Stuck on the long road to equality

 

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Has feminism had its day? The vast majority responding to a survey on the Netmums website saw the term as old-fashioned, not relevant to their lives. Older women felt less strongly. I take these findings with a pinch of salt, because they are strongly weighted in favour of mums, but they did make me think. Feminism is part of my DNA. It colours how I react to social situations, political decisions. I never felt much in common with the feminist contemporaries of Germaine Greer – they seemed strident and aggressive – although I was working in a very macho environment in the media in the Seventies. I found that a dollop of humour got you a very long way. Inside, though, I never compromised, and the moment I could, I promoted and championed women.

Feminism is the fight to achieve equality – socially, politically and economically – and, no matter what these women may think, that has not been achieved. They say they regard men as equals – but, much more importantly, how do men regard us? If we didn't represent some deep-seated threat to their power base, then – given the equality laws – women would be sitting in far larger numbers on executive boards, in Parliament, at the top of the police force and the judiciary. We have to compete for these jobs on terms laid down by men, favouring people who don't have to reproduce and nurture their children. It's not surprising that the number of women who start their own businesses (on their own terms) is soaring. An Ipsos Mori survey earlier this year found that 84 per cent expected growth or stability over the next three years, in spite of the recession.

The main stumbling block to true equality in this country is the lack of free, high-quality childcare and nurseries for all working mothers. I don't regard mothers who choose to stay at home and care for their families as second-rate feminists – far from it – but that is not an option for the vast majority of women in this country. Economic necessity drives women to work.

Women in Journalism conducted a survey of newspaper front pages recently and concluded they were still "male dominated and sexist". But in the end, a newspaper is a product, like a cup of Starbucks coffee, and we consumers hold the ultimate weapon – our cash. The number of female writers on this paper and our sister paper, writing about every subject, has grown massively since the days I was an editor over a decade ago. Sometimes, collecting statistics doesn't further the cause in any discernible way. Neither do lists.Woman's Hour has launched a campaign to find the 100 most powerful women in the UK, supported by a month of programming and online nominations from the public. As a newspaper editor, I was catapulted into one of these "power" lists of UK women at number 20-something, and I've been in and out of the Guardian's media 100. It's pretty meaningless. Forbes magazine lists the most powerful women in the world, with Angela Merkel at No 1 and the Queen at 26. The last Sunday Times Rich List contained a record number of women – but most had inherited or married their cash. Lists don't advance women; legislation and affirmative action do.

Modern women are often the largest earner in a household, and that can place strains on a relationship. Women are responsible for most household spending. No wonder that Netmums women say men "are no longer the enemy". Modern feminism is about subtly working towards your goals, while accepting that many men have lost their tradition role as breadwinner and feel lost. It's no longer a battle of the sexes: for modern feminists, our goals remain the same, but we achieve them differently.

Modern women are better at talking to each other, sharing online, and forming supportive networks than my generation ever was, but they must not make the mistake of thinking modern women are treated equally, because they're not.

A blight on the potato police

I've been looking at the glamorous website for a new women-only club called Grace Belgravia that's opening next month with £10m worth of backing. A friendly bar isn't mentioned, and the emphasis seems to be on health and beauty and healthy mini-meals. As membership is £5,500, this is one establishment I won't bother joining. The best club I ever joined was for fellow potato-growers, and ensured I was able to access rare varieties outlawed by the EU. I still grow about five different varieties every spring and summer, in ugly plastic pots. I've had varying success – axona and pink fir apple were last year's success stories. This season, quite a few spuds looked OK, but when they were cooked they suddenly exploded into mush – apparently the result of too much rain.

I will persevere – nothing tastes as divine as a spud you've grown yourself – so I was incandescent to read the Potato Council blaming amateur growers for spreading a blight that's wrecked commercial crops which are sprayed. They claim blight spores spread in the air contaminating crops miles away. The council's chairman had the effrontery to say: "People should grow their own vegetables … but the blight risk is real, and it would be better if people bought healthy potatoes from their retailer, rather than grow their own." I have two words in response to this ludicrous suggestion. Sod off.

Overdoing the crocodile shock

There's still time to see the controversial new production of Handel's Julius Caesar at the English National Opera, if you've got the stomach to sit through business with a realistic dead croc, a dismembered giraffe, a severed head in a plastic bag and buckets of blood. The most irritating aspect of this production is not the pointlessly brutal staging, nor the unflattering costumes which require Julius Caesar to don a skin-tight shirt and jeans, cowboy boots and a Stetson, and – confusingly – both the Egyptians and the Romans to wear matching white, but the uninspiring dancing that forms a backdrop to almost every single aria. Handel's music is sublime, and the orchestra, conducted by Christian Curnyn, sparkling. The four hours never pall and most of the singing – especially Patricia Bardon, as Cornelia, Pompey's widow, is excellent. This opera is a masterwork, so why tart it up with completely unnecessary detritus and crass choreography that adds zero? Shut your eyes and you'll have a great evening.

I hated ENO's previous excursion into baroque opera, Rameau's Castor and Pollux. There seems to be a desperate need to be shocking for the sake of it at the Coliseum these days: the ad for the next production of Don Giovanni features a used condom. I know they want to attract a younger audience, but judging by the crowd at Julius Caesar, those tactics aren't working.

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