Apart from the sanctity of the NHS and the wickedness of paedophilia, racism and homophobia, few truths these days are held to be self-evident. One that nonetheless achieves this sought-after status is the justice of the feminist cause.
This might be unremarkable if feminism entailed battling against forced marriage, genital mutilation, bride burning and war rape in less favoured lands or even child prostitution in Lancashire. Yet outrage at such things proves fitful and perfunctory. The movement’s relentless zeal seems to be concentrated somewhere else — on the plight of the well-off, well-educated and well-supported middle-class woman.
This figure, we’re continuously assured, is pitilessly abused. She’s pretty much barred from the executive washroom, politics and TV studios. If she manages to get a job elsewhere, she’s either fondled or bullied, and denied a proper work/life balance. Though having it all is her inalienable right, she’s guilt-tripped for putting self-realisation above her offspring’s well-being. She’s date-raped, whistled at by builders, forced by social pressure to lose weight and hounded from Twitter by unkind comments. She has to do all the housework, yet is expected to fake orgasms. It’s all completely unfair and it’s got to be put a stop to.
These injustices, it’s implied, are inflicted by an unreformed patriarchy. In fact, however, evidence continues to accumulate that the phenomena complained of flow as much from female choice. Many women, studies indicate, don’t want to show off on comedy panel shows, direct films, boss people about or climb greasy poles. The glass ceiling turns out to be largely of their own construction, erected to protect their out-of-hours identity. At home, their monopoly of the housework stems from insistence on control of their own domain as much as from their partners’ indolence.
No matter. Such inconvenient realities are not to be mentioned. Instead, the official line is persistently disseminated, as eagerly by The Times and The Daily Telegraph as The Guardian. Unchallenged and indeed amplified in official quarters, it holds both opinion-formers and power-brokers in its ineluctable thrall.
Any interest group is entitled to evangelise, but middle-class feminists drown out others that seem more obviously disadvantaged. We hear no comparable clamour from the jobless young, the needy disabled or, for that matter, from men.
Men could point to the tightening female grip on university admissions and professions like medicine, teaching and local government. They now earn less than women until the latter opt out for parenthood, a life-choice that they themselves are normally denied. Men are demeaned as useless slobs in films, TV shows and advertisements, and get cleaned out by alimony-seeking gold-diggers. They’re far more likely than women to die through murder, suicide or workplace accidents, and even if they escape a violent demise, their life-spans are shorter than women’s. If they wanted to bemoan a “crisis of masculinity” they could easily rustle up a case. But they don’t.
Doubtless this is partly because men aren’t supposed to complain, and are looked down on if they do. Women, on the other hand, are expected to claim victimhood. When they do, they’re heroised by other women and indulged by men out of induced guilt and residual chivalry. Paradoxically, feminism appears to depend on the most archaic of gender stereotypes.
That may sound reassuring, but endlessly placating female grievance is not without costs. The so-called equality agenda in fact requires the creation of privilege, which must come at somebody’s expense. When mothers are allowed to leave work early to attend nativity plays, their childless colleagues must take up the slack. Informal quotas for company directors or cabinet ministers mean less capable people will end up in charge of our fates.
Some of the triumphs of middle-class feminists may even have their downsides for women themselves. Quotas, even if informal, undermine the position of women who were appointed on merit, giving the impression that any female appointee could well be sub-standard. If employers can’t ask about child-bearing intentions, they may shun all young female applicants. Anonymity for rape accusers undermines their credibility and perversely endorses the notion that it’s shameful to be raped.
The lack of debate about such matters has more insidious consequences. What the ruling elite consider unarguable won’t necessarily wash at the Dog and Duck. Supposed advances that benefit a few may create the impression in the world at large that women are self-obsessed, demanding and over-indulged.
The middle-class feminist is entitled to speak up, but her claims need to be scrutinised. No mere male, it seems, dare take on this burden. Most females don’t want to, or fear the wrath of their sisters if they do. Conservative woman, might you be up for the task?