It's feminism not masculism, why Amazon is cheap, feline charms and why some things should stay private

As an equalist, I see equal access to parental leave as an essential first step to true equality


One of the things you hear a lot when you get a reputation for being "a bit of a feminist" is people who object to the "fem" in "feminism". If you really believe in equal rights and opportunities, they say, then why don't you call yourself an "equalitist", or even a "masculist"? Well, because I don't often find myself having to fight for underprivileged men, or defend their rights to equal representation in politics, pay or life in general. But OK, this week I will declare myself a card-carrying masculist and salute my brothers for their victory on equal parental leave.

Last week, proposals were announced for new parents to be able to share leave of up to 50 weeks between them – subject to certain provisos that already exist for maternity leave, such as giving your employer adequate notice. The Institute of Directors called it a "nightmare". Why? Because men are too delicate to face their boss's gritted teeth when they admit that they are having a baby? Because the poor employers won't know on sight whom to discriminate against first?

As an equalitist, I see equal access to parental leave as an essential first step towards true equality. It doesn't mean that parents have to split the leave equally; merely that they have a right to. Yes, there are biological reasons why a woman is better equipped to be the primary carer in a child's first weeks and months; but government's role is not to reduce us to our biology. The role of a civilised society is to provide everyone in it with opportunities, and I happen to believe that a man should have the opportunity to raise his child and a woman to go out to work, if that is what they both prefer to do. And, of course, the law is already flexible when it comes to parental leave and the gender of the parents; or do lesbian mums both get to take a year off work? (Of course they don't.)

If you insist on being an "equalitist", though, be aware that this is only a first step. If equal parental leave closes the gender pay gap, for instance, I'll cheer and declare masculism a triumph. But if men still end up being paid more than women, despite taking just as much time off to have babies, the doubters will have to accept there's a reason that feminism starts with "fem".

Vote with your feet

Deck the halls, ding-dong merrily and don't forget to boycott Amazon while you're doing your online shopping this Christmas. That's what Margaret Hodge and I will be doing as we hit our keyboards and the mulled wine to do our online shopping.

And, I don't want to give their loved ones any clues about what they'll be getting or not getting for Christmas, but so will Dennis Skinner and Austin Mitchell. Ms Hodge got little joy (seasonal or otherwise) out of Amazon's evasive public policy director when she interviewed him in front of the Public Accounts Committee last year, and she has since been joined in her boycott by other MPs and Ethical Consumer magazine, whose editor says: "Amazon is having a devastating impact on high streets across the UK as tax-paying businesses are unable to compete... Amazon's cheap shopping [comes] at the cost of reduced public services. Amazon's tax revenues could help fund the vital public services that are now being slashed."

Tomorrow is Cyber Monday, when retailers expect huge numbers of people to go online to buy Christmas presents. But canny consumers will vote with their feet this Christmas (and support Small Business Saturday). Remember, your friendly local bookshop is not there just to increase house prices and, if you must shop online, remember whose taxes pay for the roads on which your purchases will be delivered.

Top cats

Another study dissing cats was published last week by the University of Japan, whose researchers have found that cats do recognise their owners' voices – they just choose to ignore them. The scientists watched cats as they were called by both owners and strangers who were standing around a corner and therefore invisible to them.

The cats showed signs of recognising their owners' voices more than those of the strangers, but when they were called by either they carried on doing exactly what they'd been doing anyway. This was "in contrast" to the behaviour of dogs, apparently, who are too stupid to recognise anybody much but tend to come running anyway. Of course, cat owners know all of this already (especially my colleague Dom Joly – to whom deepest sympathies and I hope that the claw marks heal quickly), and that is why we choose them. When a cat likes you, you feel really special. If you're happy with any old slobbering attention, get a dog.

Smoke signals

Calls to ban smoking on hospital grounds have led to predictable cries of "nanny state" from people who are confused about the difference between a nanny and a medical professional. Mike Kelly, the public health chief of Nice (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), says that it is "clearly absurd that the most lethal set of toxins to the human body are being passively encouraged in hospitals", and says that medical staff should no longer wheel patients out into the car park in their gaping hospital gowns to have a cigarette.

Nicotine withdrawal is tough – that we all accept – but I have seen no compelling evidence to show that anyone ever died of not being able to smoke. And the idea that any medic should have to turn from treating a patient dying of a smoking-related illness (the leading cause of premature death in England) to help another patient to smoke a cigarette is just grotesque. After all, one of the primary things that students learn in medical school is: "first, do no harm".

Mouthing off

Gossip makes the word go round, as countless academic studies show, but the point of gossip is that you do it in private and you secretly know that it's not very nice. This etiquette does not extend to social media, however, where apparently it is completely acceptable to mouth off about how you "know" all about the private lives and marriages of complete strangers who you have never met.

The past week's to-and-fro about one particular well-known couple has given gossip a bad name and must have made all right-thinking people ashamed to do it at all. From now on, then, I'm on #TeamShutUpAndMindYourOwnBusiness.

Janet Street-Porter is away

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