I paint my toenails blood red every summer, and wear what Germaine Greer would probably describe as bonk-me sandals, because I adore my feet. They have not betrayed me by getting fat, wrinkly, hairy or grey. They still look delicate and untouched by life. So I celebrate them and call attention to them on sunny days.
This fortnight, however, my adorned feet have been abused twice by friends who see this innocuous pleasure as yet another sign of my willed degradation into female subservience.
"What next?" asks one friend, fiercely. "A Marilyn Monroe dress?" These friends of mine wear their summer shoes flat and sensible. I don't. They never saw red before so why now? Both are experts in gender studies, so I think the real reason why they want to stamp on my toes is that they are cross, very cross about the column I wrote recently that described how I was trying to change the way I behaved towards my husband.
I had read a book about surrendered wives which contains much rubbish but some quite good sense, and I tried it out and then wrote about it.Writing this article helped me to see that within equal and deeply intimate relationships too much time was wasted on unimportant squabbles, and that these scraped off the shine that drew you to each other in the first place.
That's all. I have not attacked feminists or feminism (not this time anyway) or murdered my daughter or offered myself up for genital mutilation, or taken to buying Loaded. Yet scores of incandescent e-mails and letters followed.
Some choice snippets: "You are stupid and dangerous asking women to be doormats again. Must be because you are a bloody Muslim who can't live as an equal." "Tell me Ms Alibhai-Brown, why do you hate women? Or are you like those self-hating Jews who are in denial?"
A hissy response was sent to the letters page by Katherine Whitehorn stating the obvious – which I had already stated anyway – that this is not about women submitting but about men and women learning to love better. Now my friends stand there lecturing me on subconscious apostasy and my flirty feet. What???
My dear husband, who does a very serious job in a very serious place in the City, went pale and trembling when I told him I was writing this today. He too has suffered with ribaldry flying about in meeting rooms, not good for a chairman, which is what he is. Elsewhere chaps ask him what it feels like to be so dominant, to be a real man, to have a woman with a mouth as big as mine slavishly obeying his every whim and order. I don't think they are talking dirty but who knows?
At other gatherings people shriek with laughter: "How is the surrendered wife then?" or even "Where's the whip?" Of those who do approve – and there have been about 110 responses from them so far – some have asked to be kept informed about progress or otherwise.
Others confess that they too are closet nags. Then there are the people who reach out with their long, fleshy arms (I can almost smell their sweaty piety) and want to embrace me. I am a sinner who wants to repent, retract, be brought back into grace, so they think. The offers in today include exciting information about "Firm Fathering" and, separately, "Reclaim the Family". Unconditionally delighted is my eight-year-old daughter who says: "You shout nicely now mum. I can hear it." That means I carry on.
And what about feminism and the betrayal of it? I agree with Lisa Alther, the very Seventies author of Kinflicks: "I happen to feel that the degree of a person's intelligence is directly reflected by the number of conflicting attitudes she can bring to bear on the same subject." So there.Reuse content