ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Female politicians are a bit different, aren't they? They're just so ... female. Who came first, Margaret Thatcher or her handbag? Never mind Euro-rebellion, or offending the Essex planners, Teresa Gorman will be remembered as the one with the smooth neck, the one who championed HRT. The proposed American health reforms were awfully complicated, weren't they, but have you seen Hillary Clinton's latest haircut? And by the way, what sort of shoes is Imelda Marcos wearing while running for office in the Philippines?

This week, all eyes have been on Virginia Bottomley - the nation's "fragrant nanny", according to the Sunday Times, the one with all those "girlish charms" (Daily Mail), the one who narrowly averted being an unmarried teenage mum. Golden Virginia. Ginny. You know, the Health Secretary, who is trying to close all those London hospitals.

All this gender stereotyping must be an awful bore for Virginia Bottomley. What if she didn't want a career looking after nurses? What if she wanted a job doing something tough and manly, like looking after the economy? But the caring professions is what girls are good at, isn't it. That Gilly girl is in charge of teachers, isn't she? Even the ultra-feminist Emily Party agree (hello Marge Beckett).

But then sexism is never a one-way street. On Tuesday, Bottomley was photographed in this newspaper in a pose unprecedented for a politican, her legs - long, lean, lovely legs! - curled up underneath her on the sofa, so that she was sitting on one heeled shoe. (It was, of course, calculated: photographers cannot manipulate politicians; they just get lucky.) Later in the week, we had Bottomley flashing her legs on a bicycle. Then, yesterday, the Today programme kicked off a report on the Commons health debate with the news that, poor darling, her voice had cracked with emotion. Bottomley, it seems, has been playing the feminine card to the hilt.

Other politicians may have been reshuffled this week, or announced plans to spend more time with their families. Virginia Bottomley, though a long- time contender as the nation's most unpopular politician, hangs toughly on to power.

Another woman now getting first-hand experience of the double standard is Naked! Oxford! Girl! Jocelyn Witchard.

Last week, the 22-year-old English student at St Hilda's college jumped naked into the River Cherwell during the annual May Day celebrations. Before you could slur "four bottles of Bolly", she had appeared on Page Three of the Sun ("The girl from St Thrillda's!"), done a TV chatshow and become the subject of an in-depth probe by the Daily Mail (father ex-RAF, mother a community midwife, daughter did her A-levels while living in a van with a traveller 20 years her senior). Whither the major cosmetics contract?

All too soon, however, the backlash began: a summons by the college dean; condemnation by fellow students; the possible removal of the scholarship she won after her first-year exams; her planned PhD in doubt; a forthcoming face-off with a college panel.

You, Ms Witchard, are accused of being silly, nave and bringing this institution into disrepute.

And so the double standard drags tediously on. Stripping off in public (and preferably puking at the same time) is almost a rite of passage for the boorish public schoolboys who still manage to cram their way into Oxbridge. But the Sun doesn't want male pin-ups and colleges don't care about exhibitionist boys.

Still, there are compensations: with graduate unemployment higher than ever, Ms Witchard - now a bona fide minor celebrity - is guaranteed a job presenting a late-night yoof show on Channel 4. At the very least, the last fortnight's media appearances must have helped towards paying off her student loan.

But then it ain't easy being a man these days, either. News came last week that police sergeant Philip Aspinall of Bridgwater, Somerset, was attacked by two women after he tried to stop them brawling over the last pot of anti-fat cream at a hair salon. "I couldn't win," he complained after the incident. "One was furious because I said she needed it more; the other was upset because I did not pick her."

Meanwhile, a self-selected survey of 5,000 analysed by Men's Health magazine made for depressing reading. Virtually all of them (96 per cent) think there is not enough information about healthcare for men. Eighty-eight per cent think society puts a higher value on women's health than their own. Sixty per cent of them are suffering from depression, of whom 38 per cent, tragically, turn to "nobody" for help; they would rather talk to a GP or friends and relatives than their partner.

The same number are suffering from stress, attributed by 79 per cent of respondents to work. "Some men pretend to be ill because they cannot face the pressure of going in to work," says stress expert Professor Cary Cooper of Liverpool University. "Sometimes they even develop minor symptoms to persuade themselves that they are ill."

Take a leaf out of Virginia Bottomley's book, guys. Curl up on the couch, make your voice go quavery and hope for the best.

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