(Are you sitting comfortably? I fear this is going to be a long post....)
Feminism has been much in the news recently so this is, I suppose, a good time to admit that I have been there, done that and bought the boiler suit.
In the high and far-off times, I talked the talk, walked the walk - still do; I can't shake off a determined stride that is death to heels - and stood shoulder to shoulder with the Sisterhood, Reclaiming the Night, subscribing to Spare Rib and running a university Women's Group (through which I achieved my sole claim to media fame; being (mis)quoted in Private Eye's 'Wimmin' column).
So what happened? Well, for one thing, many of the issues for which we marched have been resolved - in Britain, at least - through legislation, rule changes and the natural wastage of residual misogyny among those in high places, some of whom, back then, had been born before women in their twenties were allowed to vote.
Today's young British women are looking at a world where very few doors are closed against them, and most of those for medical or anatomical reasons, as legal and economic pressure opens their way into such former bastions of masculinity as sporting clubs, the Church of England, public schools and even, potentially, front-line combat.
Like racism, discrimination is apparently a one-way street, making it acceptable - if not desirable - to select all-women shortlists and promote women in preference to men; equality is clearly not a consideration.Thus Gordon Brown could announce in 2010 that 'Under Labour, there are more students at university than ever before and I'm happy to say the majority of them are women'.
With the demise of these time-honoured establishment targets, feminists might have turned their attention to those British women whose freedoms are still curtailed by cultural and religious practices or by their own low expectations and early single motherhood were it not for the small matter of politics.
For left-leaning feminists, the idea of reform from the top down was a pleasing one; criticising potential working-class Labour voters or confronting the less agreeable aspects of the multiculturalism we were told to 'celebrate' was quite another matter. In the same way, many feminists are strangely reticent on the subject of women's status in less enlightened parts of the world.
In any case, liberation is relative: as Robbie Coltrane's character in the TV series 'Cracker' once pointed out, "While you're out lecturing on Women's Studies and career opportunities, some poor cow's got her arm half-way round your U-bend". There are plenty of high-flying self-styled feminists who apparently see nothing incongruous in their household outsourcing the domestic chores to an assortment of low-paid females.
What was needed was a less contentious target, which brings us to the elephant quietly gestating in the corner of the room; as Lynne Featherstone helpfully explained, “One of the main barriers to full equality in the UK is the fact that women still have babies". (Some have even managed to outsource that to other women but surrogacy is, as yet, comparatively rare).
Until we reach Huxley's Brave New World, biology still has the upper hand and modern feminists are really, really annoyed about it. Motherhood is, of course, their right and prerogative, but how dare this helpless infant require their presence when they could be climbing the promotion ladder and hammering on the glass ceiling!
Fortunately childcare, too, can be outsourced, thanks to a host of feminist-approved government policies subsidising nursery places for children and babies as young as six weeks. The doctrine of 'quality time' theoretically allows mothers to return to work with a clear conscience, reassured that two days with the baby at the end of a busy working week is enough.
Imagine the outcry if zoo staff walked into the primate cages on weekday mornings and removed every infant chimpanzee or gorilla from its mother's arms, not returning it until bedtime. While human mothers may not suffer - consciously, at least - in the same way as their ape counterparts, what of the helpless infants consistently deprived of their mothers' presence throughout their waking hours?
Many of the feminists of my day, celebrating centuries-old traditions from a variety of cultures, embraced the idea of motherhood as an equal and alternative assertion of female power and identity; for today's colder, harder activists, it has become a lifestyle choice which must not be allowed to get in the way of advancement, even if the mother herself would prefer to stay with the child.
My brief official involvement with feminism coincided with the last years before Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman unleashed their progressive ideology and overturned the idea of the traditional family in the political arena. While men are viewed with hostility, some of today's feminists reserve their fiercest criticism for well-qualified stay-at-home mothers who have chosen, whatever the financial sacrifice, to take a career break.
I firmly believe that a woman is the intellectual and social equal of a man and should be treated as such - with the proviso that a dependent infant is biologically more important than either man or woman and its needs should come first. With the exception of a few physically demanding jobs, the mind is what matters in the workplace and the hardware that accompanies it should be irrelevant.
But when the term 'feminist' is applied, seemingly without irony, to callipygian celebrities famed for suggestive dance routines or to politicians who seek to separate mothers from their children, and when self-styled feminists celebrate women being promoted over the heads of equally-qualified men, those of us who merely seek an amiable parity and mutual respect need to find another name.
Never Mind 'Who Lives In A House Like This?'...
2 hours ago