If there’s one woman who can speak with authority on these subjects, it’s Maureen Dowd.

上海性息

She's the New York Times Columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize for her cutting commentary on Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky and the scandal that followed.

Now she’'s written a book – “Are Men Necessary?” – that examines the battle of the sexes and offers some scathing observations about men and women. According to Dowd, “Women used to demand equality. Now they demand Botox.”

In our first program for this year, Maureen Dowd faces a panel of relationship experts, political commentators, feminists old and new, and some sceptical blokes, to find out what's really going on between the sexes.

Are women dumbing down to catch a man? Is plastic surgery more popular than political picketing? Do men prefer to marry women less financially successful and powerful than themselves?

We’ve commissioned a national Newspoll to help us find out.

Maureen Dowd has a shrewd knowledge of Washington’s power plays and the human foibles of its key players. She’s put it all together in a book that explores the muddle of sexual combat. On Insight, she faces her fans and critics.


Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen Dowd, welcome to Insight. It's good to have you with us.

MAUREEN DOWD, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Thanks, Jenny.

JENNY BROCKIE: When I tell people the title of your book, 'Are Men Necessary', I see a lot of them roll their eyes with that look of, “Oh, no, another anti-male diatribe”. Is that what it is?

MAUREEN DOWD: Oh, not at all. And I'm amazed that a lot of men assume the answer would be 'no'. Of course the answer is 'yes'. They're just not necessary for the same reasons they have been traditionally.

We might not need them to reproduce and refinance, but certainly we need them for all manner of other things.

JENNY BROCKIE: What other things?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, diversion, comic relief.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sex.

MAUREEN DOWD: But it's a good thing for men, because instead of needing them we want them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you've likened feminism, when you spoke to me earlier, to the war in Iraq. How so?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I mean, I'm not trying to be flip here, obviously. But I think when feminists started out, when I was in high school in the late '60s and feminism was starting, I think that a lot of feminists portrayed the future in very utopian terms, the way the neo-cons portrayed the war in Iraq in utopian terms – that we would be met with flowers and chocolates and it would be very easy and a cakewalk, and I think it's just turned out in both cases to be a bit more complicated.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it seemed like a really good idea that would somehow take care of itself?

MAUREEN DOWD: Right, exactly.

JENNY BROCKIE:You also say that narcissism has trumped feminism.

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, narcissism has trumped everything in America, but it has trumped feminism because one of the main tenants of feminism was that you'd have a more capacious attitude about beauty and looks and that, you know, you wouldn't have to look a certain way to be considered beautiful and that you wouldn't spend as much time on your looks, and now in America women are more obsessed with looks than ever.

And it's funny because we've gone from playing with Barbie dolls to demonising Barbie to re-making ourselves as Barbie.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think that's new? Do you think that's any different to the way it's always been? Haven't women always been obsessed with how they look?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, again, you know, as in Iraq, what's interesting about the arc of feminism is that everything has turned out… Not economically – the feminists achieved a lot – but in terms of culture, a lot of things have turned out exactly the opposite of the way they thought.

Women are more obsessed with looks. For instance, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan spent a long time trying to get rid of the honorific 'Mrs', I mean, because they thought that meant you were the property of a man.

And now that's a very chic thing in America, even among Ivy League women, they want to be called Mrs, they want to change their name. And it's on glittery 'Mrs' T-shirts for young girls – they go 'Mrs Timberlake', 'Mrs Clooney', 'Mrs Pitt'.

You know, it's just a very chic honorific now and they're just… You know, for instance, the feminists spend a lot of time trying to get rid of Barbie and playmates and Hugh Hefner and 'Cosmo' and Helen Gurley Brown and these things are bigger than ever.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think that is?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I think, you know, originally feminism, the whole idea was to protect women from this idea that they would have to trade beauty for affluence and so they… to protect them from the idea that they were going to be sex objects, but now women are trying to be sex objects and discover their inner slut.

So, you know, there's just a lot that has turned out the opposite, and if you had sat Gloria Steinem in a chair and tied her to the chair and made her look 40 years into the future and see 'The Bachelor', you knowWHERE you have 25 girls clawing each other's eyes out for one guy and everything they do is wrong and everything is very catty with the girls and, you know, just all these sort of '50s stereotypes of women, I just think she would be very surprised at where we were going to end up.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is it a problem, though, that that's happening?

