Sarah Sands: Men are being wrongfooted by the new feminists

The Time columnist Nancy Gibbs noted last week the taunting, muscular rhetoric coming from female Republican candidates. Christine O'Donnell told her opponent to "get your man pants on" after he raised a constitutional point. Sharron Angle, who campaigns with a .44 Magnum and a pick-up, tells her rivals to "man up". Heroine of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, accuses President Obama of lacking "cojones" on immigration policy.

Gibbs suggests the crude talk is partly a response to the violent sexism directed at them. An inflatable sex doll lookalike of Sarah Palin is on sale. Gawker, the Manhattan gossip and news site, has just dredged up old and ugly allegations about O'Donnell's sex life. After years of legislative intervention on how to deal with women, the victims are starting to take matters into their own hands.

It is easier to give as good as you get if you live a frontier life, preferably on horseback. Money and comfort subdue women and emasculate men. A new National Theatre production of Ena Lamont Stewart's play Men Should Weep is a vivid portrait of Thirties life in Glasgow tenements. Its inspiring women take care of everything and exist in a state of proud and, often, witty exhaustion.

The same tough, coping women were Hillary Clinton's core supporters in her unresolved election defeat. The women working double shifts and doing all the childcare. These are the dog-tired, wary, lippy, virtuous waitresses and nurses who have provided Oscar-nominated roles for US actresses. They have what Clinton disciples call "testicular fortitude".

Women such as Palin have upended traditional notions of feminism. Liberal feminists have regarded the home as a place of imprisonment, suggesting women have no power or dignity without a public role.

The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson wrote an elegiac piece last week about the disgraceful lack of obituaries for women: their domestic heroism goes unrecorded, their support for their husbands invisible to the outside world.

There's nothing invisible about Palin's home life. The women of "testicular fortitude" bring their domestic qualities right out on to the political stage, Palin even balancing a baby on her arm during campaigning. Instead of the meek martyrdom of motherhood, Palin has made maternal love an object of ferocity and awe.

Nick Clegg explained on Desert Island Discs that he was on borrowed time, so far as his wife was concerned. No wonder he can bear the fury of betrayed Lib Dems. It's milk pudding compared with the Spanish wrath of Miriam Clegg as her husband misses another child's bathtime.

Sharp-tongued, tough-minded women are disturbing to men. The male knows how to be chivalrous to attractive submissive women and how to be respectful to serious, humourless ones. The bright but bad-tempered ones are a problem.

How should men behave, for instance, towards the News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who can turn from charm to steel in the same sentence? She can storm into the Independent offices to harangue its editor-in-chief and bollock MPs over their pathetic complaints about News of the World alleged phone-tapping. But she playfully takes the name of her husband, Charlie Brooks. Like Palin, she bigs up "the first dude" while unmanning the rest.

Men have had it easy from middle-class feminists. See how they manage the new kind, who don't care at all about playing nicely.

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