Iv dependent (as the Lady and the Woman never were) on therngood opinion of others. That is true even if you are at the toprnof a hierarchy, as a British prime minister discovered to her bitterrncost in November 1990, when her own party (mostly men)rnthrew her out, and as a French prime minister, Edith Cresson,rndiscovered in a similar way a vear or two later. The sober truthrnis that you do not cease to be subject to the will of others byrnbecoming chairman, managing director, or even head of government.rnNobody needs cooperation more than the chairmanrnof a committee or a top manager, and the Lady aird the Womanrnwould not survive a week in such positions unless they mutedrntheir style and softened their manners. No wonder womenrnhave ceased to be formidable; no wonder they are nice to you.rnThey need your support, your cooperation, your vote, and theyrnknow it.rnIn the face of the visible and audible decline in the status ofrnher sex, the feminist has only one place left to look andrnsound self-possessed. That is the academy. There, in the humanitiesrnat least, simple and unsupported assertion is somethingrnvou can still get away with, apparently, and every monthrnbrings new academic treatises on the triumph of the sex. Theyrnare widely reviewed, the bookstores are stacked with them, thernmay even be read. Meanwhile David Mamet’s striking playrnOleanna, which is having a long and well-deserved run in London,rnis terrifying audiences with a stark and simple tale of anrnignorant and malignant student who defeats her well-meaningrnprofessor by threatening to bring a false charge of sexual harassmentrnagainst him—a charge that can only destroy his careerrnand his happiness. The play ends with his submission, and itsrnresounding word is power. David Mamet is not a feminist; so itrnis not only feminists who think that women have triumphed inrna battle of the sexes that some of us had not even noticed wasrnhappening.rnThe academic mood, in short, is triumphalist, and in Firernwith Fire (1993), Naomi Wolf argues that we have witnessedrnnothing less than a “genderquake,” with women now so powerful,rnas an effect of the women’s movement, that it is time theyrnwoke up and noticed it, stopped moaning, threw restraint tornthe winds, and enjoyed the fruits of their triumph. There arerninternational conferences, meanwhile, where the rhetoric ofrnthe 60’s is paraded as the most exciting thing going and (whatrnis even stranger) the latest thing going. “Feminist theory is thernmost innovative and truly living theory in today’s academies,”rnTeresa Brennan announces in the preface to History after Lacanrn(1995), which is composed, as such things are, in a soporificrnprose that looks as if it was imperfectly translated out of academicrnGerman around the turn of the last centur; the book isrnallegedly based on the theories of a Parisian Freudian who diedrnas an octogenarian in 1981 and whose chief researches werernconducted between the two world wars. So assertion can do arnlot, if you let it. It can find theory exciting, it can turn muttonrninto lamb.rnIt is tempting to suppose all this to be sincere, in a narcissisticrnsort of way, and to imagine that those who attend conferencesrnon feminist theory, whatever other people may think, arerngenuinely excited by this sort of thing. I have been watchingrnsuch conferences now for nearly 20 years and can report thernsurprising conclusion that this is not so. Feminists, too, arernbored b feminist theory. You can see it in their faces, you canrnwatch it in their rush to get to the door, you can judge it byrntheir disinclination to listen to one another, and you can read itrnin their reviews. There is nothing exciting about these books—rnmerely an unsupported claim by the author that she is about torndo something exciting. And how, one wonders, would shernknow? The claim is about as plausible as a claim to be virtuousrnor a claim to be beautiful.rnThe world beyond academia, in any case, has long sincernmoved in another direction, and 1968 feminism, which was alwaysrnmiddle-class, is now middle-aged too. We are watchingrnthe fading of feminism, or failing to watch it, and there arernsome intelligent young women enjoying the spectacle. “I’mrnnot falling into the feminist trap,” a young wife remarked tornme the other day, insisting it was high time her husband got arnjob; she had no intention, she said, of going on teaching tornraise the rent, and greatly preferred the company of her ownrnchildren to those of other people. As a male, I find all thisrnfaintly disquieting. The past quarter-century has been a goodrntime to be a man, perhaps the best time there has ever been. Ifrnmen in large numbers arc prosperous as never before, it isrnwomen who are to be thanked for it. They account, after all,rnfor nearly half the labor force of the Western industrial world,rnand the very high standard of living now enjoyed by menrnsquarely depends on women going out to work. They are notrnan optional extra to the present economic order; and menrnwould suffer, and suffer dramatically, if women downed tools.rnThere is an issue of justice here, in any case, which oddlyrnenough is little heard: that if women take from the economy,rnas indeed thcv do, then they should (generally speaking) contributernto it, too.rnThe other reasons for regret are social. I continue to holdrndoors open for women, when I think of it—partly out of forcernof habit, partly out of a recognition that most of them are unlikelyrnto resent it since most of them are not feminists and neverrnwere. I hnd the’ do not object in either event. On the otherrnhand, women are far more likely to pay for themselves inrnrestaurants than they used to be, and if they insist I usually letrnthem. And if men are better cooks than women, as some are,rnand enjoy it more, as some do, then it can only be good if menrnare spending more time in the kitchen. All this is wonderfulrnnews for chaps. There are even more intimate services, it is rumored,rnwhich once called for some expenditure by the male,rnone way or another and in or out of marriage—services nowrnavailable, it is said, for nothing. Let it never be forgotten that ifrnno means no, yes means yes. To sum up, this has been a hell ofrnan age for men; and a lot of young women, brighter than theirrnmums, have noticed it.rnThe consequences could be damaging. The largest achievementrnof feminism, apart from giving people something to talkrnabout, and one that now looks clearer as the dust lifts from arnfree market, postsocialist age, was to act as a conveyor belt torncarr’ a lot of intellectuals out of a hatred of pri ate wealth andrninto a frank admission that rich is what in their heart of heartsrnthey always wanted to be. Feminism, in its heyday, was licensedrngreed. It did not kill socialism, which was already dyingrnof itself. But it made its demise easier to bear; it eased a transition.rnNow that the curtain is coming down on yet another interestingrnfad of modern intellectual history, the spectacle canrnbe judged for the first time as a completed whole. It is ratherrnlike watching the end of surrealism, the death of communism,rnor the collapse of a messianic cult. Presumably there is nothingrnto be done about it. But as the waiter tenders the check, and Irnpay it, perhaps I may be allowed a sigh of regret for a worldrnonce loved that is lost. crnMAY 1995/17rnrnrn