I had a shock yesterday.
Circumstances have forced me to tidy my study (well, when the heating engineer needs to run pipes under your built-in desk unit, that has to be a sign doesn’t it?). In a long-forgotten corner, I came on a file of very old tax returns and statements, which certainly don’t need to be kept. So I switched on the shredder and pulled out the first of the documents. It was a statement from the Inland Revenue dated some time in 1986, telling me what tax I owed on my earnings in the previous tax year.
Though ‘telling me’ isn’t quite right, nor was it what ‘I’ owed. The letter was in fact addressed to my husband, with no mention at all of my name anywhere in its text. And the reason for the tax demand was listed as ‘Wife as Authoress’. The tax was technically owed by him, though the relevant income had been earned by my writing, in which my husband had no part at all.
Only 30 years ago too, within the lifetime of all but today’s youngest generations—! It all came back to me: how much it used to irritate me that I should be treated in this way, not as a separate individual capable of managing her own affairs, but as a mere appendage of my husband. Then there’s the word ‘authoress’, which is one of my pet hates, with its connotation of a feebleminded woman lounging on a chaise longue while she dabbles in her writing hobby (the word always brings Barbara Cartland to mind, though to be fair she was a tough professional writer under all that frilly pinkness). But the worst thing was to be reminded so sharply that in my early years as a published writer I had no separate existence in the eyes of the law. Would any of today’s young women believe that a married woman in early middle age could be treated in such a humiliating manner?
What irritated me in 1986 shocks me deeply in 2016. Thank goodness we’ve come so far from those times that it is shocking to be reminded of it!
I’d guess too that my husband’s quite pleased he’s no longer responsible for my tax returns…