This first sign of support for me against my family, in a sense, broke their hold over me. Things were never quite the same again.
I was still last on the list when it came to food and they still called me ‘the bitch’, but there was a subtle change. I felt that they thought a common bond had been broken, and that by bringing in an outsider I had somehow ‘let the side down’. The feeling that I, the girl in the family, was part of their domain, was beginning to fade. Although it didn’t make any immediate difference to my everyday life, a sense of oppression had been lifted.
It all goes back, I think, to the feeling that girls are worth less than boys within the family. This attitude still exists -- and not only in working class backgrounds. Men have always been expected to be the breadwinners and, as such, have tended to be cosseted more.
Even though I was working, the boys expected me to wait until they had all eaten before I got my food. This happened even when I was the first to arrive home and one or another of them was out working until late. All through my childhood and adolescence I saw similar treatment, to a greater or lesser degree, handed out to the girls I knew. In some families, it may have only been manifested in the way girls were expected to wash and clean when their brothers were not. But it was, and is, an undercurrent of society that seems to become more acute the poorer you are.
George’s family were different from mine. They were so nice to me the first time I went to the house, I couldn’t believe it. His mother, Mary, was a lovely woman who made me welcome right away. And his dad, too. I remember going in and his dad was picking out his horses from a newspaper. Immediately he called me over and asked me to pick one for him, for luck. I had not been anyone’s good luck charm before. I don’t think the horse won!