Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: As good as it gets? What a sorry situation

In a Sunday newspaper magazine, 10 pages promise to "unleash" our inner goddesses with corsets, frilly knickers, suspenders, lacy stockings, "triangle" bras, other skimpies and boob scaffolds. A female journo raves: "Lingerie shopping is almost as satisfying as buying shoes. And that's as good as it gets." Really, dear girl? As good as it gets? The journey for gender equality in the UK started with Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 and arrives in an underwear emporium at the end of 2011. I know it is the season of good cheer, fun stuff and cheeky pleasures, and I only pick on this article as typical of countless others which nudge women into thinking of themselves as sex objects and pleasers and divert us from naked, brutal realities.

Last week, an academic study found that a wide sample of men could not differentiate remarks about women's sexuality made by convicted rapists from quotes in four hugely popular, mid-shelf lads' magazines. Even more disturbingly, the magazine stuff was harder and cruder than the fantasies of sexual attackers. Here are two examples of "advice": "Go smash her on a park bench" and "a girl ... likes feeling like a dirty slut... You can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help her live out her filthy fantasy". The researchers concluded that the magazines normalised sexism and violence against women.

Meanwhile, savage male sexual fantasies roam the internet and sex is as fast and addictive as a delivered pizza. We hear of brutal assaults on teenage girls by their boyfriends, and domestic violence and murder figures remain unspeakably high.

However, though slow progress has been made since the 1980s, appearances are deceptive. Last week, a newspaper analysed the number of women on key TV programmes, writing in newspapers and in politics. Wollstonecraft would scream at the findings – from BBC Radio 4's Today programme, through the newspapers to the commanding political voices, white males overwhelmingly dominate, in numbers and setting the agenda.

There is much praise for Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in a new biopic. Enthusiasts say it shows the "Iron Lady" overcoming deep Tory prejudices. Even so, she didn't champion equality and her own example changed little for womanhood. Individual success has come to some, but men still rule from the bedroom to the boardroom.

Some younger women are, thank God, organising against the injustice and objectification, excelling in higher education and fighting for access and power. Many, though, are pissed, passing out, sleeping around, up the pole, nihilistic – existential responses to a world that still denies them, now with force and reactionary zeal. It is really hard to be a woman and, trust me, a Stella McCartney floral-printed bustier with matching briefs (£130) won't make it all go away.