ON the principle that one shouldn't gratuitously bore readers with inter-columnar spats, we hacks are usually well-advised to steer clear of the thoughts of other journalists.
They are, after all, only opinions. But when a column encapsulates so much of a general cultural trend, one must then, albeit with a certain diffidence, step up to the breach. So it was with Justine McCarthy's attack in 'The Sunday Times' last weekend on John Waters of 'The Irish Times'.
For it was the very quintessence of the feminist narrative. I was recently attempting to write a critique of this narrative in a column to mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of Germaine Greer's 'The Female Eunuch', and probably didn't succeed. But all I really needed to make my case for me was McCarthy's column last Sunday: almost sentence by sentence, it did the job for me.
Waters had written a piece pointing out that all the miners in the recent Chilean miracle were men. McCarthy quoted his words: "In spite of all the talk about equality and glass ceilings, there are some jobs that women are more than happy to leave to the men."
Now, I leave aside his comments on glass ceilings in mines, to enjoy upon some other day, turning instead to McCarthy's attack on him. She opined: "As I read on, I visualised Waters, who participated in a death-defying ice-dancing contest on television a couple of years ago, tapping out his juvenile claptrap in the sanctuary of his Dalkey home. In my imagination, he is wearing a Bruce Willis face mask."
Did she refute the point he was making? No. Did she expose any illogic? No. Did she prove him factually wrong, with historic testimonies about the Geordie lasses who once teemed down the mines of Tyneside? No. She simply indulged in a neo-McCarthyite sneer, that went from his time on reality-television to some jeering fantasy of her own devising. Yes, that old familiar of the ideologue down the ages, simple abuse.
And how I felt for her male editors in 'The Sunday Times' -- Frank Fitzgibbon and John Burns -- who must have yearned to blue-pencil such lazy and vacuous cat-calling. But how can any man edit feminist diatribes any more without fulfilling some terrible Greerian prediction about the powerlessness of the female eunuch before the ruthless male establishment?
Then, addressing Waters's allegation that women generally leave men to do the dirty and dangerous things in life, McCarthy named four women who had been killed doing just that: Linda Norgrove, the British aid worker killed in a botched rescue attempt in Afghanistan; Margaret Hassan, the "native of Dalkey" (for whom, presumably the Dalkey connection is not so intrinsically damning as it was for Waters) who was murdered in Iraq; Natalya Estemirova, a murdered Russian human rights activist; and our own Veronica Guerin, similarly slain.
Look. I honour the bravery of all these women. But let us stick with a larger reality here, and McCarthy's final assertion that women also die doing "the dirty and dangerous", as indicated by: "The bodies of women soldiers returned from conflict to their home towns in America and Britain."
I don't make light of the sacrifice of any of the brave servicewomen on United Nations duties in Afghanistan. But as of yesterday morning, there had been 1,335 US military deaths in that theatre. Just 13 were of women. Six of these deaths were in air crashes, three were non-combat deaths, three were in IED explosions, and just one was shot dead. In all, less than 1pc of US military casualties in Afghanistan have been female.
"Bias, is one thing," McCarthy continued. "Stoking prejudice is quite another." Quite so.
She next cited the Press Council's code of conduct. "Newspapers shall not publish material intended or likely to cause grave offence or stir up hatred against any individual or group on the basis of their race, religion, nationality . . . gender."
Gender, ah yes, gender; and this, no less, in a column headlined: "Nothing is more dangerous or dirty than male ignorance."
A modest suggestion, please: replace the word "male" with "African" or "female" or "Palestinian", and see how long you last, as the Press Council is hit by a landslide of complaints from the many quangos that scour the media in the hunt for the heresies that offend their official, state-endorsed femino-equality religion.
However, I must admit that the penultimate sentence of McCarthy's column came as a shock. "Without females to give birth," she declared, "there would be no Chilean miners, and no John Waters."
What? Can this really be true? Is childbirth really confined to women? Because if this is the case, then maybe there are some other things that women are better at than men, and maybe some things that they're less good at.
So is Justine McCarthy's quite amazing obstetric revelation in any way related to the fact -- which remains a fact, whether it is declared by John Waters in Dalkey, or by anyone else, no matter where they live -- that very few women (even ardent feminists) seek either to become deep-bore miners or frontline combat soldiers and, accordingly, both vocations are virtually female free?