In this week's New Statesman: The weaker sex

Natasha Walter | Jonathan Rutherford | Jeanette Winterson | Jenni Murray | Naomi Wolf | Liz Jones |

the weaker sex

The meaning of the F-word

For this special New Statesman Sex issue, we ask 19 writers, activists and politicians: if feminists could campaign on only one issue over the next year, what should it be? The responses include:

Jenni Murray, presenter, BBC "Woman's Hour" Childcare

I find that the personal drives my political priority for campaigning. It was in 1972 that the women's liberation movement included 24-hour, free, quality childcare in its seven demands. Let's be pragmatic: maybe 24 hours is a little excessive. Most important, let's emphasise that this is a demand made not just by mothers, but by parents, because the care of children is not solely a woman's job.

Jeanette Winterson, author Getting into the boardroom

Get women on to boards. Men pretend that what they do is so hard . . . They should try walking in a pair of Louboutins while giving a presentation and running a family. (How about having a national Men's High-Heel Day, where we send them about their business as normal but in heels?) Just put women on the boards! We will soon find our way. No more excuses from the men. Change it now.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow Personal safety

From fears about cuts to services for victims of rape or domestic violence to the impact of turning off street lighting and raising car parking charges and discomfort at the way in which women are portrayed in modern culture, the responses astounded us all. Some of these problems pre-date the coalition but bringing them together highlights how women are now under pressure from many different directions. It must be our choice to challenge this.

Naomi Wolf, author and political consultant Uphold the bill of rights

Feminists should campaign to end the department of homeland security and repeal the National Defence Authorisation Act and the Patriot Act, because there won't be any feminism or dissent of any kind if there ain't no bill of rights. First things first.

Liz Jones, columnist, Daily Mail Be honest about airbrushing

Women are being assaulted as never before by images of perfection. We need laws on retouching, with the unadulterated original posted on the internet as a sort of Dorian Gray flashback. Lack of self-esteem ruined my life, so let's stop it ruining any more.

Louise Mensch, Conservative MP for Corby Trafficking

Let the police, the CPS, the courts and politicians recognise what sexual trafficking is and the difference between prostitution and gang rape. It is part of the overall culture of hand-washing on sexual violence against women. Traffickers are slavers and rapists and they should go to prison for their entire lives, in recognition of the lives of the girls and women they have stolen.

Rob Delaney, comedian Education

Women outnumber men on our planet. And women create life inside their bodies. Yet misogyny and sexism, whose twin engines are fear and ignorance, continue to exist. We must deprive them of their fuel and that begins by educating women and men. The good news is that women and men start out as girls and boys, who are more fun to be around.

How to be a man: Jonathan Rutherford versus Natasha Walter

In the NS Cover Story, "The weaker sex", the editor of Soundings journal, Jonathan Rutherford, and the writer and campaigner Natasha Walter debate whether feminism has left masculine identity in the 21st century in crisis.

Rutherford argues that, in just over a single generation, the tenets of traditional male identity have collapsed:

Millions of skilled working-class jobs that once gave men status and purpose have gone. The male solidarity that was the backbone of the labour movement has gone. So has the family wage, and increasingly men can no longer follow their fathers and grandfathers in the role of family breadwinner. Old-fashioned, maybe, but any parent of the bride wants to know the prospects of their future son-in-law.

All these social changes - especially for those at the top and bottom ends - have had the effect of "a prolonged form of masculine adolescence without obligations of paternity or responsibility for others".

Rutherford finds that in politics, too, masculine identity has been stifled:

Last year when the party's Blue Labour tendency argued for a politics of masculinity, accusations that the idea was anti-women abruptly ended public discussion. As one tough-minded male Labour member advised the party, "Men do not debate feminism with women."

Responding to Rutherford, Natasha Walter, author of Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, questions how we are to know whether feminism has been successful:

Are we to assume that feminism has done its job because it has increased the numbers of Labour MPs - or because men are now doing as much childcare as women at weekends? It is dangerously easy to pick out a small example of progress and use it to gloss over the enormous evidence of continuing inequality.

With latest figures from the Fawcett Society showing that women's unemployment is at a 25-year high, Walter argues that austerity measures are hitting women hardest:

Women's supposed emotional affinity for new kinds of service-sector work, which may start with their greater readiness to smile at customers but may translate into a greater readiness to wipe bottoms or clean lavatories, may be born of necessity rather than some natural ability to empathise or serve.

She ends with a warning that the debate cannot be turned into a competition to decide who feels most pain:

This is not the time for nostalgia for the good old days when men were worn down by being non-stop breadwinners and women by being non-stop unpaid homemakers. This is a time to try to find a more equal sharing of the burdens and the rewards of paid and unpaid work.

Jemima Khan: The marriage business

Also for the Cover Story, Jemima Khan reports on the booming business of arranged marriages in the UK.

With Muslim men bringing 12,000 women to Britain as spouses from the Middle East, career women are increasingly electing to become "co-wives":

[Mizan Raja, who runs a Muslim matrimony service in east London,] reckons he gets between five and ten requests every week from women who are "comfortable with the notion of a part-time man" . . . There is someone for everyone, but if you're female and over 30 or divorced, you may have to share. The same rules do not apply to men.

Khan finds that the online marriage scene, too, is flourishing - more than two million members use shadi.com, one of the world's largest portals. Unlike ordinary dating sites, these "seem designed to repel any skulking commitment-phobes". Khan notes:

Those registering are asked upfront: "Would you like to get married soon or within 12 months?" Users are asked to rate their religiousness, family status, class, complexion ("fair, medium, dark or wheatish"), income and, brutally, their weight - in exact kilograms.

Also in the Sex issue

In the NS interview, Mary Roach, the American author of Stiff, Spook and Bonk, talks about the science of sex; the NS reports on attempts by politicians and religious leaders to control our sex lives; Nichi Hodgson asks whether feminism is sexist, and Helen Lewis explores OkCupid, the dating website whose data reveals some unexpected prejudices.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, on his frustrations with the Tory party in an interview with George Eaton; Mehdi Hasan on Ken Livingstone's tax avoidance; Nelson Jones argues Cardinal Keith O'Brien's apocalyptic rhetoric on same-sex marriage shows he knows the argument has already been lost; Laurie Penny reports from Washington, DC on Rush Limbaugh, and in Critics, the leading historian Richard J Evans eviscerates A N Wilson's Hitler: a Short Biography.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.