LEADING ARTICLE: New lines in the sex war

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The Independent Online
"Nancy Astor leaves the Commons in 1931, having won her seat without the help of positive discrimination," ran a picture caption in one of our rival newspapers yesterday. The implication was that women of real talent don't need a hand-up (such as the Labour all-women shortlists) - they get there on their own. This does not explain why 60 years later only 9 per cent of MPs are women, but it does reflect the hostility that the Labour policy has awakened.

Much of this resentment is self-serving. Many political men feel resentful at the idea of losing their place in the sun to a woman. They are seething. And if you look around, there are other unmistakable signs of a backlash against some of the assumptions and practices of feminism.

On Friday, the UK Men's Movement, Dads after Divorce and other men's groups met to discuss strategies. Such men believe that they are the victims of a shift towards women's rights that has left them deprived. Their causes multiply and grab the headlines - from the operation of the Child Support Agency to the question of defendant anonymity in rape cases. Harrumph, say many women - men are masters at the art of special pleading. Having organised a world to suit themselves, they object to it being dismantled. True - but there are reasons for believing that it is time for a rethink.

Back in the Seventies one of the slogans was: "Woman is the nigger of the world." Written out of history, victimised by men, her paths blocked and her achievements nullified, Woman embarked upon liberation. And - despite the continuing existence of wife-beaters, harassers and serial family-dumpers - she has been winning. In Britain today girls surpass boys at GCSE, at A-level, in both arts and sciences. They are the majority in higher education and have overtaken the boys in graduate recruitment. They are many times less likely to be unemployed for very long periods.

Furthermore, the speed at which all this has happened is awesome - and it is set to continue. Pure demographics will probably shatter the infamous glass ceiling, as the pool from which senior managers are drawn becomes increasingly female. It is little wonder, then, that today's girls tend to look at feminism not as a crusade but as given - something accepted as a norm.

But what of men? Educationally less proficient, economically less valuable and biologically less important, there is a looming and genuine crisis of masculinity. To deal with it we should now be thinking about how we educate boys. Many need targeted help with concentration, communications skills and with languages (where the gap is huge). As adults, they will be required to make a bigger contribution to the family, since their partners will very often be the main breadwinners. This is the new agenda. Rethinking the sex war to accommodate it could well be one of the most important questions to be faced by all those future women MPs.