Women will soon rule the world, but they won't like it

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The bright young things' thinktank, Demos, has produced a new offspring, Tomorrow's Women. It shows that there is little new to say about what birds are like and what they want. Being in the Big Idea business, it must be galling to find oneself revealing the finding that "women's self-identity is no longer primarily derived from their role as mothers" and that "the majority of women - some 51 per cent - say that their self- identity comes from being a parent". The authors, Helen Wilkinson and Melanie Howard, are perhaps too womanly to be concerned with being overly logical.

The report, probably against its will, leaves intact some of the simple propositions men believe. Nearly half of mothers would be "perfectly content" to stay at home child-rearing, while women at work suffer stress and depression to match their affluence.

Demos certainly does not answer the primordial question: Why are women so much stronger than men? Surely it is because women are so serious. It is not clear whether Mrs Thatcher reinforced the male prejudice that it is not easy to get a new idea into a woman, but she certainly helped us believe that it is hard to get an old one out of her. This is not because women are stupid, but because they take ideas seriously. So a woman ideologue is even more dangerous than a male one. It is no good quoting Mao, Stalin and Hitler against this theory: they were exceptional men, not least in taking an idea to heart.

A woman's seriousness makes it unusual for her to see both sides of a case. Women are too partisan (call it loyal, if you like) for that. Women do not value fairness. They are not, in general, liberal. I should not like to be a prisoner in a jail run on lines designed by a hen party.

Women do not, by the way, make bad drivers. But they never let you in. That flows from their view that goodness is not something which is generalised, it is something which preserves and fosters, and is preserved and fostered, within the small group - say the family, or, these days, the team or firm. Of course women are always in a hurry. Forty-odd percent of them juggle family and work, so they nip about in their hatchbacks at a great, preoccupied pace.

The modern woman's desire for work is understandable. Her consumer demands have made it unlikely that a single man could support her. As Carolyn Graglia, an American housewife and erstwhile lawyer, will soon argue*, the sexual freedom demanded by women has made men even more feckless than they used to be, and no sensible woman now embarks on marriage without ensuring she stands a chance of work after it. One senses that the modern woman never quite takes both feet off the floor.

Feminists have never understood women, and have wasted a lot of time saying how workplace mores will change for the better when womanly and more gentle ways came into play. Any man could have told them that women have always been fiercely ambitious for their spouses. Now they will be trounced in the workplace by assertive women, who are now free to fight in their own name, instead of baiting on their husbands in the modern equivalent of sending a knight off wearing one's favour.

The difficulty is, will the world be a happier place when women increasingly swap their private for new public lives? Men have lost an empire but not yet found a role (more accurately, have lost a largely fictional dominion, without yet being sure women want them to be overtly servile). But women are in a mess too. They have got a lot of what they wanted and assume that their disquiet flows from not having got enough of it.

This last bit may not be right. We can all accept that women could, and possibly should, run the world. It is much harder to be sure they would do so in a womanly way, or enjoy it much. It's just as well John Gray has come along with his books about how men are from Mars and women from Venus. He emphasises how men and women can enjoy being different from one another. Certainly, as Dale Griffin at Sussex University has pointed out: romance is better than close inspection when it comes to keeping couples together. Love, not analysis, conquers all. It may conquer women's new lust for overt power as well. Demos's report wonders if the "long march to equality" will continue, or "will we see other forces push in the opposite direction, driving women back into the home?" Looks like many women won't take much driving.

Tomorrow's Women - A one-day event. London, March 7 - call 0171-292 6506. *The Housewife as Pariah. London, March 10 - call 0171-636 8000, extension 5102 .