WE ARE bombarded with howls of protest by women against men against women. I am sick of it. The shelves of bookshops groan under the weight of tomes warning us of the 'war against women'. In any oncoming battle of the sexes, my cry must be: 'Shoot the women first]'

These books have all been accompanied by the usual fanfare and media hype. Rosalind Coward's Our Treacherous Hearts - Why Women Let Men Get Their Way, rife with sexual political jargon, is the latest. There are more on the way and such is the prominence of the subject that the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London is putting on a debate tonight - 'Collusive Women?' - between the author and another leading contendant, Angela


The entire canon of this type of feminism is written in stone: women suffer, men are to blame and, now, women collude in their own suffering. Not a single new idea has entered the argument in the last 10 years. Ms Coward's dazzlingly original contribution is the concept of guilt. I'm afraid the Catholic Church has beaten her to it by a few centuries.

Ms Coward has interviewed 150 women. 'Overwhelmingly, there was guilt at not doing things well enough - 'anything well enough', said one woman, speaking for the ranks of ordinary women (whomever they may be) who neither receive satisfaction from their work nor feel they are being particularly effective in the home.'

Has Ms Coward spoken to any men recently? Men who get little job satisfaction and feel unappreciated at home are not hard to find. Do men really see themselves in any more glowing light than these women?

What started 20 years ago as a fight against oppression has turned into a never-ending whinge. It is time to remind these ladies that men are oppressed, too, and most working-class and all unemployed men are a good deal more oppressed than the authors of these books.

Indeed, wading through these titles has become a kind of canonical penance for every politically correct woman on either side of the Atlantic. As an example of woolly thinking, it would be hard to beat Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: the Undeclared War Against Women: 'Certainly, if the other half of the population had a role in shaping institutions they would be very different institutions.' Would they? On what evidence is this based? We now have a woman Director of Public Prosecutions and head of MI5. Women edit two of the national tabloids, the Sunday Express and News of the World. I certainly have not noticed any change of slant in them that could be said to benefit women.

Instead of rejoicing at small gains in the professional status of women - 22 female circuit judges, three High Court judges - we should be asking how they compare with male colleagues. Would the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six really have fared better before any of these women?

Women are only as good or bad as men and any notion that there is any solidarity between women is a figment of the fevered feminist imagination. When a man betrays his wife it is usually for another woman.

Women are as exploitative of other women as men ever were. Where was the protest from politically right-on ladies when the Labour Party, in its shadow Budget, offered merely to tinker with the Conservatives' grossly unfair corporation tax concessions for childcare provision - by extending the range to include smaller employers. Most working-class women do not get within shouting distance of a company nursery.

If feminists devoted as much of their energies to improving the lot of these women as they do to complaining about men, there might be some hope of social change. What most of them are after is not change but a better slice of the cake for themselves - the doyennes of the chattering class.

Next time you rejoice at the elevation of some woman to high public office as an indication of progress, remember that behind every successful woman there's another woman - cleaning her floors. Career women owe a huge debt to this great silent constituency - the poor, overworked and ill-educated women of the land.

As long ago as 1980, the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards wrote in The Sceptical Feminist: 'Feminism is not concerned with a group of people it wants to benefit but with a type of injustice it wants to eliminate.' If women read her with the same dedication they devote to a lot of the rubbish that passes for feminist thinking, the movement might not be in the mess it is today.