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Monthly Archives: October 2015

FEMINISM SPECTATOR COVERThe Spectator

It would be easy to believe from the papers these days that women have never been more oppressed. From the columnist Caitlin Moran to the comedian Bridget Christie, a new creed is preached: that we are the victims, not the victors, of the sex war. Feminists claim we are objectified by the builder’s whistle, that a strange man attempting to flirt with us is tantamount to sexual assault. Suddenly, just as it seemed we women were about to have it all, a new wave of feminists has begun to portray us as feeble-minded — unable to withstand a bad date, let alone negotiate a pay rise.

Worse still, they are ditching what was best about the feminist tradition: solidarity with the sisterhood and the freedom of every woman to do as she pleased. Feminism 4.0 consists of freely attacking other women over, erm, crucial issues such as bikini waxing, wearing stilettos and page three of the Sun. Moran writes that it is childbirth that ‘turns you from a girl into a woman’ (causing every woman in my office to snort involuntarily) and that feminism will only triumph ‘when a woman goes up to collect the Oscar for Best Actress in shoes that aren’t killing her’. The revolution will be televised, with ‘Nicole Kidman in flip-flops’.

Well, if this is feminism, then feminism is dead, and the triviality of the fights feminists pick is the surest proof of its demise. What started as a genuine crusade against genuine prejudice has become a form of pointless attention-seeking.

I was born in 1983, and was fortunate to grow up in a country where it was blindingly obvious that women ruled: with a queen on the throne and a woman in Downing Street. I was a grocer’s daughter, educated at a state school, living in the flat above the shop, and I looked to that real feminist icon Margaret Thatcher as objective proof that I could get wherever the hell I wanted in life, provided I sharpened my wits and gave it my all. I knew, without having to be told, that where you were born was not necessarily where you’d end up, because Maggie, facing far greater odds, bulldozed every obstacle foolish enough to stand in her way with sheer bloodymindedness and an attitude that screamed ‘never say die’.

Feminists in the West, if they had any sense, would stop moaning and whingeing, order Germaine Greer a crown of laurels, stick her on a four-horse chariot, and march her in triumph through the streets of Rome so she that could offer a blood sacrifice to Emmeline Pankhurst. The totemic battles were hard fought — and they were won. The next generation should be encouraged to enjoy the spoils, not worry old wounds.

Today, girls outperform boys at school — and have done since the mid-1970s. They are more likely to get five good GCSEs. A third of them go to university, compared with just a quarter of men. Once in university, they do better and are significantly more likely to graduate with a first or 2:1 degree. And equality? In many courses, it has gone a bit beyond that. Last year, women constituted 55 per cent of those enrolling in courses in medicine and dentistry and 62 per cent of those enrolling in law. Business, banking and the professions may be dominated by men today but, judging by the rapidity of our ascent, this won’t last long. As Boris Johnson has observed, when my generation reach the peak of our careers, the entire management structure of Britain will have been transformed — and feminised.

Since the suffragettes won us the vote, women have made greater strides than men have made in millennia. In fact, the demographic doing worst in schools is white boys on free school meals — only a quarter of whom gained five decent GCSE grades. So yes, there are gender equality issues — but they are deeply unfashionable. Who will wave placards, or lie on the carpet of film premieres, for the cause of under-performing boys?

 

Most self-styled feminists argue that we still struggle in the workplace. On close inspection this isn’t borne out either. Women in their twenties have out-earned men in for the last few years; now the under-40s are doing so as well. The speed of our trajectory is startling. Across Europe and America, and particularly in Scandinavia, women are pushing their way on to executive boards and into the seats of power. The French government has passed a law which will require that two in five executive board members of the largest public companies are women. Feminists argue we need quotas in this country, too, but isn’t there a sweeter triumph in the sisters doing it for themselves?

So the next generation have everything to play for — if only they aren’t encouraged to view themselves as helpless victims at the mercy of an insuperable patriarchy. Only 19 per cent identify as feminist nowadays, which perhaps isn’t surprising since it’s become so dull. In the 1970s, feminists were ball-breaking, ass-kicking, devil-may-care thinkers — the likes of Greer, Gloria Steinem and Susan Sontag. Now the ‘voice of a generation’ is Harry Potter star Emma Watson, who delivered a highly praised speech to the UN, lamenting that her girlfriends had given up competitive sport because they were worried it might make their arms look ‘muscly’.

But while Watson frets about the tyranny of the male gaze, it’s being eyeballed by a feminist which is truly terrifying. These middle–class aesthetes love to boss other — particularly working-class — women around, sneering at how they dress and behave. They disapprove of Beyoncé and Rihanna flaunting their beautiful -bodies in pop videos with a vehemence you might expect from the Taleban. In April, an advert featuring a busty model appeared on the Tube, with the tagline: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ Within hours it had been defaced; within days 44,000 signatures had been appended to a petition demanding it be removed. Making sure women are covered up in public, so their bare flesh doesn’t offend anyone, is something you’d expect in Saudi Arabia, not here, where we should be free to dress as provocatively as we please.

Why shouldn’t we wear make-up, stockings and suspenders if we like? From Elizabeth I to Bette Davis, women have considered lipstick, high heels and killer hairdos to be legitimate weapons in our arsenal, as effective, in their own way, as crossbows and bazookas. But new feminists are determined to drain the fun from life, and illustrate how awful it is to be a woman in the UK.

