Will men surrender to the Fluffragettes?

They will pout their way to power. Feminism is the forbidden F- word

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Today may be a good day to talk about women and power, as more women enter Parliament than ever before. But the important political question that must be addressed is where they stand on the Fluffy issue.

The Fluffy Manifesto, "the most significant new movement for women since Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch", was launched last week in the Daily Mail by Cherri Gilham. Already prominent Fluffragettes are rushing to sign themselves up. The flufferati are proud to come out as giggling, pouting and cooing their way to emancipation. They must never contradict men or be aggressive. No shrieking is allowed. Eyelashes must be fluttered at all times, and the F-word, feminism, is strictly verboten.

Fluffy ladies know that real fluffiness is almost spiritual. It comes from the inside. You cannot fake it, though you may have to spend a fortune producing the femininity that is required to fool men that you are not a threat to them in any way.

I don't mind female impersonators, myself; after all, I've spent years in drag, but I draw the line at being told to think kindly of men. I must confess, also, that the central thrust of this movement - if thrust is not too virile a word - is one that I don't fully understand. The idea is apparently to put the "femininity back in to feminism", as though there has been some femininity deficit that now has to be made up for.

Has feminism drained the nation's womanhood of its most precious attributes - its lipstick, its hair spray, its essential "velvetiness"? Surely not. If that were the case, we could no longer tell men and women apart, and then God knows how we could continue to systematically discriminate against the fairer sex.

That, of course, is the great fear about feminism; that a movement designed to stop discrimination on the grounds of sexual difference will in the end do away with sexual difference itself. Everyone will be just the same, and that would not be fun.

Actually, the opposite is true - we are obsessed with sexual difference. Books are sold on the sole basis that they explain the difference between the sexes, or that they tell each gender how to communicate with the other. We worry that girls are doing better than boys, that men have lost the traditional crutches of their identity, that women are becoming more violent. Yet we still carry on carrying on with each other, making the best of a bad lot.

Many analysts, whether male or female, are in rough agreement about one thing. The problems we are facing are not to do with the fact that women are becoming like men, or even that they are not womanly enough. The problem is that men are too much like men and must learn to be a little less so if any progress is to made.

Still, enough of masculinity in crisis. We don't want to upset the poor buggers. Instead, we must assume power without them even knowing, so that they don't feel a thing.

As if the Fluffy Manifesto wasn't enough, one can always be a Princessa. The Princessa, written by Harriet Rubin (published by Bloomsbury in May), is billed as "Machiavelli for women". Princessas know that it's OK to cry in the office, flirt with policemen, react emotionally, and wear brightly coloured clothes. Princessas are slightly fluffy but the thing about a princessa is that she knows that it's war out there. Conflict, which women are taught to avoid, is always a form of contact both requiring power and building power. Machiavelli's advice to the Prince didn't, as I recall, involve fashion tips, but I suppose you can't have everything.

The Princessa is a glorified self-help book. It is full of old-fashioned advice which basically amounts to telling women to use their feminine wiles. After a lot of sub-Buddhist babble and a trawl through some tough cookies, from Joan of Arc to Jacqueline Onassis, it boils down to this: a princessa's weapons are clothes, voice, hair, jewellery, posture, make- up and tears.

Yes, that's right, tears are always useful. If only Joan of Arc had some tear-proof mascara, things might have been very different.

The trouble is, you see, so many of us suffer from "power anorexia". We deliberately starve ourselves of power when presumably we could be stuffing it down our throats.

Rubin and her fellow fluffies neatly sidestep the question of what power might actually be, though Rubin helpfully informs us that men crave disempowerment. Hell, why bring the real world into this? All that deathly dull stuff about equal pay, equal representation, equal rights is not the way to go. We must not play by their rules, but make our own. This highly individualised notion of power - power as a personal and psychological attribute - ignores systems, structures, institutions. It makes power something that a wily woman can achieve not by connecting with other women, but by emphasising her separateness from them, a la Margaret Thatcher.

It is true enough to say that feminism has a problem with power and has retreated from adequately addressing what it means. Many women, having bought the idea that power means having what men have now, wonder if it is worth it. Is the double shift of work and domestic labour, which means a 14-hour day, any sort of power for anyone? The result is a flight into New Age mysticism, with its accent on female spiritual power and its lack of engagement with material culture.

The third way, and the one currently officially sanctioned, are tired re-runs of female sexual power. Here the Spice Girls and Naomi Wolf come together in some multiple orgasmic universe where with enough zig-a-zig ahhing they can get in touch with their own inner sluts and make lots of dosh in the process.

Female aggression is no threat to anyone if it is limited to sexual aggression and then marketed as titillation. So it's 1997, and we have to choose between the fluffies, the princessas, the Spices and self-obsessed slut redeemers. Men must be quaking in their boots at the very prospect of having to take their pick from this monstrous regiment, I'm sure.

Perhaps I should cash in my chips and write a self-help book myself. I could call it Redefining Winning, A Handbook for Happy Slappers. Born Losers might be a better title, but I wouldn't want to sound bitter and twisted, because let's face it, men just don't find that sort of thing very attractive.

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