BOOK REVIEW / Defrocked behind the enemy's lines: 'No More Sex War' - Neil Lyndon: Sinclair-Stevenson, 15.95 pounds; 'Sex and Sensibility' - Julie Burchill: Grafton, 5.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
HE INTENDED it as a red rag, but Neil Lyndon's book - famous for 15 minutes about a month ago - is really a white flag. 'No more sex war,' he pleads from the bunker where he has holed up against 'the great terror' of feminism. Alas, the enemy just keeps on coming: here is Julie Burchill, armed with an acid tongue and a scattergun of epigrams, making you realise how bored we'd all be by a truce.

Lyndon subtitles his book 'The Failures of Feminism'. Certainly feminism has failed him. He blames it for thwarting Sixties idealism. He blames it for making women unhappy, and for making his own relationships with them unhappy. He even blames it for the Falklands war. He speaks of it repeatedly as a filthy 'incubus'. What he wants, he says, coming on like Lawrence in his Chatterley phase, is 'more affection, generosity, love'.

As with Lawrence, though, there is a gap between the tenderness Lyndon professes and the violence of his prose. 'That strikes me as being one of the more pustulent lines of piss in the crock of cant which is modern feminism,' he says of one argument; of another: 'I think I may strangle this woman.' His language is thick and bludgeoning: it gang-rapes metaphor, adopts a berkish tough-guy familiarity ('Shall we go on? Have you had enough?'), is in love with words like bash, nail and screw.

Lyndon is right to suggest that some separated husbands have suffered because of unfair access and maintenance arrangements, and that employers still fail to recognise the burdens on working men and women with small children. But he pushes his case into an ugly cul-de-sac - towards saying not that many wives are battered, not that many women are raped (he speaks of 'the hurly-burly grapplings of the chaise-longue' or the 'drowsy Sunday morning leg-over'), not that many children abused.

More than once Lyndon alludes to Julie Burchill and her 'spit-flecked ravings'. But emerging from his polemic to hers is like leaving behind a padded cell for a floodlit stage. Take the opening essay in this collection, 'Where's the Beef?' Why, she asks, should women be made to feel inadequate about their bodies when men conceal the most vital statistic of all: penis size. Not all men are born equal, she says, and knocks the sexologist's convention that technique, not size, is what's important. It's a classic wind-up, designed to settle ancient scores and to send every humourless prick who reads it rushing to his tape measure.

'Men are very scared now,' Burchill writes, and she detects fear and loathing in, for example, the return of male brawn and women sex zombies in the cinema. Feminism, she thinks, is about women having 'as much fun, money and clout as the best of men'. She calls herself 'a hack' (to distance herself from the 'over-compensatory and cod-political heroics of male writers'), but what distinguishes her from other hacks is the inventiveness of her writing: the provoking bons mots ('Men and women should have sex, not relationships', 'a dinner party is a party with everything that made parties great taken out'), the acronyms, the succinctness of her hatreds.

She is often wrong - about Rushdie and his supporters, whom she slags off; about Mrs Thatcher, whom she adores; about the Sixties; about Aids. Her ra-ra-I-made-it triumphalism can get up your nose, and she sometimes interprets the Zeitgeist to mean what she and a few friends are doing (if they're having babies, everyone's having babies; if they're staying in at night, everyone's staying in at night). But we'd be the poorer without her sassy iconcoclasm.