Another challenge girls apparently quail at is trolling on the internet. So let’s say you have received threats from some maladjusted loser who disagrees with something you’ve said. Should you call the police? Abandon Twitter? Or perhaps relish the insults, in the manner of Maggie, who said: ‘I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding. It means they have not a single political argument left.’

Alternatively, you could remain impervious to insult entirely, like rock goddess Chrissie Hynde, who last month was trolled by feminists after confessing that she had suffered a sex attack aged 21 and took ‘full responsibility’ for it. Twitter lit up with the unedifying spectacle of hundreds of women attacking her for expressing her honest opinion, until even the Guardian’s Julie Bindel felt moved to point out that Hynde herself was ‘not a rapist’. Hynde’s magisterial response? ‘If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask for it.’

But when it comes to sex, new feminists are excessively squeamish, so much so that one timid male, Samuel Fishwick (24, 6ft 3in, GSOH) has compiled a guide to romance in the age of equality. Approaching the -Vagenda blog for advice, he was roundly informed that a man must never ask a woman to meet him for a drink at a location near his abode: ‘It makes women think you’re going to turn their skin into a lampshade.’

Does it, though? Or are feminists exaggerating ridiculously — spending so much time dwelling on their own vaginas that they fail to use their brains? Surely we should be revelling in the fact we’re the ‘second sex’ no longer, and teaching our girls how to rely on what Emily Bronte called our ‘no coward’ souls.

 

The Old Squash Court, Bayham Abbey, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells.jpg

The Old Squash Court, Bayham Abbey, Lamberhurst, Tunbridge Wells.jpg

You reach it via a private road that sweeps through a verdant valley, over a sparkling lake and past an impressive mansion.

But while the unassuming four-bedroom house at the end of the lane may be overshadowed by its beautiful surroundings, its history is as colourful as anything else in the area.

What is now a family home was previously a squash court – and before that a pioneering 19th Century gasworks stood on the site.

‘In the kitchen you can see what was once the court’s front wall,’ says its owner, businesswoman Charlotte Haynes, 53, who is selling the house for £850,000. ‘It would once have been absolutely covered with black rubbery marks where it was hit thousands of times by balls.’

The Old Squash Court is one of more than 20 old buildings – including a carriage house, a fire station and a stables – on the Bayham Abbey estate, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, that have been converted into homes.

The estate was acquired by the 1st Marquess of Camden in the 18th Century. He hired one of the top landscape designers of the day, Humphry Repton, who planned ‘a scene of Sylvan sublimity which can neither be described by words or painting’.

Decades later a gasworks was built on the site of what is now Charlotte’s house. In what was a forward-thinking example of energy production for the time, the gasworks powered all the lights in the Marquess’s stately home.

In 1910, the sporty 4th Marquess knocked down the gasworks to build a squash court to entertain his aristocratic guests.

In the mid-1970s the estate was divided up and sold off – and the squash court was later converted into the dwelling now called The Old Squash Court.

When Charlotte bought it 14 months ago, there were plenty of clues to its original purpose. The unusual layout, for example, is a pointer to its history. Take the door-sized window halfway up the central staircase.

‘There used to be outdoor stairs leading up to this opening, which was once a door,’ Charlotte, a mother of two, explains. ‘It led to a viewing platform where the ladies from the house could follow the game going on below.’

But the biggest clue to the building’s previous use as a squash court is the high-vaulted ceiling above the main living area – a feature that Charlotte says ‘presented a challenge’ when she tried to make the house more homely.

‘It was vast, airy and spacious but the space felt a little overwhelming,’ she explains.

Charlotte used her knowledge of feng shui, the Chinese system of harmony, to try to overcome this type of issue – which can often arise when a building’s original purpose is so different from providing a home.

‘Chi – or energy flow – follows the eye line so all the energy was draining towards the ceiling,’ recalls Charlotte of the house when she bought it.

‘To rectify this, I put up colourful blinds and a large, antique mirror in order to lower the sight line. Now the energy flows down, so, despite its size, this room feels very cosy and is great for entertaining.’

Charlotte, who runs Energise Your Home, a business that helps homeowners who are struggling to find a buyer for their home, says feng shui can play a vital role with the details that make a property attractive.

She adds: ‘It’s all about enhancing the energy flow and feel of the place – creating a sense of warmth. I am working with an instinctual part of the brain which makes people feel safe, and creates an emotional connection.’

Charlotte has also used feng shui to enhance the garden of The Old Squash Court, cutting the grass in a circular pattern ‘to ensure the energy doesn’t flow away from the house’.

‘I’ve worked on big old houses with long drives where the energy just flows off and never gets to the people at the end,’ she says. ‘Boundaries are very important, to concentrate energy around the home.’

She has erected a new fence and, to make the most of the view, constructed a viewing platform that overlooks the valley, so that she can watch the sun set with friends and a bottle of wine.

There is planning permission for an extension on the site, which could hugely increase the size of the house without impinging on the garden.

The property also boasts a writer’s cabin – with space for 6,000 books –and the outside space is equipped with a rope swing, glasshouse, vegetable garden, pond and hen coop.

In fact, the only thing The Old Squash Court appears to be missing is a squash racket.