BOOK REVIEW / A wounded Apollo lashes back: No more Sex War - Neil Lyndon: Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 14.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
CLOSING the covers of this profoundly muddled, deeply unhappy book and wandering over to the kitchen to make a cup of tea was like coming out from a horror film into a summer afternoon: there was a sense of shock that the real world should be so bright and ordinary. Twice divorced, separated from his only son, Neil Lyndon is a would-be good father who is looking for someone to blame for his own lost cause.

Born in 1946, he declares himself disappointed 'to the soles of my boots' that his Marxist, pot-smoking Sixties Cambridge generation 'which promised so much, should have delivered so little by way of radical change in the institutions of state'.

He sets the responsibility for that failure squarely at the door of feminism, whose cardinal tenets 'divided my generation, effectively disempowering and disenfranchising its members'. According to his book, feminists are ballthreatening 'hoods', who claim credit, quite falsely, for changing women's history, and denigrate and demoralise men by accusing them of 'typically' being rapist, wife-beaters and child-abusers. 'They are the cause of all that is wrong with modern family life - promiscuity, incessant divorce and the separation of children from fathers.'

Lyndon sneers at the need of 'the woman in the grey flannel suit' for cleaners and nannies, as if it were a crime to employ domestic staff. He can even prove, more or less directly, that 'in a sense (a favourite phrase), Germaine Greer was responsible for the Falklands War'. He seems to have read more reviews than books, and absolutely none of the serious literature on the way we live now produced by, for example, the Family Policy Studies Centre.

Much outraged comment in the media has resulted. But before we toss this wounded Apollo to the harpies entirely, it needs to be admitted that the reason we are all taking such an unconscionable interest in him is than his nightmare world is not entirely a fantasy. There are indeed women who call themselves feminists, who talk a great deal of nonsense. They write books which distort both history and the present, they are often fanatically rude about men. They claim women are the superior sex, that men are biological aberrations, that the penis is risible. In cultural terms, they are as pornographic as the sort of magazines that live on the top row of newsagents.

Many ordinary women find their radical cant amusing in more or less the same way that many ordinary men eye that top row of magazines tolerantly. There are women who quote from Rowbotham, Firestone and Greer with the same indecent relish with which some men (Lyndon among them, on page 95 of this book) boast that they cannot remember either the names or the number of the women they have slept with.

Moreover, once its offensive tit-for-tat spleen is stripped away, the central question which the book addresses is one which is a core dilemma of our age. Is it not odd that our personal ambitions for ourselves, men and women alike, should turn children into childcare problems and describe them as 'interruptions' in careers?

Lyndon comes up with an impassioned plea that men should take an equal responsibility for childcare, concluding with the attractive fantasy of a 20-hour week for everyone. 'Tell that to the Pacific Rim,' Norman Lamont might answer gloomily - another member of our useless Cambridge generation, though not, I seem to remember, either a Marxist or a potsmoker.

Lyndon is also right to try to redress the balance in the obsession with rapists and child-abusers by pointing out the rarity of such crimes, and to object to the new tendency of newspapers, broadsheets and tabloid alike, to report horrific details of buggery and rape. Accurate statistics, rather than shock presentations, are urgently needed.

Bringing such matters into the public domain may or may not improve matters for victims, but it should certainly not mean tarring an entire sex with the pervert's brush, to the extent that perfectly normal men are now afraid to offer help to women in distress.

Backlash is the name given to books like Lyndon's, and it will, unfortunately, be much more talked about than read. But it is possible that we need backlash, a violent swing of the pendulum of insult and fanaticism to redress the balance of power between the sexes. We joke in Britain now about political correctness. In the United States it is beyond a joke. As Camille Paglia has pointed out, far too many students are going through university thinking that it is somehow immoral to read anything by a Dead White Anglo-Saxon Male.

It should be as politically incorrect to insult men as it is to insult women. It is ironic that in the very week that No More Sex War came out, Germaine Greer in the Guardian claimed, perhaps with malice aforethought, certainly without a shadow of evidence, that 'men hate women' but that 'women cannot hate men'. No doubt Lyndon will clip her article for his files. But it will be typical of his mode of research, for his dark view of the world, that he will ignore the flood of criticism of her article which appeared in the next day's paper.