We shall never know how many man-hating feminists are prospering in the lucrative worlds of fashion and slimming, but they owe their success, indeed their entire livelihood, to the thing they despise.
We have this on the authority of the great she-beast herself: Germaine Greer, founder of modern feminism, academic, author, pundit, wit, columnist, broadcaster, and hostage victim, tells us that the reason why women shop and slim is that they are unloved by men. A bit rum, you might think: to base an entire career on inciting women to rise up against male oppression, to pursue their own careers, learn aggression, and to foster by all possible means a breed of feminised New Men, and then, having licked the enemy into a state of bewildered and cowering neurosis, to accuse him of being insufficiently grateful and woefully short on unquestioning adoration.
Just another of life’s puzzles for us poor saps to consider as we sit in bars where once there was a tobacco patina on the grimy windows but now there are gingham curtains, staring moodily into our Babychams. I had always thought the reason why women shop is that they are different from men in some unquantifiable way, and that to investigate the matter further would be as purposeless as asking why they squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube or why, having queued for ten minutes for a train ticket whose price they already know, they wait until the last moment to rummage in their purses for change.
But no. Germaine tells us that the reason why women shop is that they are offering themselves up to a process of seduction. The key to their behaviour may be seen in the courtship rituals of insect and animal species. “The female affects indifference to the posturing male, walks away, wonders back, nibbles at whatever tidbit he may be offering, affects to spurn it and so on… Indecision is the name of the game.”
So it is not that women cannot make up their minds when shopping, but rather that they enjoy the process of refusing to make up their minds. In Germaine’s words, “It is a pleasurable struggle.”
We men, though baffled by the processes at work, may console ourselves with the knowledge that what appears to be an agony of indecision is, in truth, a pleasure. Hold on, not so fast, you bone-headed chauvinists. “Sex being largely unavailable or unsatisfactory, shopping is the substitute,” says Germaine. “Shopping is the recommended palliative for low self-esteem.” So whenever a male sees a female pluck at garments on a rail, walk away, come back, disappear for coffee, and then come back again, he should hang his head in shame and weep for his whole accursed sex. For through his negligence, he has consigned women to the empty and profitless ritual of buying clothes.
“Men don’t shop,” says Germaine. “Men who have bought the masculinist package will not enter into the seduction situation, or, if they find themselves in it, will bring it to as speedy an end as possible.”
The inference is that, deep down, men yearn to be wooed and seduced by Austin Reed but cannot bring themselves to succumb because of the notion that it is an unmanly thing to do. I’ve got news for Germaine: the reason men don’t shop is because it is an achingly boring thing to do. Almost any alternative activity is preferable. Constructing a life-size replica of the Taj Mahal from matchsticks being largely unavailable or unsatisfactory, shopping is the substitute.
Were I a militant masculinist, I would find a way of blaming women for man’s inability to enjoy the seductive pleasure of the retail experience. But that would lead into unfathomable Wittgensteinian waters: is it logical to complain of the deprivation of something which, according to Germaine, is itself a deprivation?
In another of her newspaper articles she seems to offer an alternative explanation for women’s inability to choose clothes. “High-street fashion is only for girls. Too much of it is tarty; too much tailoring is skimpy; too much fabric is shapeless and shoddy and everything is too expensive for what it essentially is.
“It is the UK garment industry that sends women off on a wild goose chase for a diet that will give them the narrow flanks that will make even a badly cut skirt or trousers look good.”
A man might console himself with the thought that not he, but an entire industry is to blame for women’s eternal suffering. Hold on, knucklehead. “A good deal of women’s crazy eating is displacement activity,” says Germaine. “What they are compensating for is love withheld.”
It may not be nice to say so, but it would seem that the UK’s fashion and beauty industry, hailed by Tony Blair as a modern miracle, and a source of employment and prosperity for countless thousands, is built upon the cruel suffering of women. A suffering that is needless and could be brought to an end forthwith if only men could bring themselves to adore and worship women for what they are. Whatever that might be.