Mail chauvinism: the last bastion has finally fallen

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FEMINISM: an apology. In recent years we may have inadvertently given the impression that feminists are a load of frustrated, man-hating lesbians. Readers did not perhaps appreciate that terms such as "dungarees", "hairy legs" and "dykes" were intended as affectionate teasing of some outstanding woman, such as Germaine Greer, for whom we have always had nothing but the warmest respect. When we wrote of "drab, humourless, bra-burning women's libbers", it was of course from a position which recognised, and empathised with, the appalling restrictions associated with traditional female roles.

We are proud to recall that feminist writers have always received attention in our literary and features pages, especially if the authors were young, American and attractive. If we had the teeniest reservation about some of the good ladies' campaigns, such as the one to get rid of "sexist" language, it was always expressed with the greatest good humour - a feature about "personhole covers", which appeared in these pages in 1982, immediately comes to mind.

Even our articles about "wimmins' committees" on Labour councils and the slogans in magazines such as Spare Rib - smashing title, by the way - were never intended as anything but a respectful acknowledgement of a movement whose importance in the history of the world can never be over-estimated. So committed are we to this view that we have invited the leading feminist writer, Mr A N Wilson, to explain the significance of feminism to those readers who may have been misled by our tongue-in- cheek approach in previous editions of this newspaper, from 1967 until - er, yesterday.

Under the headline "Old duffers who breathe new life into feminism", Mr Wilson reveals that "the feminist revolution of the past 20 or 30 years has been one of the great steps forward in the history of civilisation, comparable to the ending of the slave trade". He exposes a cruel world in which "women who were not the object of crude sexual attention were regarded as jokes and bores". He reminds us that "Germaine Greer was absolutely right all those years ago when she wrote The Female Eunuch, arguing that men hate and fear the opposite sex".

He names the evil men behind this conspiracy, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the MCC - who, only last week, were forced to retreat into "their pathetic little all-male worlds of men's clubs and sport", as he deftly characterises them. So seriously do we regard this issue that we are proud to lay aside our traditional rivalry with other newspapers, including the Sun, and endorse its denunciation of the ECB as "disgraceful". We are also in total agreement with the Mirror when it excoriates men who "live in the past where women were there just for sex and acting as servants".

Make no mistake: sexism, especially when it is exposed at the heart of England's national game, is no laughing matter. On tomorrow's leader page, Mr Wilson will continue his analysis of female oppression with a hard-hitting article on why we should oppose compulsory circumcision for cricket-playing single mothers living on benefit. Don't forget! A woman needs the Daily Mail like a fish needs a bicycle! (Note to sub-editors: can you ring up one of the girls and check I've got that right? Cheers.)

OF ALL the problems of modern life, I have to admit I've never worried much about whether ballet dancers are getting the right diet. To be honest, I have no idea what they should eat, although I assume they aren't in the habit of wolfing down a triple cheeseburger with fries before a performance of Swan Lake. So I was surprised, to put it mildly, that English National Ballet is to spend part of its grant of almost pounds lm from the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund to set up a professional development programme to advise dancers on nutrition.

The programme will also help dancers to cope with strains and injuries, and offer training for other careers when they leave the ballet. This is all very laudable but why does it have to be paid for by charitable donations? I've never understood why so much money has poured into a fund which is in effect run by a quango, whose aims include keeping alive the memory of the 20th-century personality we are least likely to forget and whose beneficiaries are a ragbag of causes with no discernible connection other than the fact that the Princess approved of them. (Not enough to leave money to them in her will, but that's another matter.)

By chance the fund's announcement of its first round of grants coincided with a desperate appeal from Richard Hambro, chairman of Macmillan Cancer Relief. The charity, which sends specialist nurses to look after people with cancer, is pounds 500,000 short of the money it needs to meet the demands on its services. Other charities are in similarly difficult situations. With their income from donations already dented by the National Lottery, they now find they cannot compete with the immensely popular, if somewhat unfocused, Diana fund.

Of course the Leprosy Mission, which also received money, does important work. But donations are being made to the fund by people who don't know, and appear not to care, whether their money is going to be used to save lives or benefit less urgent causes. This says more about people's need to feel a link with the Princess, no matter how tenuous, than it does about the compassion we are supposed to have espoused in the aftermath of her death.

"COMPASSION lite" is the pithy phrase coined for this kind of giving - a commentary on the way we've come to expect everything to be served up in a harmless, anodyne form. Last week produced an even stranger example, when we were warned that a huge asteroid is hurtling towards the earth, threatening a collision similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We were told to expect tidal waves, the destruction of whole continents, but not until 2028. More to the point, it will probably miss us altogether. So we get to indulge our fantasies of death and destruction, safe in the knowledge that they aren't going to happen. "Armageddon lite", I think we might call it, and it's certainly relieved my pre-millennial tension for another week.

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