You feel it too, right?
The loosening in your neck, the slackening of your shoulders. Your breathing has slowed a little and your heart thrums gentler.
A grown-up is back in charge.
These past few weeks have felt like darting across a collapsing floor. While being chased by a pack of wolves. Over a pool of lava.
Theresa May has brought an eerie calm to the nation. We are not quite sure why but things seem mildly less desperate than a mere 24 hours ago. Perhaps it’s the steely efficiency she brings to the job: Osborne sacked. Gove booted. Oliver Letwin let go from… whatever it was he did. The twists and turns of the past two weeks, better suited to a soap opera than to orderly government, replaced by clarity and decisiveness.
You know, I reckon we might — might — just get through this.
This is not about May’s politics; those are not immediately at issue but will be soon. Her track record as Home Secretary is ideologically erratic, and too often authoritarian, but her profession of One Nation Toryism rings credible. Bringing stability to national affairs is one thing; following through with a compassionate, unifying programme for government is another.
Her steady hand gives us reason to suspect that a sensible mind is at work. Status: Optimistic.
None of this should surprise us. After all, May is a woman. Here is where I will lose some of you and I’m sorry for that but at least hear me out.
My problem with feminism, and the reason I ultimately must reject its critique, is that I don’t believe men and women are equal. Women, to my mind, are objectively superior. The Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky declared: “I hold the woman’s place over that of men in every fundamental aspect of public and private life. Except for brute labor which demands physical prowess, there is no position or profession that I would not prefer handing to a woman over a man.”
Jabotinsky commanded the Etzel in the struggle for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in Israel and he saw up close the courage and fortitude of women volunteers. The Woman, he decided, was “a soul woven from strings of steel and strings of silk”.
Eminent anthropologist Melvin Konner brings biology to the defence of lived experience. The Emory professor contends in his book Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy that “in most ways that will count in the future” women come out on top.
He argues: “It is not just a matter of culture or upbringing, although both play their roles. It is a matter of biology and of the domains of our thoughts and feelings influenced by biology. It is because of chromosomes, genes, hormones, and nerve circuits. It is not mainly because of what your mother taught you or how experience shaped you. It is mainly because of intrinsic differences in the body and brain.”
I have no scientific theory of matriarchy like Konner’s. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about nerve circuits. My epistemology is closer to Jabotinsky’s: From everything I have observed in public and private life, the female of the species is stronger, smarter and more reliable than the male.
Liberal and many radical feminists will not countenance my way of thinking. It is condescension, fetishisation, a manmade goddess archetype as regressive as the busty blonde or the boardroom ballbreaker. But it is not “positive” objectification — it’s all I’ve ever known.
Class colours my view and I accept that. Julie Burchill, who is right about everything and especially the things she’s wrong about, says: “Our working class, from where I’m proud to come, is the toughest in the world.” Sentiment, yes, but one instantly recognisable to those of us from that background. The women of my childhood were provably unequal with most of the men around them. They mothered children and mothered husbands and partners who still acted like children. They worked hard, unglamorous jobs, more often than not two at a time — “Can women balance work and children?” wasn’t a Daily Mail headline; it was a fact of life.
They were almost to a one tougher, funnier, braver, and more decisive than any man in sight. They ran households and extended families and (wo)manned the little platoons that marshalled communities.
An abiding memory: I am 11. Mum and I are visiting my auntie in one of the most deprived parts of Coatbridge, a town not exactly rolling in it. A Polish woman is moving into her newly assigned council house. She has two or three children and, as my auntie put it, “she’s no’ got a man”. Her English is faltering but it’s clear that, like almost every other family round about, hers has very little to its name.
But she’s not alone. There are women here. From terraces up and down the street, they have filed out with tins and loaves and boxes of teabags. Others lug their neighbour’s modest belongings from a white van into her new home. Nokias out and sisters and friends and bingo pals are phoned and asked about the sofa they’ve been meaning to get rid of and the spare carpet left over from doing up the bedroom. We children are marched back and forth, mini labourers on this job. The woman is crying and trying to thank everyone. A box is thrust into her arms. “Come on, hen. No time to stand about gassin’.”
You can’t come through a childhood like that without seeing women as “strings of steel and strings of silk”. I carry the resulting assumptions into adult life, to all women, regardless of class.
And in the political arena, as in that busy scheme in Coatbridge, women continue to gird my prejudices. Whether it’s Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Golda Meir, or Nicola Sturgeon, despite the paucity of their number women in power are striking by the volume and significance of their achievements.
Thatcher and Merkel are too easy so let’s take a less celebrated example. Australia’s Julia Gillard had just three years at the head of a minority government hounded by an obstructionist opposition. Yet in that time she introduced a carbon price, a $4bn dental scheme for poor families, secured billions in Gonski funding for schools, established the National Disability Insurance Scheme, ended logging of Tasmanian native forests, and set up a royal commission into institutional sexual abuse.
Of course the theory doesn’t pan out every time. (That’s why it’s a theory and not an equation.) There are Palins and Leadsoms as well as Sturgeons and Mays. But, on balance, it is preferable that your country be led by a woman than by a man. As the old slogan goes, “A woman’s place is in the House”.
This doesn’t sit well with misogynists. The National has already mocked up May as Cruella De Vil, baggy-eyed, puffy-cheeked, talon-like nails poised to pounce. When a woman is wrong, or Right, in politics, she can’t simply be mistaken or partisan or even mean-spirited. She must be evil, cold, unnurturing, a she-devil — somehow… less of a woman.
I don’t have that reaction. I see a woman outside that famous black door, the power almost visibly accruing to her before our eyes, and I feel relief, admiration, and the joy of recognition. It’s where she, along with many other women, belongs.