INTERVIEW / A man and his Great Terror: Neil Lyndon's book is called 'No More Sex War'. But his prose is not peaceful and the thanks of women have not been loud in the land. Is he angry or what?
Here, surely, is the authentic voice of that rare species, the New Man. In addition, Neil Lyndon takes a pride in his cooking; can keep a house clean; and needs no woman to launder the immaculate jeans and shirt he is wearing for our interview. He says he likes women, and indeed, he is disarmingly charming, with his boyish, crinkle-eyed smile and impetuous gestures.
This same soft-voiced, gently smiling Lyndon has penned one of the most vitriolic pieces of anti-feminist polemic yet to have appeared. So vicious is it that 10 publishers - he says, with some pride - rejected the manuscript before the doughty Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson took it on, and even then a major legal disagreement had to be resolved before it could be delivered to the bookshops.
A book of 250 pages cannot be summarised in a few paragraphs, but here are some of its main claims. Women are not intrinsically unequal or disadvantaged compared with men, or oppressed by them. Rape is an extremely rare occurrence, as is domestic violence - which, in any case, women enjoy provoking. Women very often batter men, and 'the men's injuries tend to be more gruesome'. Only some 650 battered women can exist, because that is how many took shelter in women's refuges in England and Wales (year unspecified). 'How can it have happened that a social phenomenon which results in 650 women and their children seeking refuge and care should have commanded massive and continuous, highly emotional and accusatory coverage . . . should be treated with so very much more sympathy and political energy than, say, the million or more people who have no home?' (The number of questions begged by the last part of this statement is breathtaking.) Sexual abuse of children is probably rare.
Above all, the central claim of No More Sex War is that the so-called triumphs of feminism - greater 'freedom', 'equality' and 'independence' for women - stem not from feminism, but from the availability of the Pill and easier abortion.
A typical section from the book (Lyndon is here commenting on an essay by Germaine Greer) is: 'What a monster] What stupendous ego in perverted reason. Within this passage can be found all the strands of madness which made up the body of hatred and aggression in The Great Terror (Lyndon's name for the feminist movement) and gave it impetus and power in Western culture from 1970 to the present.' Another, on the notion that Margaret Thatcher had to be 'more of a man than the men': 'That strikes me as being one of the more pustulent lines of piss in the crock of cant which is modern feminism.'
Such, then, is Lyndon's argument against the monstrous regiment of feminists; such the language in which it is expressed. He still insists that the book is written from pure intellectual conviction, unrelated to the events of his life. Let us examine this conviction.
Why, I ask him, given his love of children, did he wait till his mid-thirties before becoming a father?
He laughs. 'Very good question] The women I knew until then were doubtful whether they wanted marriage or even cohabitation so that, while I had known since the age of 19 that there were only two things I wanted from life - to be a father, and to write something that I was pleased with - I didn't meet women who were unequivocal about wanting children. In 1975 I met my second wife and we began to live together on the shared understanding that we wanted children; but she didn't conceive until 1981, and then only after extreme difficulties. But it is one of the more perplexing paradoxes of my life to find myself the father of only one child, and not now to have him in my care.'
His first marriage was short-lived and, by the sound of it, acrimonious; though he greatly enjoyed his 'loving, sharing input' into the lives of the two small sons from his wife's previous marriage. When the relationship failed he lost touch with those boys, and has never regained it. 'I felt the biggest favour I could do them was to minimise their confusion by withdrawing from their life. Very many fathers feel they are doing children a disservice by trying to keep a connection.' He says he wrote the boys many letters, which remain unsent, and saved money for them, which he has not handed over lest it should be felt 'an unwarranted intrusion'.
He has taken off his trainers by now. 'That marriage broke up in pain and misery in 1972, though we were not divorced until 1976. There were many, many, many intervening ups and downs. What has actually happened to us by way of the contraceptive revolution and abortion technology was so shocking that it confused everybody and presented us with unprecedented demands. Like many people, I was very confused.'
He begins to fiddle with, and slowly unroll, his socks.
'I was very promiscuous, yes. The unlimited sexual opportunity of the Seventies, having previously been inaccessible to most men and certainly to most women, was irresistible. It took me very many years to tire of it and see that there was plenty of trouble that way - emotional, organisational, treachery, betrayal, the phone calls, the letters, the sheer drudgery of it.'
But also, surely, some good sex? 'I enjoyed the sex, yeah. It was good sex, lots of it.' (Later I ask if there is anything he would like to alter or delete from our conversation. He says nothing, except: 'Not all the sex was good. Some was bad.')
He married again in 1977, having already lived with his second wife for two years. After seven uncontracepted years, she became pregnant. Was he overjoyed? He grimaces, sighs, rolls the socks up and down, thinks . . .
