SO IS this it then? Three decades of feminism and what do we have to show for it? An icon who struggles like a demented hamster on a wheel chasing weedy Hugh Grant, counting cals, drinks, and fags. And Carol Vorderman's video in Woolworths which shows you how one of the most intelligent women in the country went down two dress sizes to slip into thigh-revealing frocks.
Other reasons to be cheerless: fewer young women in parliament next time round, intolerably high rates of teenage pregnancies, anorexic girl power. Yes, girls may be achieving higher grades than boys, but what most really, really want is to be laid by gyrating boy bands
And so we whinge on, especially those of us who still call ourselves feminists. We positively wallow in this melodrama of lost hopes and shattered possibilities. All major campaigns have to dream beyond their means, and perhaps disappointment is just par for the course.
But I think that there are some especially restless demons that afflict traditional feminists (yes, even thunderbirds age and become "traditional") because younger generations are not doing what we planned for them, and also because we, who were going to be green forever, are getting resentful and closed off. This may also explain why every new young feminist writer - from Natasha Walter to Naomi Wolf - has been greeted with cruel derision by the established sisterhood, myself included.
Now comes a rush of books by liberated women describing their hellish teenage daughters. Awash with self-pity, they include Hold Me Close, Let Me Go by Adair Lara and As Good as I Could Be by Susan Cheever. These writers, who cannot forget the Sixties and Seventies, seem singularly ill-equipped to relate to young women, even their own daughters, whom they can only see as competitors.
The last few years have challenged this mean tendency in my own life. Through my 23-year-old son and his many female friends, I have learnt how little we understand about both the failures and successes of old feminism. Not one of the women describes herself as a feminist; they fear the idea and what they think it means. It is an ugly word, says my son, conjuring up images of women who wear dirty dungarees and want to castrate men. Two of his girlfriends were frightened of me because they thought I was one. One was almost speechless when she found me cooking cheerfully, something I do almost every evening.
Adrienne Katz, who runs Young Voice, a unit specialising in surveys of young people, confirms this phobia. When testing questions for her study, Can Do Girls, respondents advised her to remove the word "feminism" because they were uncomfortable with it. One young woman said bluntly: "I am an egalitarian rather than a feminist. I think feminism is too much about how male domination has to be replaced by female domination."
Female interviewees know all about gender inequality, but they approach this as a problem which is personal and not political. Research shows that 70 per cent of young women believe that girls have to be tougher than boys to survive; yet 87 per cent believe that there are opportunities for them out there. …