Weldon attacks lucky crystals, low birth rates and the abuse of women's power

THE WRITER Fay Weldon has launched her strongest critique of feminism to date, claiming yesterday that the feminist revolution is now stripping men of their dignity.

She said it was time to stop blaming men for unequal pay, and to recognise that women chose to forgo career advancement to stay at home with their babies.

The novelist ensured that she would further outrage feminist ideologists, who have already castigated her for suggesting that the legal system should reflect that there are "varying degrees of rape".

Yesterday she went considerably further in her argument for a redefinition of feminist values. Delivering the Scotsman Millennium Lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival, she said that sexism now flowed two ways - "something we find difficult to admit.

"Evidence of continuing male prejudice against women comes from the fact that the female wage is persistently lower than the male wage; though in Britain the gap is smaller than in the rest of Europe," she said.

"But it is not for the most part the villainy and prejudice of men that leads to this undoubtedly inequity: it is the fact that the majority of women end up with children.

"Even when partnered, many back off when the time comes for promotion, deciding that time for a personal and emotional life is more valuable than promotion. The part-time nurse does not take the job as full-time ward sister, the TV researcher turns down the job as producer, because when would they ever get to see the kids?"

Ms Weldon said that instead of struggling for equal wages "we would be better occupied turning men into resident and supporting fathers, instead of dismissing them from the case and saying `Which way to the sperm bank?', or `How dare you treat me like this?', or `Oh, I can manage alone and anyway there's always the CSA, not to mention benefits'."

Society, she said, had to accept men were parents too. "On the day when the problem of the working father is talked about as often as is the problem of the working mother we will be getting somewhere. All children have two parents, though you'd never think it."

Ms Weldon devoted some of the hour-long lecture to warning of the dangers of the way women were using their growing sexual power. She said: "Today's young woman does the sexual picking and choosing: she has the power to reject and uses it no better than the young man ever did. Women discover the gender triumphalism that once was the male preserve.

"See it in the ads. One for Peugeot at the moment: a brisk, beautiful powerful young woman, followed by her droopy husband. She is saying to the salesman, `It moves faster and it drinks less. Can they do the same for husbands?' Try role-reversing that one!

"Does it matter? I suspect it does - it deprives men of their dignity: we all grow into what we are expected to be: this is the process of socialisation. Once women were indeed the little squeaking helpless domestic creatures the culture expected them to be. If we expect men to be laddish and appalling that is how they will turn out."

Ms Weldon made a prediction guaranteed to fuel angry debate among feminists: the lifestyle of the lone emancipated woman was bad news for the future of Britain, she warned.

She said: "The world has changed, the laws have changed, she [the new woman] is out into the world. She may be lonely at night sometimes but she has her freedom and her financial independence, she can earn, she can spend, she can party. She can chose her sexual partners, but is not likely to stick with them: somehow she outranks them.

"She knows well enough that if she has a baby all this will end. And so, increasingly she chooses not to. The fertility rate, 3.5 in 1901, is now down to 1.8 and falling, below replacement level. Which may be OK for the future of the universe but isn't good news for the nation. We lose our brightest and best."

As the anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales approaches, Ms Weldon bewailed the results of the feminisation of Britain's cultural and social attitudes.

She said: "It is my belief that the bearded Patriarch finally slid out the Great West Door of the Abbey and took to his heels on the day of Diana's funeral whilst Elton John was singing `Candle in the Wind'.

"Now the all-embracing Matriarch takes his place. This is the age of empathy: we are crushed under the excess weight of it. How superstitious we have become. Not a newspaper without its horoscope, we study feng-shui, wear lucky crystals round our necks - even those of us who appear to be most rational."

Politics too had been feminised, with New Labour speaking in the "traditional female language of caring and feeling apology and sentiment".

Therapists and counsellors have taken the place of the old Patriarchal priesthood. "They are the new hardeners, forgiving our sins for the payment of money, releasing us from personal guilt. Seek the authenticity of your own feelings they cry. Go it alone! You know you can! Assert yourself, your right to dignity, to personal fulfilment! Never settle for second best. And of course they are right, except, in the face of such stirring advice, and because in the new Garden of Eden men and women can, when once men and women couldn't, marriages and relationships crumble and collapse."

The World

Of Weldon

"It's all right being a woman these days - but it must be terrible being a man. They're quite right to be frightened and defensive."

"It is very unfashionable to say this, but (rape) isn't the worst thing that can happen to a woman - if you're safe, alive and unmarked after the event."

On being subject to an attempted rape when she was a young woman: "It was nasty, but it didn't shatter my view of men. The man in the taxi simply wanted sex."

"Sexual harassment is another peculiar area that fails to separate the unpleasant use of power to obtain sexual favours, from misconstrued signals."

"I would strenuously advise ... against having children. As soon as you have a baby, you've had it."

On New Labour - "Just a lot of people in love with Tony Blair".

"(Feminism's) gone too far. Now women diminish men in the way that men used to diminish women."

How she would word a lonely hearts ad: "Hopeless female requires not quite so hopeless male."

"Outside London, even moderately educated people have the pace and schedule of their lives dictated by Radio 4."

Has she abandoned the sisterhood? "I can't have, because I was never there. There is no headquarters, you know."

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