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Julie Burchill: All women should learn a lesson from Ann Widdecombe and Kate Moss


Ann Widdecombe is among the stars taking to the Strictly floor

Ann Widdecombe is among the stars taking to the Strictly floor

Ann Widdecombe is among the stars taking to the Strictly floor

On the surface, Ann Widdecombe and Kate Moss don't have a lot in common. One is a Catholic virgin, the other a pagan vamp.

One would think that she was throwing caution to the wind if she drank a Coke; the other saw her annual profits increase from £2m to £4m after she was photographed taking coke.

And look at the size of them. The former could use the latter as a toothpick; the latter could use the former as a dinghy.

But — here's the thing — they wouldn’t let themselves be used as either. Because they're their own women. What they share is an uncompromising attitude to life that has made them beacons of contentment in a sea of neurotic, high-profile women.

They are women uncompromised. And all the mockery, in the case of Widdecombe, or monstering, in the case of Moss, simply slides off them like the proverbial H2O off a canard's back. Because, to misquote Kate, no approval looks as good as autonomy feels.

They do as they please, though the things that please them are a world apart.

In modern times, men know that it would look literally mad to say that women should not be paid the same as men, say, or not have the same educational opportunities as men.

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Instead, the new covert form of attack is to berate women for being ‘self-indulgent’.

The recent attack by male film critics on the film Eat, Pray, Love was a fine, funny example of this.

Woman decides to enjoy food, get in touch with her spiritual side and have sex with a fit man — what a high-maintenance cow!

She'll be asking for golden elephants next — as Clare Short so memorably said of the volcano-devastated people of the island of Monserrat when they asked for a bit more aid. The history of modern cinema is in good part the mythologising of male self-indulgence.

John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart may have sacrificed private happiness for public duty, but, since the advent of James Dean, those men we deify on the big screen will do whatever the hell they like, thank you.

This double-standard follows actors into real life, where the likes of Lindsay Lohan are pilloried for taking a few drugs and turning up late for work, whereas the likes of Jack Nicholson are ceaselessly hailed as ‘hell-raisers’ and ‘bad boys’, even when their man-boobs could feed a continent.

Of course, in a whole wide world which is governed by male self-indulgence — never less than when judges pass sentence on male violence against women — there's probably a country where it's not a crime to beat up prostitutes when they have the cheek — understandably — to ask for payment after the grisly task of servicing Mr Man-Boobs.

So that would excuse Nicholson's 1996 attack on Christine Sheehan, for which he compensated her to the tune of $33,000 in an out-of-court settlement. What a Bad Boy!

Away from Hollywood and back in the land of travelogues, was the real Elizabeth Gilbert more |indulgent than Bruce Chatwin or many other male travel writers, who treated the world as their own customised knocking-shop? Surely not.

Yet she is catching unparalleled flak for the perceived ‘self-indulgence’ of her peregrinations. She should have stayed at home, of course; surrendered herself to being one of the vast army of |middle-aged female carers which the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently identified as the ‘dutiful middle-aged’, that quarter of women in their fifties who, by volunteering for the legions of unpaid carers, will suffer losses in income, job prospects and health and experience ‘chronic disadvantage’.

The study, on the concept of ‘fairness’ in modern Britain, concluded that these women save the taxpayer some £87bn by providing care that would otherwise fall to the NHS.

Elsewhere, the survey suggested that women earn almost a fifth less than men, that millions of women are not entitled to full state pensions and that crimes most commonly suffered by women have the worst clear-up rates.Virtue is it's own reward?

It had better be.

In the meantime, make mine a life of self-indulgence and I'll take my chances in the great hereafter.