MAUREEN DOWD: No, I'm very optimistic about the arc of women because I think the main problem was when we were imitating men and aping men and acting like mini-mes of men and wearing little blue suits and floppy ties and expecting to work like men and dress like men and have orgasms like men, that was the problem.

I think as long as women are women and men are men, you know, we've been muddling through since the primordial soup and we always will and that will be the fun of it.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you are worried that some of the women who are wearing the 'Mrs' T-shirts are taking their eyes off the ball in terms of other issues to do with women?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah, it's not an either-or. I do, you know, I worry a little bit like that, you know, in the beginning the feminists sort of frowned on any frivolity and femininity, you know, high heels or any sexy clothes or talking about guys and babies and now I worry a little bit that it's, you know, the excess is the only thing I worry about – that women are dressing so sexy and slutty, that they may get penalised at the office for that. There have been several studies lately that show that men and women do not want to see women executives looking too sexy at the office.

And even at the 'New York Times', you know, the women on our business side aren't supposed to wear high heeled sandals.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right?

MAUREEN DOWD: Even at 'W' magazine they put out a dress code recently and, you know, said that women should tone it down. So you just don't… And also you don't want women to be paying so much attention to their looks that they don't know who's going on the Supreme Court.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do some of the young women here think about that, about younger women looking for their inner slut, for example?

I mean, is that something that you relate to? Are women more interested in looking sexy, do you think, younger women?

CHANTELLE DUFFIELD: I think so. And I also believe it's happening a lot earlier as well. One thing that quite distresses me is the sexualisation of women happening like in high school, primary school. Year 5 children are dressing in these midriffs and they're going out in things which shock me to an extent. And I think it's reflecting further down the line, as well, what's acceptable in society.

MAUREEN DOWD: You see these Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts that say “Why do I need brains when I have these”, you know, across the chest.

OLIVIA HAMBRETT: I think there's this really dangerous notion that the only way women can empower and liberate themselves is via their sexuality and I think all that achieves is it backs us further into a corner and paints us with the one brush.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah Wilson, in 'Cosmopolitan' magazine this month you've got an article titled “I've got fake boobs and I'm a feminist”. Is that what your readers want to read? Is that the kind of combo that works here?

SARAH WILSON, EDITOR COSMOPOLITAN: Look, I think stories or representations of young women making choices, whether it's choices about their bodies, their career or augmenting their bodies, is something that I think young women do want to read even if it's not a choice that they personally make.

They see it as empowering and I guess that's a good offshoot in some ways of, I guess, the feminist movement.

But does the word 'feminist' resonate or have the same appeal as it did 15 years ago? No, it doesn't. And I think we'd be kidding ourselves to think it does. I think, Maureen, you mention in your book that women in their 20s think that feminism or feminists almost barked up the wrong tree, they were fighting the wrong battles or they fought for equality in the wrong areas and I think that's a perception that very much resonates for young women.

Feminism doesn't have the same meaning as it did.

EVA COX, FEMINIST: Can I come in on that?

JENNY BROCKIE: Yes Eva.

EVA COX, UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, SYDNEY: As one of the extant '70s feminists.

JENNY BROCKIE: Who donned overalls, I have to say.

EVA COX: Yes, I haven't got my overalls on, sorry about that. I think what's interesting, listening to this discussion is, one – and it's a bit of a problem I had with some bits in Maureen's book and some of the sort of comments – is that there's this somehow or other leftover remnant of a view that feminists were all these dour sort of overall people that all wanted exactly the same thing.

What we wanted was sets of choices and that's what women got. Maybe the choices they're making are not the same choices that we would have made, but I think they are choices and I think one of the things we've got to recognise is feminism has always had a very, very broad set of view points and so on.

And one of the problems that we have is looking backwards on it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, yeah?

PETER FITZSIMONS, COLUMNIST: To use your Iraq analogy, it seems to me less a declaration of victory, it's a rocket flare in the night saying, “We are lost, can you get us out of here.”