'Yes, overjoyed; but it seemed like another celestial jest that by then the marriage was in deep trouble.' Was he present for the birth of his son? Huge smile. 'Yeah. It was a very shocking and traumatic occasion as much as a transport of delight. I remember very clearly standing in the delivery room thinking that, of the three of us, I was the only one who could be certain of getting out alive, and that was most disturbing. I think the prevailing fashion that requires men to be present does not take account of the enormity of that elemental moment of life and death. I realised, at the moment of my son's birth, that it had brought me closer to my own death.' Lyndon clasps his hands above his head and sighs deeply. 'It is a moment of extreme emotion, sensation, danger and presence.' Unexpectedly, he explodes into a laugh. 'And people don't warn you about the afterbirth, do they?'
The socks are on the floor now. One clean, white, naked foot rests on his knee and he picks reflectively at his toenails. Was his son an easy baby? 'Not entirely, no. He got into a pattern of disturbed sleeping which lasted 11 months. And then I got taken up by Armand Hammer.'
This story, though extraordinary, is barely relevant to our conversation; except that it meant that he spent some years crisscrossing the world in the millionaire philanthropist's private jet and spending long periods away from his wife and child. Yet he was so inordinately well-paid that he felt unable to extricate himself.
Eventually, in 1989, he bought a house in Suffolk and cut loose from Hammer. 'I wanted to be with John in his childhood. That was a gigantic financial sacrifice. We had saved money, but it got consumed very rapidly. Our financial difficulties at that time were very serious, and a major cause of the ending of the marriage. We agreed to split up. I went to live near by so that I could freely see John, but she wouldn't let me make arrangements except on the most minimal terms, so we got into desperate conflict last autumn, and just before Christmas 1991 she removed him and went to Scotland. I go up and see him there once a month.'
His face, normally smooth and smiling, is now flushed and contorted. His fingertips tap nervously. There can be no doubt that the loss of his son's daily presence causes him extreme pain.
'I don't regard that as a typical story, but then: whose is? I've had many difficulties with women and many women would say they've had difficulties with me, but I don't see them as the key to unlock this book.'
I am sure he believes this. I am sure he has constructed a rational edifice to explain his dislike of feminism. But I am convinced that in the dark cellar of that edifice is an angry and bitter man who feels - not without some justification - that women have given him and the men of his acquaintance and generation a hard time.
Would he attribute any achievements to feminism? 'The most I can say for it is that it has been a catalytic force which has achieved changes that would in many cases have occurred anyway. Whether these are benefits, I'm less sure. Set against the massive confusions and pains they fostered, it is hard to see any benefit. The cardinal tenet of modern feminism seems to me one of the inspirations for our times: that sense of sorority. This may have made things easier for women, but I'm quite sure it was wrong.'
'But perhaps,' I say cautiously, for I am about to state a central objection which he cannot, surely, have overlooked: 'Perhaps the doubts and insecurities, the pain and anger and in some cases actual impotence that men complain of, rather than being caused by feminism, as you believe, were caused by the Pill and easier abortion?'
He smiles broadly again: the curiously inappropriate smile used to signal goodwill and gain thinking time. 'Oh yes, I absolutely agree]'
The point I wanted to make was that sexually active men can no longer rely upon fathering children. They have lost that evidence of potency and source of male pride. 'So,' I say, 'men's insecurity may actually derive from women's access to the Pill and easier abortion, which means they can no longer be sure of reproducing themselves with, say, every tenth unprotected act of intercourse?'
'Ah]' he says. 'I see where you're coming from] I see what you're going to write]'
But he doesn't, because I have to point out that if he accepts this argument, it follows that feminism is not the cause of men's miseries. On the contrary, it is the contraceptive advances he applauds, rather than The Great Terror he deplores, which have undermined the modern male. This is intrinsic to his own argument. He cannot claim that the Pill has liberated women without also accepting that the Pill, much more than feminism, has emasculated men.
'That's a very convincing line, yes, sure,' he says. 'Certainly, the absence of the possibility of pregnancy and the power it conferred on men, have been a challenge for men of the post-Pill generation, and have created a lot of confusion . . . I'm not saying the Pill has caused male insecurity; I'm saying it has confused the issue between men and women.'
At last, heavily, sadly, he states the belief that underlies his objection to, and fury with, the women's movement: 'Modern feminism says that women as mothers do not need men as fathers. It idealises single motherhood.' So it comes down to this: No More Sex War is not primarily a bull-in-a-china-shop rampage against feminism. It is the cry of a man who wanted children; who has only had one child; and who is now reluctantly, agonisingly separated from that child.
'No More Sex War' is published on 26 October (Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 14.99).
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