Why can't women be more like men, and enjoy failing

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You know you live in a man's world when rapists and paedophiles are released into the community without being cured, when women are offered a mere pounds 10,000 for abortions performed on them against their will, when single mothers are blamed for everything, when women (perhaps only in Hollywood) consider it necessary to get their labia surgically plumped, when single women eat better than married ones, when female mountain climbers are castigated for being poor parents but male balloonists are applauded for deserting their weeping children and when men risk their lives for nothing but only pregnant women are accused of having small brains.

You know you're in a man's world when anything men do, or fail to do, is newsworthy, whether it's resigning from a football club, not getting round the world on a balloon or yacht, or not managing to cross Antarctica pulling a heavy sledge. It's hard to imagine anything left for men not to accomplish and still make it into the headlines. Even Yeltsin's flu is a hot news item - we rush to the Kremlin to look at men standing around thinking about Yeltsin and his flu. Even Ranulph Fiennes's chilblains were of epic proportions.

If women dumped half-ton propane gas cylinders over the Atlas mountains and spent more time eating chocolate in upturned yachts, we'd get a lot more respect.

Melanie Griffith in the Sun: "The last time I went out without make-up, he [Antonio Banderas] looked at me as if to say: 'Have I really married this old bag?' I'll never forget that look. It was full of disgust for my wrinkles and saggy skin. If he didn't think that way, why would he make me exercise for five hours a day and keep sending me to the plastic surgeon?"

Allan Massie in the Daily Mail: "Yet the spirit of adventure, however contrived . . . remains one of man's most attractive and vital qualities. This is why, despite everything, I applaud Branson, and commiserate with him on his failure even if, judged by any serious standard, his adventure was only a self-indulgent game - like a small boy pretending the wood at the end of the garden is the Amazon jungle."

Two people, both rich, famous and successful. One having the time of his life, the other subject to a daily torrent of disapproval. One free to fail, the other not allowed an eyelash out of place. One obsessed with circling the globe, the other confined to worries about her waistline.

No wonder women turn inward and sit at home forlorn and bedraggled. One study has shown that the average woman need only look at a photograph of Claudia Schiffer for three minutes in order to feel depressed, stressed, guilty and ashamed.

We would obviously all feel a lot better if we'd invented rape, the slave trade, epic poetry, the Industrial Revolution and the nuclear bomb, if we'd denuded the earth of its forests, sent hundreds of species into extinction, driven a hole in the ozone and instigated a few world wars. What stick- in-the-muds women are. Where's our sense of adventure, 'man's most attractive and vital quality'? Where are our bungled ballooning attempts? Come on, girls. Get with it.

What a hilarious to-do people have made of the monarchy debate, or "so-called monarchy debate" as the participants and critics now describe it. Pundits who took part (Ann Leslie) are as irate about having been included, as others (Nikolai Tolstoy and Hugo Vickers) were at being belatedly excluded. The Palace liked nothing about it except the result of the phone vote.

The whole thing embarrassingly failed to rock the monarchy. The fact that people get so exercised about it seems to prove the institution still interests us all. There's clearly hidden resistance to any rational thought on the subject. We can't even convince ourselves to abolish the House of Lords! It's not so much a disease, this feudalism, as a religion. This is why people go all starry-eyed, vacant and impenetrable on the subject. Or is it just an addiction, and therefore curable? Maybe we should all be issued with royalty arm patches, to be applied whenever you feel the need for another dose of the Windsor soap opera.

The guerrillas in Lima are supposed unlikely now to harm their hostages, because they've all been living together for three weeks. I'm not convinced by this theory. My experience of communal life has not been encouraging. It usually deteriorates into squabbles about housework, with everyone competing to do either more or less of it than everyone else. And then there's breakfast. I shared a writer's retreat for five weeks with, among others, Nicholas Shakespeare who came down to breakfast one morning and announced that the poll tax was a good idea, just badly publicised. This sort of thing can disrupt your entire day. Yet when I shared a caravan in a French nudist camp with a friend of mine, she accused me of not being talkative enough in the morning.

It's hard enough to live with people you love, and even then you occasionally want to murder them.

Most of what's attributed to the Sixties seems to me to have actually happened in the Seventies. Communes, drugs and free love. The writer Ronan Bennett once told me about a Belfast commune in which people had tried to find a solution to sexual jealousy. They hadn't found it, he said, but at least they'd tried. I've been thinking about this ever since. If only one could regard one's partner's current dalliances as no more threatening than those of his or her past, but it doesn't seem that easy in practice. It all comes down to bodies. After all, you're allowed to share your mind with anyone at the bus-stop.

I keep looking out at the snow to see if men have managed to take it away yet. But the nice thing about snow is that men can't easily clear all of it away (or I'm sure they would). Nature is thorough. Snow gets everywhere, gently settling in places men can't reach. It's very subversive stuff.

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