Leading Article: New rules in the battle of the sexes

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The Independent Online
THE SEX WAR has broken out again, and in our very own pages too. But this is a new version. New man, David Aaronovitch, versus new woman, Suzanne Moore. Suzanne had a go at Paul Johnson, after his adulterous behaviour was revealed this week, and at the predictable hypocrisy of male public figures. She thinks men have a "limited" sexual repertoire. David took offence, and asked what would have happened if he had written similar sweeping generalisations about women. She pleaded guilty to generalising, but said women suffer it all the time. "It is called common sense, or having a laugh, or, in better circles, irony."

Something interesting is certainly happening down there in the trenches. The lines on the domestic battlefield have been redrawn repeatedly over the past 20 years. The presumption is now that men share responsibility for child-rearing, even if women still take the lead. Men are almost always present at the birth of their children, where they used to wait down the pub. They do not do much housework, even where women are in full-time paid employment, but you do see them pushing pushchairs and doing the shopping. In this respect, the Prime Minister is Everyman. "I wouldn't say he is intimate with the washing machine, but he knows where it is," says Cherie Blair. He sometimes irons his own shirts and spends a lot of time with Euan, Nicky and Kathryn.

Social change is slow and uneven, and most of it is driven by economics. In some respects, women have achieved equality; in too many others, they have not. Yesterday we reported that men are becoming more prone to depression and women less. Women still suffer more, but the gap is closing fast. Equality of opportunity means equality of misery too. It is significant that the the new fragmented, flexible labour market means that economics is at last working in women's favour. All jobs, men's and women's, are now insecure and, at the bottom end of the labour market in particular, women have been able to adapt better to the collapse of unskilled full- time jobs, leaving a rump of poorly-educated young men without a role.

Women are right to insist that, as a sex, they still suffer more discrimination than men. But men are justified in pointing out that they are no longer the main beneficiaries of economic change.