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ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: I’m all for girl power – but who’s fighting for our boys? 

Last week began with a dinner at The Garrick Club and finished in AllBright, a young women’s networking club. 

The Garrick is the complete opposite of AllBright. Founded in 1831, it still – staggeringly – does not accept female members, and its rules state that the club should never be used for business, although we all know that some of the most important connections are made without a laptop or sheaf of papers on the table.

The Garrick epitomises the culture of the old boys’ network that has kept men at the top for centuries. Despite all the advances of recent years, many women are still fighting against lower pay and for a greater voice.

But for the vast majority of today’s younger generation of men, for whom that old-school-tie culture is as distant and irrelevant as the land of hope and glory, it must at times seem as if the playing field, rather than being levelled, is skewed in the opposite direction.

You only have to look at Instagram and millions of T-shirts to see the flood of female empowerment messaging and hashtags urging women to feel proud, clever, strong and beautiful. I might be missing something, but I’m not spotting any of that coming from men.

And I don’t believe that’s because they all feel they are already proud, clever, strong and handsome. University entrance is now dominated by girls, with even the most traditional Oxford colleges showing a greater female UK intake last year.

The Booker Prize longlist of 13 features only four male writers, explained by the fact that apparently nobody is interested in reading their stories. 

Even the phrase ‘old master’ as a descriptor of artistic value is under threat. Close to my home there is a small, newly opened women’s workspace offering a place ‘to work and feel better’. 

But flip that over and imagine what the reaction would be to a placard heralding a men-only venue. It would be instantly pilloried as a bastion of sex discrimination and I can’t picture a man who would feel comfortable joining it.

No doubt the fact that I’m the mother of a son makes me feel this way (interestingly, I’ve no evidence that he shares my concerns).

But it seems to me that in the laudable mission to promote women, we are in danger of creating a generation of disenfranchised young men, who are left there holding the door open for us, not from good manners, but because they can no longer get through themselves.

NOBODY likes conforming to stereotype but I fear we are now a household of silver streamers.

Frankly, with my expensive hair colour, I don’t much like being referred to as a silver anything, but it’s certainly true that being over 54 and having a new-found addiction to on-demand TV, I fit the description.

Pre-lockdown, we usually watched TV separately, with very different preferences. David was more likely to be immersed in serious political documentaries (and reruns of Midsomer Murders – sad!), with me bingeing on domestic chillers like the recent The Secrets She Keeps, or talking-point dramas such as Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. But the divisions have crumbled, and over the past few weeks we have just finished off four seasons of the French spy thriller The Bureau. In glorious togetherness.

I’ve had a bit of a crush throughout, as do the whole ‘bureau’ (aka the French secret service), on the enigmatic central character played by Mathieu Kassovitz, while David is more fickle, swapping his appreciation between the various skinny, long-legged female spooks.

Who would have thought it would take a global pandemic and a series rooted in torture and mayhem to have us seated companionably alongside each other for the first time, a modern-day Darby and Joan?

And most importantly when will series five be available over here?

Back in the 1980s, this newspaper’s books critic Craig Brown and I often lunched in the Rex Whistler restaurant at Tate Britain. It seemed a very civilised place to meet – a bit of culture and nice wine. Also part of its appeal was the Whistler mural currently under attack for including a racist narrative.

I have to admit that I didn’t look at it very carefully when we ate there and thought of it much like pretty wallpaper, so I missed the depictions of slavery and imperialist attitudes among its turquoise mountains and emerald forests.

But now they have been drawn to my attention, I still think it’s a magical piece of decorative art and hope that the Tate doesn’t give in and get rid of it.

At the start of lockdown, we all started chatting on the phone again. People who hadn’t contacted me verbally in years actually dialled a number and had a conversation.

I’d hoped that this might continue, but already the phone calls are drying up.

Now we’ve bored ourselves rotten discussing our Covid lifestyle or the horrors of housework, we have little new to report, so I fear it’s back to the texts.

Kate doesn’t need to look like a meringue

Gone entirely is her traditional Royal style of block colour and tailoring, and in its place are patterned, button-through dresses floating around her calves.

In this she’s not alone. Most of us are wafting around in long dresses at the moment. That’s fashion. But sensibly she’s avoided the puffy sleeves and balloon hems currently beloved by fashion influencers.

In the fashion bubble it’s absolutely OK to look like a meringue, but after so many years of having to see herself in pictures, the DoC knows that a well-defined shoulder and neat waistline is a much safer bet.

What is it about August? Far from being the newsdesk silly season it’s always spoken of, it’s actually the most disaster-prone month.

This year, the month opened with the devastating explosion in Beirut. Previous Augusts have included Hiroshima, Hurricane Katrina, the Manchester air crash and Britain declaring hostilities with Germany at the start of the First World War.

What’s coming next?

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