Julie Burchill: Moss looks like a toothpick, Widdecombe a dinghy, but they both do as they please

Women save the taxpayer some £87bn by providing care that would otherwise fall on the NHS
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The Independent Online

On the surface, Ann Widdecombe and Kate Moss don't have a lot in common. One is a Catholic virgin, the other a pagan vamp. One would think that she was throwing caution to the wind if she drank a Coke; the other saw her annual profits increase from £2m to £4m a year after she was photographed taking coke. And look at the size of them. The former could use the latter as a toothpick; the latter could use the former as a dinghy.

But – here's the thing – they WOULDN'T let themselves be used as either. Because they're their own women. (As opposed to someone else's toothpick or dinghy.) What they share is an uncompromising attitude to life that has made them beacons of contentment in a sea of neurotic high-profile women, forever fretting about this straying husband or that straying silicone.

They are women uncompromised. And all the mockery, in the case of Widdecombe, or monstering, in the case of Moss, simply slides off them like the proverbial H2O off a canard's back. Because, to misquote Kate, no approval looks as good as autonomy feels. They do as they please, though the things that please them are a world apart. They do not beat themselves up for being "too" fat or "too" skinny, or for being "too" chaste or "too" sexy. They are, in short, self-indulgent and proud.

In modern times, men know that it would look literally mad to say that women should not be paid the same as men, say, or not have the same educational opportunities as men. Instead, the new covert form of attack is to berate women for being "self-indulgent". The recent attack by male film critics (being attacked by male film critics; in terms of wounds sustained, that must be right up there with Denis Healey's comment that being dissed by Geoffrey Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep") on the film Eat, Pray, Love was a fine, funny example of this. Woman decides to enjoy food, get in touch with her spiritual side and have sex with a fit man – WHAT a high-maintenance cow! She'll be asking for golden elephants next, as Clare Short so memorably said of the volcano-devastated people of Monserrat when they asked for a bit more aid.

(Or indeed a unicorn to bring her herL'Oreal shampoo! As I said in my very first column for this newspaper, that innocent little "Because we're worth it" tag-line is a proper litmus-test of whether or not someone is a joyless, puritanical woman-fearer or not, "suggesting as it does unhealthily high self-esteem. I have read pieces which blame the phrase for the rise in abortion, divorce and depression. What's wrong with a bar of carbolic soap, for goodness sake!")

The history of modern cinema is in a good part the mythologising of male self-indulgence. John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart may have sacrificed private happiness for public duty, but since the advent of James Dean those men we deify on the big screen will do whatever the hell they like, thank you. This double-standard follows actors into real life, where the likes of Lindsay Lohan are pilloried for taking a few drugs and turning up late for work whereas the likes of Jack Nicholson are ceaselessly hailed as "hell-raisers" and "bad boys", even when their man-boobs could feed a continent. Roman Polanski's rape and sodomy of a drugged 13-year-old child took place in Nicholson's house, and he later defended his friend by saying that sex with a 13-year-old would not have been a crime in the director's native Poland. Of course, in a whole wide world which is governed by male self-indulgence – never less than when judges pass sentence on male violence against women – there's probably a country where it's not a crime to beat up prostitutes when they have the cheek to understandably ask for payment after the grisly task of servicing Mr Man-Boobs. So that would excuse Nicholson's 1996 attack on Christine Sheehan, for which he compensated her to the tune of $33,000 in an out-of-court settlement. WHAT a Bad Boy!

Away from Hollywood and back in the land of travelogues, was the real Elizabeth Gilbert more indulgent than Bruce Chatwin or many other male travel writers, who treated the world as their own customised knocking shop? Surely not – yet she is catching unparalleled flak for the perceived "self-indulgence" of her peregrinations. She should have stayed at home, of course; surrendered herself to being one of the vast army of middle-aged female carers which the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently identified as the "dutiful middle-aged", that quarter of women in their fifties who by volunteering for the legions of unpaid carers will suffer losses in income, job prospects and health and experience "chronic disadvantage". The study, on the concept of "fairness" in modern Britain, concluded that these women save the taxpayer some £87bn by providing care that would otherwise fall to the NHS.

Elsewhere, the survey suggested that women earn almost a fifth less than men, that millions of women are not entitled to full state pensions, and that crimes most commonly suffered by women have the worst clear-up rates. Virtue is it's own reward? It had better be. In the meantime, make mine a life of self-indulgence, and I'll take my chances in the great hereafter.

Child benefit: If you don't need it, taking it is scrounging

There are lots of dumb arguments for giving child benefit to rich people, but surely the weirdest is because "It goes straight to the mother!"

Well, knock me down, black my eye and call me Nancy! Doesn't this JUST conjure up a Dickensian nether-world where all men are either Bill Sykes or Fagin, and poor little women from penthouse to pavement secrete their humble stash each week so that their poor little Oliver won't have to go thieving up chimneys?

Since when did it become the business of an enlightened state to prop up domestic arrangements so tyrannical, dysfunctional and abusive that the woman involved needs a few quid from the state every week to prevent her spawn from starving? Surely she'd be better off kicking Bill/Fagin to the kerb and making a decent life for herself and her sprogs?

If you don't actually need benefits, taking them is scrounging. End of. And that's not snobbishness. Of all the scroungers I have known – and I've known some real lulus, who could scrounge the prosthetic limb off Heather Mills given half a chance and some low-watt lighting – one of the most shameless went to public school and the other had a trust fund.

Scrounging, like its equally smelly cousin stinginess, truly is the halitosis of the soul. And such a bad look, no matter what its tax bracket. Millionaires, Milibands and stay-at-home mums alike, take note.

Drugs: Innocent fun banned, addiction encouraged

An 11-year-old girl barred from buying a pencil sharpener in case, presumably, she ran amok at Brownies. A 15-year-old boy barred from buying wine gums in case he staggered blotto around the playground at break telling other boys they were his best mate...

Nevertheless, I frequently see skanky junkies being given their little cup of methadone in the local chemist. What sort of state discourages the innocent fun derived from sharpeners and sweets yet positively encourages opiate addicts to lie around in a daze all day? I hope the Coalition are going to sort out THIS anomaly as soon as they've stopped the greedy rich from grabbing child benefit.