I'm going to the feminist boot camp

We will be encouraged to hug female lawyers and add their names to our list of role models
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The Independent Culture
PACK YOUR lipsticks and silk stockings, girls. And don't forget the baby in the baby carrier, briefcase, contact book, electronic organiser, organic recipe book, bottles of Evian and your nurturing genes. We're off to a boot camp where our leaderene, the luscious Naomi Wolf (who has never let feminism interfere with her bum-hugging wardrobe) will inspire us with her ideas about "ethical leadership", and show us how to make a brave new world for the 21st century where caring, sharing women lead without cynicism, filthy political expediency or the lies that lubricate personal ambitions.

There in the groves and copses around the newly set up Woodhull Institute in upstate New York, we will be encouraged to hug compassionate female lawyers, businesswomen and journalists, and add their names to our list of adorable role models and useful contacts. Maybe I shouldn't mock; they're might be something in it, because, like almost everyone else that I know today, I feel the urge to explore and find a different kind of feminism from the sort that has been in control of thinking here for decades.

For many of us the movement has been too ruthless, imitative of men and over-indulgent to women. I interviewed more than 55 women for a chapter in my forthcoming book, Who Do We Think We Are?, and barely a handful felt comfortable calling themselves feminists. We black and Asian women feel hugely betrayed by powerful white women from whom we were entitled to expect better. How could Blair's Babes march into Parliament so triumphantly knowing that they had left their sisters of colour fuming on the outside? Only Oona King managed to get in, and she is mixed race. Women in Journalism has become an influential association determined to shatter the highest and toughest glass ceilings that still exist in the media. But I have yet to hear any concern about the fact that black and Asian women have not even made it onto the bottom rung of most newspapers.

Our objections are not only about being excluded. Many of us feel that our best-known feminists do not make any attempt to accept the huge social transformations that, in part, resulted from their own hard struggles. They still cry wolf, even when the beast has been fatally wounded. If tomorrow we all woke up to find absolute equality on this planet, these feminists would probably throw themselves off some white cliff. It is dishonest to claim that all men are still as they ever were, or that the world stubbornly remains as it has always been.

Yes, many gender-related problems remain; but for middle-class white women, especially those with careers, many of the aims of feminism are lived realities. This is what Ros Coward has argued persuasively in her excellent new book, Sacred Cows. The response to her observations by hard- line feminists has been shameful. There have been appalling personal snipes (Coward lives happily with two children and a man who is at ease with equality) and arguments that do not hold even when shouted out very, very loudly.

Middle-class feminists say that nothing has changed because most women still earn less than men do, and many women are at the bottom of the pile. But that is like saying that British standards of living have not improved since the war because we still have so many poor people. If these feminists were serious about their disenfranchised sisters, they would be devoting themselves to this cause, and joining government task forces instead of writing yet another media-friendly blockbuster on Feminism Today.

Finally, we are alarmed that Western feminism has given women licence to behave as badly as men. What is so wonderful about a world where we now have twice as many driven, selfish, brutal people storming around? So mothers should have the same rights to abandon their children as men do. Where does that leave the children?

A new report shows that the number of females sentenced for violence against a person has quadrupled since the Seventies. If this trend continues the number of violent girl criminals will outnumber boys by the year 2008. These are not those sweet, old-fashioned cat fights where you pulled someone's hair and screamed a lot. They are violent crimes which include stabbings, head butts, kicking and in some cases, the long, drawn-out torture of victims.

I have worked for some scandalously uncaring female bosses who have left me with no illusions about the inherent virtues of womanhood. This is why I think that Woodhull might not be such a crack- pot idea and why I still want to go: I really am desperate for this feminised world. Even if it means cavorting with Ms Wolf.

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