Are women really this gormless?

In a world of real problems, this female lifestyle crisis seems a silly, self-indulgent thing
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The Independent Online

It is time for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Domestic Division) to reconvene once more. To hear the evidence, men should gather on one side, in the general direction of the doghouse, wearing that familiar look of slightly resentful apology. Across the court, over on the high moral ground, women are invited to take the roles of plaintiffs and assume an expression of weary, reasonable exasperation - they'll know the one.

It is time for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Domestic Division) to reconvene once more. To hear the evidence, men should gather on one side, in the general direction of the doghouse, wearing that familiar look of slightly resentful apology. Across the court, over on the high moral ground, women are invited to take the roles of plaintiffs and assume an expression of weary, reasonable exasperation - they'll know the one.

For it has just been revealed to a shocked nation that the women of Britain are extremely cheesed off. A representative sample of 2,000 of them has responded to what is called "a Female Lifestyle Survey" in Top Santé magazine. Summarising its findings, the magazine's editor has concluded gravely that "the 'have it all' dream has turned into a 'do it all' nightmare". All over the country, apparently, women are suffering from "a lifestyle crisis".

Please stop smirking near the doghouse. This female lifestyle crisis has nothing to do with a desire to have their interiors decorated by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, or their exteriors made over by Alan Titchmarsh; it involves more serious matters. Among the disgruntled 2,000, eight out of 10 wish they could change their lives; 67 per cent feel as if they are on a treadmill; 74 per cent will have a drink or eat in order to unwind; 80 per cent would prefer not to be career women but, being major earners, have been obliged to keep working. Half have had health problems caused by stress. Six out of 10 blame their unhappiness on sexual dissatisfaction.

The first reaction to these statistics among caring male Independent readers (and statistics show that there are remarkably few uncaring male Independent readers) will be to feel just awful about the whole thing. We knew that sometimes life was a little rough but, frankly, we had no idea that quite so many women were walking around, feeling so stressed, angry, overworked and frustrated. The second reaction will be to worry: these days, private unhappiness is something that is shared around.

The sensitive man will examine his own behaviour, worrying whether he has helped out enough, whether he should be a better lover, whether he should be earning more so that his partner can spend more time at home.

A few of us, daring souls, might also find ourselves wondering what it is specifically about the female condition which causes such unhappiness. Ask the majority of men whether they feel stressed, if they would prefer to be at home, or whether they take a drink to relax, and the number of positive replies would come as no great shock. Rather fewer would own up to having a disastrous sex life because, for a variety of reasons, men tend to assume a level of personal responsibility in that area.

That, come to think of it, is the most depressing aspect of the Female Lifestyle Survey. It is no real surprise that those who replied to the questionnaire expressed dissatisfaction with their lives. It is part of the deal: owning up in a survey to being passably contented, and failing to blame others if one is not, is tantamount to admitting that one is a smug moron.

But, beyond that modish grumpiness, the message behind the survey's statistics can be summarised in three sad little words: not our fault.

It was not our fault that, back in the 1980s, an unholy alliance of feminists and Thatcherite greed-is-good types announced that, in the words popularised by Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmopolitan, women could "have it all": money, careers, babies, holidays and all the orgasms that a girl could wish for. It was not our fault, that 20 years later, we have discovered that what we were promised turns out - boohoo - to have been an impossible journalistic fantasy.

It is not our fault that men are still such pigs. Six out of ten women in the survey believed that life is easier if you are male, while 77 per cent of those questioned said they took primary responsibility for bringing up children. And of course there was no question as to who was to blame for all those disasters and non-events in the bedroom. At this point, a very brave man might step forward to ask how many of that 77 per cent very sensibly preferred to be mainly in charge of the children, had made the choice for themselves, or why sexual failure was entirely a male problem.

Cosmopolitan, feminism, men: next in line for the not-our-fault litany is - no surprise here - the celebrity culture. "Women are bombarded with lifestyle images of perfectly proportioned celebrities who seem to have everything, without much effort," says Top Santé. Nine out of 10 are unhappy with their looks. Their role models are their mothers, Mrs Thatcher and Madonna. Yet "unlike their grandmothers, they are no longer prepared to accept ageing".

Are women really quite this gormless and self-pitying? If so, there is no hope for truth or reconciliation. In a world of real problems, the great female lifestyle crisis seems a silly, self-indulgent thing. If indeed it exists, and those 2,000 women were not just playing a joke on us, it is easily resolved. Stop blaming others. Ignore stupid questionnaires. The responsibility for your personal happiness and satisfaction is, primarily, your own.

terblacker@aol.com

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