The liberal male elite fights back

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The Independent Online

We met in a corner of the Members' Bar at Newmarket. It was Ladies Day, the perfect cover. We have one priority when a small cell of the male liberal élite get together: surprise. We might be strategising in the café of the National Library; others, in a back row at the Pavilion End at Lords. We are everywhere.

We met in a corner of the Members' Bar at Newmarket. It was Ladies Day, the perfect cover. We have one priority when a small cell of the male liberal élite get together: surprise. We might be strategising in the café of the National Library; others, in a back row at the Pavilion End at Lords. We are everywhere.

But the atmosphere at this week's meeting. Giles, a contributing editor at The New Yorker, whose critique of globalisation will be published by Faber this autumn, stared dully at his racecard. Peter, a former academic just promoted to department head at the BBC, was sipping gloomily at his champagne. And I, another leading intellectual of our time, was feeling none too bright either.

The reason for our depression lay on the table between us. There was the latest edition of Prospect, with its list of the country's top 100 intellectuals. Beside it lay an article by The Independent on Sunday's Joan Smith which clearly - we're intellectuals, we know this kind of stuff - had just blown us out of the water.

"Let's assess where we stand," I said coolly. "The Prospect scam paid off big-time: 100 British intellectuals and only 12 of them women. Result, right? But then, somehow- we don't know quite how - a leading intellectual from the other side discovered what we were up to and rumbled us in the press."

I picked up the newspaper and quoted. "The reinforcing nature of male élites... mutual back-slapping... willed ignorance of female achievements... clever women need to start promoting each other in the unashamed way men have always done ... The list is a mild liberal take on the old-boy network."

"And we took such trouble to cover our tracks," groaned Giles.

Peter was gazing into his glass. "I told you only including 12 women was pushing it," he said. "We should have gone for 20 or even 30. One of those who were excluded was bound to get the hump."

Giles took the article from me. "Look at this," he said. "'Men dislike a woman with ideas above her station. Especially if she happens to be wearing a Wonderbra.' How does she know this stuff about us? It's uncanny."

"Maybe - ' Peter dropped his voice. "One of our lot has gone over to the other side. Julian Barnes has been talking a bit girly recently. And that new Spectator columnist has been acting oddly - going to the Orange Prize, reading books by Marina Warner, that sort of thing."

"If it's true, he's in trouble." Giles laughed grimly. 'We don't have much time for double agents in the liberal male élite. Think what happened to poor old Will Self when he went native and discovered feminism. Zilched. History. Ended up as the funny turn on a TV quiz show."

"We've got to fight back," I said. "And one way is to start behaving like women intellectuals. It says here that they like nothing better than to roam across high and low culture in an intelligent way."

"What exactly is low culture?" Peter asked.

"Well, for example - " I scanned the article. "Joan says that conversation among women intellectuals can range from the history of sex toys to the role of chocolate in oral sex."

A thoughtful silence descended on the table.

"They've got the better of us there," said Giles eventually. "Let's stick to Plan A. We scupper the Booker shortlist. Make sure there are no intelligent women among prospective parliamentary candidates. Continue to make Channel Four a bastion of male prejudice. Encourage the new cell at the Statesman which has made such impressive inroads into editorial policy."

"You're right." I drained my champagne and poured us all another glass. "We're men. We're strong. We're intellectuals. We're a male élite and we need to get out there and do what we're good at - self-reinforce."

But Peter still looked worried. "What exactly is the role of chocolate in oral sex?" he asked.

Miles Kington is away

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