And yet there's confusion among men too. I think if I were to have put out a book that said 'Are Women Necessary?' and on my front page, in my first few pages I talked about women discovering their inner slut, I think my head would be torn off by everybody I know. I mean, it really would be. I'd be torn up, torn apart.

I grew up around women who, you know, the use of the word 'slut', I'd be interested – it's not for me to discuss – but is there a bloke here who would use the word 'slut ' in open conversation? It would be beaten out of us, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? And yet you use it and it's fine.

JENNY BROCKIE: I don't know about that, Peter. Are the blokes prepared to fess up here?

GUY WILLIAMS: I can agree with what Peter's saying there because I mean I wouldn't use it to describe someone I cared about or respected, and that's just my opinion but you know… And so the way Maureen uses it, it's like an empowering concept that women can grasp on to, to enable them to fulfil themselves, but you know.

ANDREA NORTH-SAMARDZIC: Yes, but that's not when you use it – you don't say, “Oh, she's a slut, isn't that great?”

GUY WILLIAMS: I only use it to refer to media sluts who are on programs like this all the time. People like me. Yeah. That's the only time I use it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen, response from you.

MAUREEN DOWD: What I was just going to say Bill Maher, the comedian, actually made the same point that you made to me and also Dave Chappelle, this hilarious comedian in the States, has this great routine where he and a friend go up to a girl in a bar and, you know, the friend is hitting on her and she gets all huffy about it and Dave Chappelle says “Well, you know, if you're going to dress like a whore, you've got to expect to be treated like a whore.”

And it's, you know, it's humorous but it's also kind of he's making, you know, a point that women do dress a lot differently and it's hard to tell, you know, the whores from the good girls anymore.

JENNY BROCKIE: They want to get on the cover of 'Maxim' magazine, the men's magazine in the United States. Now you've written about this. We've got a picture here. And you seem quite horrified by the number of women, you say, want to get on the cover of this magazine.

MAUREEN DOWD: It's funny because, you know, Kate White is actually the one – the editor of 'Cosmo' in America – who made the point you did that younger women, some younger women think the way baby boomer woman did – it is a grind.

But she told me that she does not put stories about plastic surgery in American 'Cosmo' because, you know, and she had… she's worried about, you know, the extent of it with women. And she had a story last summer that said “Are we becoming a nation of plastic dolls?”

And when 'Cosmo' tells you that, you know you're in trouble, you know. But one of the quotes in my book that I thought was really interesting is the editor of 'Maxim' is this guy named Ed Needham and he was saying he was really surprised at how many women write him and really want to see themselves validated as 'Cosmo'…as 'Maxim' girls – because the 'Maxim' girl was supposed to be like Pamela Anderson, it was supposed to be man's guilty fantasy, it wasn't supposed to be his real-life affirming girlfriend.

So he was saying men are a little disorientated, you know, that that's what women want to be. And you know, Paul Rudnick – the screenwriter of the second 'Stepford Wives' – was saying that now men and women are conspiring to create the new Stepford wife and soon she'll be solar powered.

JENNY BROCKIE: Julian, if you strip all the talk away, is 'Maxim' what blokes really want, want to look at?

JULIAN MORROW, PRESENTER – THE CHASER: Sorry, what was the question? I'm still looking at… No, look, I think…

JENNY BROCKIE: It's all well and good to talk about this stuff and just say noble things but, I mean, 'Maxim' exists for a reason, doesn't it?

JULIAN MORROW: Yeah, look, men have their fantasies like women have their fantasies but I don't think… I mean, most guys, I think deep down are just looking for somebody who they can actually, you know, form a good relationship with and get on well with and I think most of the time what you've got to do is see all these images which get rammed down our throats in the media and just take a step back from them, learn to be able to play with them rather than engaging 100%.

And that's why I'm still thinking about that picture.

JENNY BROCKIE: Catharine, yeah.

CATHARINE LUMBY,UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: Can I say this? Also I think there's a kind of class-based issue here as well because, you know, I mean upper middle class women who spend thousands of dollars on an Armani suit and wear subtle but classic make-up and nice pearl earrings, that's OK to pay that kind of attention to your appearance, but if you want to put on a pair of white cowboy boots and kind of a lame bikini and get a boob job, then that's white trash stuff.

