VIEWSrnThe Fading of Feminismrnby George WatsonrnWriting her column the other day in a London newspaper,rna feminist confessed that the women’s movementrnthat started some 25 years ago had “spluttered to a halt.”rnMany a middle-aged feminist nowadays will tell you the samernthing. The young, they will say with an air of regret, meaningrntheir daughters and the friends of their daughters, are not interestedrnany more. Times have changed.rnIt occurs to me that the young may have a point. What,rnafter all, did post-1968 feminism actually achieve? Self-possession,rnwe are told by the same journalist; the knowledge thatrn”our bodies are our own”; and professional careers. But the notionrnthat women onlv started to resent harassment or rape asrnrecently as 1968 looks implausible, on the face of it, andrnthough there are no reliable statistics, no one is suggestingrnthere is less of either. If feminism had succeeded, you wouldrnsurely expect less, so it is wholly unclear what was achievedrnhere. As for the higher professions, the number of career womenrnwas mounting sharply in the late 1950’s and early I960’s,rnbefore feminism was reborn. Germaine Greer became a lecturerrnin a British university in 1967, three years before The FemalernEunuch appeared, and she is not known to have been arnfeminist in her student days in Cambridge in the eady 60’s,rnthough she already had an academic career in mind.rnCauses, as everyone knows, do not follow their effects, andrnthe evidence suggests that feminism did not send women offrnto get jobs, or better jobs: it is more likely to have been the otherrnway around. The rhetoric of 1968 and since merely describedrna change of mood that had already occurred; soon afterrnthe war more and more women chose, as individuals and for nornideological reason, to enter politics, management, academia,rnmedicine, and the law. They were not liberated, in those days,rnjust free. The reasons are clear. Smaller families meant thatrnthe commanding role of motherhood ended sooner; increasingrnlongevity posed the threat of half a century, perhaps, of aimlessrnGeorge Watson, a Fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, isrnthe author of The Idea of Liberalism and British Literaturernsince 1945 {St. Martin’s Press).rnexistence after children had reached maturity; and householdrnmachines meant more and more time on your hands. Therngreatest impulse towards professional life was and is a fear ofrnboredom. All that was happening well before 1968. MargaretrnThatcher entered the British House of Commons in 1959;rnShidey Williams, who has been teaching at Harvard in recentrnyears and is now an active member of the House of Lords,rnwent into the Commons onlv five years after her, having beenrna secretary of the Fabian Society in the 1950’s. Neither was orrnis a feminist. So it is not in doubt that there were ambitiousrnand successful women inside the higher professions, and inrngrowing numbers, before 1968.rnSelf-possession and professional careers are both admirable,rnand it is beyond question that there are more career womenrnabout than in 1945. But are women more self-possessed? Castrnyour mind back, if you can, to the 20-odd years between thernend of the Second World War and the crisis year of 1968. I recallrntwo notable female types from that distant epoch, bothrnnow mercifully extinct. The first, who may be called the Lady,rnhabitually wore hat and gloves outdoors and issued orders torneveryone, including her husband, sometimes in a stentorianrnvoice. You did not contradict her. The other, whom I shallrncall the Woman, was all too often your landlady, and shernscreamed abuse in a way vou resented but did not dare return.rnThere was no question about their self-possession, which wasrntotal, or about who owned their bodies. In fact, the thought ofrnharassment or rape never came into it.rnAs a fully committed neutral in the war between the sexes, ifrnthere is one, and as one now in his 60’s, I do not regret the disappearancernof either the Lady or the Woman. In my youth, Irnwas afraid of both of them, though afraid of no man, and thatrnis just the point. I cannot be alone among men in thinkingrnwomen so far less formidable nowadays than they used to be.rnThey have stopped shouting and they have stopped givingrnorders. If feminism has raised the status and authority of women,rnas it claims, there is precious little evidence for it—quiternthe contrary. And it is easy to see why. Once you enter a professionalrnhierarchy, after all, or seek to enter one, you are whol-rn16/CHRONICLESrnrnrn