Papa still had his beard and whiskers, I had rather large breasts, which had been impossible to conceal, Algy just looked like a Guard's Officer who had been stuffed into a dress, Harriet had golden ringlets and was constantly giggling, whilst Henry had short hair.

In short, rather than everyone looking like a man or a woman, we all looked like curious amalgams of both sexes.  But as the whole point was not to turn men into women (and vice versa) but to give an image of a possible alternative world where women were dominant, it all worked fabulously.

Whilst the rest of us found it all a scream, it was clear that Henry was not at all happy.  He was sullen and resentful.  In babyhood and infancy, he had been a sweet little boy, but now that he was nine he had become insufferably full of himself and contemptuous of girls.  He had taken to teasing Harriet mercilessly as she was a "soppy girl and a baby".  To now find himself dressed as a "soppy girl" whilst his little sister wore trousers was the biggest humiliation he could imagine, and he was not taking it well.

To make things worse for him still, Harriet was getting her own back on him, referring to him as "Baby Henrietta" and suggesting that as he was so pretty, he ought to wear hair ribbons.  It did not help.

Henry refused to enter into the spirit of the thing and his mood did put a dampener on the gathering, in spite of our efforts to make a joke out of the whole thing.  The final straw for Henry came after dinner, for, whilst the gentlemen retired to allow the ladies to enjoy a smoke and a glass of port, and Harriet was given a ball to play with, Henry was given one of Harriet's dolls.  At this, he threw the mother of all tantrums.  He threw the doll away violently and began feverishly tearing off his clothes, demanding his usual ones back.

We ladies decided that this babyish tantrum demanded appropriate punishment.  If Henry insisted on acting like a baby, he would be treated like one.  Henry was put into nappies and made to wear a girls' baby frock and bonnet and confined to a high chair.  Henry soon learned that there were greater humiliations than being dressed as a girl.  Harriet teased her "baby sister".  Henry so hated the reversal that had taken place between himself and Harriet that he soon begged for mercy!

We ladies deliberated and decided to be merciful, but only on condition that Henry behaved himself.  Henry was relieved of his baby frock and allowed to don his girls' frock.  To our astonishment and great satisfaction, Henry became contrite and submissive.  He willingly accepted his sister's doll and began playing with it, just like any other girl.  As the evening wore on, Henry even became more confident in girls' clothes (although he would have died if any of his chums had seen him) walking through the house with more confidence, as if his new clothes had become natural to him.

The evening was a great success and it had been a scream to see everybody cross-dressed, but it was a one-off.  By the morning, everything was back to normal.  The insight I gained into everyone's behaviour was valuable. Everyone, even Henry, eventually accepted their new mode of dress and the behaviours that went with them.

If this is possible in 1918, when the world is still a man's world, could this glimpse of the future became reality in the future?  Only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe we will see this future. At least in your future stories. ;)

    ReplyDelete