What every man fears

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"Matriarchophobia". This seems to have become the great collective anxiety of our times. To have a woman boss seems to be the worst nightmare of all male underlings, from the boys of Rugby to the bobbies of Lancashire.

The appointment last week of Louise Woolcock and Pauline Clare as, respectively, the school captain of Rugby and the Chief Constable of Lancashire are just the latest examples of the trend. By this I do not of course mean that there is a trend for women to become bosses. On the contrary: the evidence still overwhelmingly suggests that such appointments are exceptional.

No, the trend that interests me is the reaction provoked by the occasional promotion of a woman to the top; the fear of an impending "monstrous regiment of women", to use John Knox's much-misunderstood phrase.

The extent of today's matriarchophobia is extraordinary. Even if you don't possess a television set, you can hardly have failed to notice how many programmes are currently devoted to the theme of the woman boss.

Admittedly, the most successful has been Prime Suspect, in which the woman - Inspector Tennison, as played by the wonderful Helen Mirren - is not quite at the top of the police hierarchy. Nevertheless, she is clearly boss to the haggard coppers in the smoke-filled operations room. And how some of them hate it.

A less subtle variation on the theme has been The Governor, which revolves around the idea that what appears to be a rather sweet primary school teacher has been put in charge of Barlinnie prison. For me, the highlight of the first series came when the new governor single-handedly quelled a full-blown riot by giving the prisoners a jolly good rollicking. Back they slunk into their cells, like so many errant fourth-formers caught at a midnight feast.

Of course, it is fatal to mock. When The Manageress was first screened, I seem to remember, the idea of Cherie Lunghi as Graeme Souness in a twin- set seemed ludicrous in the extreme. It has since become a reality at Birmingham. No sooner, it seems, has one's disbelief been suspended by the telly, than reality catches up.

Is no male bastion secure? The more politically correct sections of the media have been trying to balance their coverage of the relentlessly male Rugby World Cup (pace one blonde television presenter) with reports from the women's soccer championships in Sweden. But how much longer, I ask myself, before the England rugby team are led on to the field by a strapping lass?

It will begin on television, I now predict, in a series starring French and Saunders called something like Missing the Tackle. Once that has happened, the England selectors will be quick to follow, if only to prove that they are "old farts" no longer. Perhaps with a female captain England might actually win the World Cup.

What, then, is the significance of this new national preoccupation? No doubt there are hordes of lecturers in gender studies who have written doctoral dissertations on the subject. But my theory has more to do with plain politics than with sexual policies. It is simply that this is one of the many symptoms of PTS: Post-Thatcher Syndrome.

The publication of Baroness Thatcher's second volume of autobiography has, predictably, given her numerous foes an opportunity to don the critical knuckle-dusters.

But the thing that still rankles most, it seems to me, is the stuff in volume one - above all, the way she used to treat her ministers in cabinet. Remember what they said about her - usually after she'd sacked them? "Her belief was that dialogue was a waste of time" (Sir Ian Gilmour). "Sometimes she would start a meeting by summing up ..." (Kenneth Baker). This, surely, is what all men really fear: a woman boss like her.

It seems a long time ago, but I remember those carefree days immediately after her demise, when suddenly it was affable Mr Major in the chair. Cabinet meetings, reported one David Mellor among others, had become friendly, relaxed - even (to use his favourite word) "fun".

Well, it is certainly interesting to compare the subsequent performance of Mr Major's government with that of his predecessor. All I can say - particularly to those matriarchophobes still reading - is when can we have her back?

Come to think of it, wasn't there a series not so long ago about a female boss returning from exile to reclaim power? It was called, I think, She's Out. If life continues to imitate telly, perhaps that will be the title of Volume III of the Thatcher memoirs.