I have mixed feelings about International Women’s Day. There will be much celebration and good cheer when it arrives this week. But also despondency. Why? Because as more women rise up to top positions, too many of them forget the rest of their sex and become apolitical, or apathetic and self-obsessed. The struggle for gender equality is but a distant memory. These women wear the power suit and heels, join the boy’s club, barely glance down at those beneath them – the pathetic weaklings who never understood the game.
Triumphant ladies do pass on advice about aspiration, confidence, “frozen talent” (like frozen ovaries?) and indomitability. Good of them to share, but all they are doing is shifting the responsibility to the excluded individual. The system is never questioned. That would not be good for ambition.
Men still rule and control the world, of course. And they are most to blame for keeping females down and out. But, increasingly, the masculine power base is protected by willing handmaidens. So, this year, I think feminists need to speak out against female connivance and ruthlessness as well as male dominance. Fair criticism is required, but bitchiness is not.
Some female journalists relentlessly pick on women and girls in the public eye. They can be more judgemental than Jeremy Clarkson would ever dare. Year after year, when the Bafta or Academy awards are handed out, fashion editors – even those who work for the broadsheets – get their talons out and rip into the female stars for wearing this or that. They can be brilliant actresses and directors, but what really counts – apparently – is how much tit they showed, or if their legs were too fat for the dress.
Then there is the new breed of female TV presenter who seem to think they must be extra-ferocious and tenacious to make their mark. Instead of changing the medium and the message, they become the transgendered Paxman or Humphreys, at times without the charm of the blokes.
Another growing irritation, for me, is women who have it all and still seek our attention and sympathies. An exhibition titled The Pram in the Hall, by the artist Alice Instone, opens this Tuesday, just in time for International Women’s Day. She talked to famous women and asked them how they juggled their various tasks, then turned the responses into artworks. One list goes: “Call Jason Donovan, buy Secret Santa gifts, then write to Melinda Gates.”
Another, a supermodel, was vexed because she had to buy vitamins, get her MOT and look usual stuff for her child. How many nannies do they employ? Do they think at all about mums who survive on benefits, do menial jobs and can’t even afford a bath at night? Or Syrian mothers trying to keep their children alive in places only hours away from these isles? Narcissism posing as feminism and art. Not good.
Online, female furies are pitiless. Jerry Hall has been whipped and punished by she-trolls and bloggers since she got married to Rupert Murdoch this weekend. This grown woman, intelligent and beautiful, made her choice and I hope she finds happiness. But they, the mercenaries of discontent, had to spoil it, by filling the web with poison and ill will.
Last Christmas I made contact with one of my online persecutors, and told her how she made me feel week after week. She said she was sorry but that I “asked for it” and that she had the right to say what she wanted because we live in a free country. It was a dispiriting encounter. A woman, Isabella Sorley, was convicted in 2014 after sending violently threatening tweets to the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. This nasty ethos is shared by a generation of young girls who stalk and try to break each other online. Are we feminists to say nothing about this? Are we avoiding this duty because it is simpler and easier to blame men and boys?
Which brings me to my final item that needs to be on the agenda this Women’s Day. We need to talk about men and boys: those who are deeply depressed and anxious, the thousands who end up in prisons or kill themselves. They were born to women and most raised by their mothers. Their pain should matter to feminists.
We women and girls must continue to fight male oppression, to claim our equal rights and place, to refuse inferior status. The huge risks and burdens carried by mothers and daughters are crimes against one half of humanity. However, internal collaborators do almost as much harm to our cause as external enemies. It is time to get tough with women who betray other women – high fliers who, in the vein of Margaret Thatcher, are only interested in themselves and their own good fortunes.
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