So I wondered to some extent whether we are introducing an unstated element of class into ideas about what is appropriate self-enhancement and what isn't.

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen, what do you think about that?

MAUREEN DOWD: I think that, you know, that's interesting but I think, you know, it used to be much easier to tell which class because I think now in America so many women, you know.. the only thing that I am critical of in my book is excess and I think so many women in America start to… ..are starting to look like each other.

They're heading toward, you know, a conformity and lack of originality where they're getting all the same features. They all want to look, you know, as close as they can get to Angelina Jolie – and who wouldn't.

But you know, it's like it just depresses me that there isn't a larger, you know, standard of what is beautiful.

JENNY BROCKIE: Gianna, you were a contestant on 'Big Brother' and you had your very own cover on 'Ralph' magazine. Now let's have a look at that. Why did you go this way, Gianna?

GIANNA PATTISON, CONTESTANT, BIG BROTHER: OK, well for one it's always flattering to be asked to go into one of those magazines because we all would like to consider ourselves to be beautiful and sexy.

I, however, do feel that there is a limit to what should be shown in these magazines.

JENNY BROCKIE: So why a nurse's outfit? I'm interested in why the nurse's outfit. The nurse's bikini.

GIANNA PATTISON: If only nurses really wore that. No, I'm kidding. Well, how the nurse thing came about is when I was in the 'Big Brother' house a friend of mine actually bought me like a little nurse outfit to wear and it was a charity item for me to auction off to raise money to rescue animals.

I'd prefer to do one where I am wearing a beautiful dress. I don't think that you have to wear less to just be classed as sexy.

PETER FITZSIMON: Think of the animals you're saving, though, by wearing that.

GIANNA PATTISON: I saved some…I saved some bears in Asia for that. So that's what that came about. But I mean I was flattered to be asked to do 'Ralph'.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it was flattering to be regarded as sexy?

GIANNA PATTISON: It's flattering, yeah. But there's a limit, there's a serious limit. Like there are girls in there where, as I said, they're wearing next to nothing and…

JENNY BROCKIE: And you're not?

GIANNA PATTISON: This is what I pointed out to a friend of mine. I showed them the magazine and they were looking through, they saw my photos first and they were like, “Oh, that seems a bit revealing.” And I said “Hang on a sec, let me just show you what's 10 pages down.” And I showed them and they're like, “Oh, OK, you're basically fully dressed compared to what some of the other girls are.”

So I just, you know, I let people know in context what it's about but also let them know that, you know, less is not more.

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen?

MAUREEN DOWD: You know, one funny thing about what's happened with magazines is, men's magazines are all about how to please men and women's magazines are all about how to please men and they're all full of these things like “1,163 ways to please him while he's sleeping,” you know. So, you know, people are not reading 'Ms' magazine anymore.

JENNY BROCKIE: Steve Canane, what do you think of 'Ralph' and 'Maxim' magazine?

STEVE CANNANE, HACK, TRIPLE J: Well, guys might buy it but they don't really read it for that long. I mean, I've seen them…

JENNY BROCKIE: They just look at the pictures?

STEVE CANNANE: Yeah, they look at the pictures and I've seen it in guys' cricket bags of guys I play cricket with, they'll pull it out, they'll flick it – it's faster than reading the 'Daily Telegraph', you know. It doesn't take long to read these things. Yeah, so they're not spending that much time on them really.

CATHARINE LUMBY: Jenny, can I just say on the subject of 'Ralph' – and just in response to what Maureen's saying – I actually think 'Ralph' is 'Cosmo' for men because it's… I used to be a columnist for 'Ralph' a long time ago and one of the interesting things about people reading 'Ralph', guys reading it, is behind all the jokes and all the kind of girls in bikinis, there's a genuine interest for young men today in how do you be a man, what does it mean to be a man?

And I wonder whether, you know, we should also acknowledge that for young guys masculinity's become a problem, not just a given and these magazines in a kind of different way to 'Cosmo' cater and deal with the same kind of questions.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, I'd like to just get back to what we were talking about before in terms of imagery, though, because while all the men are saying you just look at the pictures and whatever, we have seen the most powerful man in the world, Bill Clinton, almost lose his job because of a woman in thong underwear. I mean, what did that say to you about sexual politics and the way it's played

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I mean the whole impeachment of Clinton was so ridiculous because, you know, the Ken Starr report was perhaps a reason for divorce but certainly not to lose your job as president. I grew up in Washington D.C. and from the time the city was created, politicians have been having affairs with younger women and a lot of the Republicans who were tormenting Clinton were having affairs with younger political aides while they were tormenting Clinton for that so that was just ridiculous.

