A transvestite's view

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The Independent Online
AS THE Mellor crisis peaked last week, I was reading Neil Lyndon's emotional and controversial diatribe against the poison of feminism, No More Sex War.

The book came in handy, though not quite as I expected. For Mr Lyndon, who believes that modern liberated women tend to denigrate men, invites the reader to engage in a spot of mental transvestitism. He quotes a woman interviewed on TV-am last year: 'I think all men are pretty useless,' she apparently said. Mr Lyndon's point, and it is a good one, is that you should try putting those words in the mouth of a man. If men went around voicing such sexist sentiments, they would be frog-marched out of the studio and sent back to their caves.

But, I couldn't help it, I began to substitute a Davina Mellor for David. Imagine a married female cabinet minister is reported to be having an affair with a publicity-seeking, tall, dark, handsome and penniless young actor with seedy friends. Then the details of a family holiday are exposed in the witness box by another young man, this time rich and blonde, whom she visited for tea in Mayfair. But it was all above board because he was a great friend of the minister's husband. This we know because the minister's husband turns up at court to link arms in support. And, by the way, he is standing by his wife and family.

It could form the basis of Jeffrey Archer's next book. It would certainly sell newspapers. But as a plot it sounds far- fetched. Yet it is not until you do this exercise that you grasp the incredible maleness of British political life, the way in which public life and standards of public conduct are defined pretty much as the way the male should or should not behave.

The blinding truth, of course, is that both men and women have affairs.

When I saw Mr Mellor making his resignation speech, standing in a sea of impassive male faces, I wondered how long Parliament, and British political life, can continue in this unrepresentative time warp. It makes one long for reform: simple things, such as Parliament sitting in normal working hours, so women with children can participate.

It is a sign of the failure of the women's movement that the pressure for a fairer society has made so little impact. If I examine my own generation, I notice that women have spent much of the past 10 years in a post-feminist mode, looking inwards, trying to find some practical ways of balancing their lives between the pulls of work, children and domesticity.

I have found the practice of mental transvestitism catching; it certainly goes beyond the fate of Mr Mellor. Thanks to Neil Lyndon, I watch television with a new eye. If I were a man, I would be pretty fed up at the way my sex is being represented.

It is no longer acceptable to screen voyeuristic programmes such as Miss World in prime time; television dramas are full of women running bars, wards, families, even murder hunts.

Advertising watchdogs are particularly sensitive over the misrepresentation of women. The Broadcasting Standards Council goes out of its way to monitor images of women. When an advert for a carpet powder has a woman dancing around with a vacuum cleaner it is laughed out of existence. The modern Oxo woman has her family doing the cooking.

But what of men? Two television adverts are especially offensive. In one, for Pot Noodles, a group of women are cooing over a baby in a pram. A man, presumably the father, is sitting apart, eating from his tasty tub. He then looks up, and gets the sex of the child wrong. In another, for mobile phones, a farmer who is an expectant father rings for help, then opts not to go near the bedroom where his wife is in labour. Instead, he asks the plumber who brought the nurse out to help him fix his milking machine.

The BBC's autumn appetite for tough, violent macho males, as displayed in Civvies amd Between the Lines, is deplorable: perhaps one drama could be dedicated to the sort of reasonably civilised, family sort of male that one sees pushing trolleys around Sainsbury's and dropping children off at school?

I see no reason why in ordinary life and popular culture we have to cast men as unreconstructed chauvinists and violent baddies. I, for one, am now watching both my language and my thoughts.