That being said, Clinton should have been mature enough to say to Monica Lewinsky, “Young lady, pull up your pants and, you know, go back to your office.”

JENNY BROCKIE: But there were a lot of archetypes played out in that whole scenario, weren't there, of the young intern?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yes, it was the archetype of marrying up and dating down, which Gary Hart did too when he got in trouble. And when Clinton got in trouble, he gathered the very high-toned women around him – like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, his Secretary of State – to protect him, you know, from the kind of what his aide called the bimbo eruptions.

And they would, you know, he'd hide behind their skirts and they would protect him and then the feminists would help protect him because he had good policies for women so they wanted to keep him in office.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what did you make of all of that, of the way that that played itself out? The role the feminists played in that?

MAUREEN DOWD: I think the feminists were very hypocritical because, you know, as Patricia Ireland – at the time the president of NOW – said to me it's much harder for us to go after politicians who go along with us on our issues but, you know, it did not look good for Hillary Clinton, a feminist icon, to be trying to smear these young women who were telling the truth about having sex with her husband.

JENNY BROCKIE: You're nodding, Catharine.

CATHARINE LUMBY: Yeah, and I think that was the most telling thing. I was living in America at the time and I can remember when, you know, it was so clear that he said, “I did not have sex with THAT woman.” And I mean the way in which she was left to twist in the wind was, from a feminist perspective, shocking.

MAUREEN DOWD: Right. And the White House led a campaign against her as a, you know, fantasist and stalker which, ironically enough, was the same way the Republicans went after Anita Hill, which made the Democrats crazy – a little bit naughty and a little bit slutty.

JENNY BROCKIE: Karen.

KAREN MIDDLETON, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SBS: Yeah, I was just going to say, you know, that this is the feminist double standard thing. That I found it puzzling that they didn't see this as an issue of power, as a power issue for women, which it was.

MAUREEN DOWD: If there was no Monica Lewinsky, there would be no Senator Clinton, there would be a President Gore because Hillary ran as a victim – people could only like her once she wasn't seen as so controlling, when she was seen as a little bit out of control.

PETER FITZSIMON: What are the chances that we would have Hillary Clinton up against Condoleezza Rice?

MAUREEN DOWD: I know, everyone's fascinated with this. But again it would be interesting to see because it would be hard for Condi to run without a husband. You know, I mean it's just a model we have in our heads that a woman politician would have to have a husband and it would be hard for Hillary because she's got a sort of naughty husband.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of woman could become president?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, you know, it's interesting because I see that you guys are starting the Geena Davis 'Commander in Chief' TV show, which has already been cancelled in the States.

So but, you know, I talked to the creator of that, and I quote him in the book, and he did not use Hillary Clinton or any female politician as the model for Geena Davis's character because he wanted someone who was very calm under pressure and kind to underlings and a very graceful person. So he based it on the woman who's now in charge of Martha Stewart's company who is very unlike Martha Stewart.

JENNY BROCKIE: So is there an archetype for the kind of woman you think could be elected as president?

MAUREEN DOWD: I don't know. Jill, do you?

JILL ABRAMSON, MANAGING EDITOR NEW YORK TIMES: Well, one thing in the US that everyone agrees is that she will have to have a pretty strong record on defence. And you can see Hillary Clinton as a Democrat being very mindful of that because there's a feeling that a woman will be perceived as weak and so to project strength they have to have a good record on defence.

I think that that's probably right And there are a lot of people in the US who also think, interestingly, that it's more likely that a Republican woman would succeed in becoming the first woman president than a Democrat. I'm not sure if I agree with that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Peter.

PETER FITZSIMON: When you look at Hillary Clinton on one side and Laura Bush on the other, do you have the two archetypes of opposite book ends of the spectrum, you know, that Laura Bush really is a reversion to, it would seem, with respect, to 1950s pre-feminism?

MAUREEN DOWD: Right, but there is this kind of… well, young women call it realistic, other people see it as retro trend in the country and you see it with Laura Bush. She's like a Betty Crocker type whereas Hillary was a very forceful, two for the price of one, you know.

It was so funny covering Hillary during that campaign because she would always say 'we' – “What we are going to do when we get to the White House,” which, you know, was very jarring. And the American public I think they were really ready for a strong first lady and they would have accepted her health care plan if it had been a better plan. But I think the fact that she, you know, was so kind of aggressive about seizing power just made a lot of Americans nervous because really they don't elect the first lady.

KAREN MIDDLETON: So when she sat there saying “I'm not some woman just sitting here standing by her man”?

MAUREEN DOWD: But the problem with Hillary again – it's a little hypocritical because she was acting like she should have all this power but it was really on her husband's coat-tails and then she won as a victim, the senator.

So that is not where women were supposed to be when we look back at how feminists started. A woman of her accomplishment was not supposed to win as a victim.

JENNY BROCKIE: Karen, what sort of woman would be prime minister in Australia, do you think?

KAREN MIDDLETON: Well, she's got to be competent, let's start with that. Competent, she's got to be competent. She's got to be able to communicate which is everything in politics now, I think in the United States and here – communication is everything, dispensing information. So that's massively important.

She's going to have to be clean, she's probably going to have to be cleaner politically in terms of her background than a man has to.

EVA COX: Doesn't that sort of raise the issue which I think underpins a lot of things – there's that contradiction that women face. I mean, if you actually have a situation where, you know, women get done over in politics, and we've seen it time and time again here because there are still double standards – a woman does gets shoved up on a pedestal and then knocked over because it's too wobbly – that it's not too surprising that women are going to sort of go back and do things with their bodies and go and do things and slide back to a 19-sort-of-50s model and play around with that because the one thing we haven't given women a chance to play with is power.

JENNY BROCKIE: Peter?

PETER FITZSIMON: When you say the one thing we haven't given women a chance at is power, if you look at the men who have arisen to positions of power, how many of those were given it?

I mean, basically most of them crawled their way, clawing and biting to the top of the pile.

EVA COX: What happened to the women who tried to crawl? They got their teeth kicked in, in many cases because there still is a double standard.

JENNY BROCKIE: Karen, do you want to buy into this?

KAREN MIDDLETON: I was just going to say, you know, I get frustrated that women are held to a higher standard often than men, have to reach a higher standard. But I also get frustrated if they're held to a lower standard, you know.

I don't want women to be held to any lesser standard. I don't want people apologising for women when the issue is incompetence and saying it's about her being a woman. So I get frustrated equally in both directions. It should be the same standard.

EVA COX: This is one of the grand myths of the media is that women have got affirmative action, that women get an easier deal. It's a lot of crap. We never have.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to move on, Eva. Because Maureen, one of the things you've expressed concerns about is that younger women are dumbing down for men, that you think that they're – to attract men.

I wonder whether what you see as dumbing down is flirting, maybe?

MAUREEN DOWD: No, I don't think I said dumbing down exactly. I think that… I think, you know, you guys talked about it, I just think the central problem for women is how to combine their strength and their sexuality in balance – to use their sexuality, you know, and experience it and yet also be strong and not be punished for their sexuality.

So I think that is the complicated issue that we have to, you know, face and work through.

JENNY BROCKIE: And at the moment you think… the impression I get from the book is you think that balance isn't being struck. You think it's gone too far one way?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I'm just a little worried that it's gone too far. I used to, when feminism started, you know, I paid too much attention to guys and high heels and not enough… And I thought they were very earnest. And I agree with you, you know, I'm generalising a little. In the introduction I say it's one broad's broad generalisations.

Because Betty Friedan, when she died I was looking over my interviews with her and she had this great quote where she said that, you know, it's…she approved of women having lipstick and make-up and everything, unlike some of the feminists, because it was not…you know, that did not mean that… it wasn't going to help them break any glass ceilings if they look good doing it.

So it's my… I only just worry that in my experience with young women and talking to Kate White, you know, who talks to a lot of them, they just don't seem to be paying enough attention to world events and I just worry that some of their rights might be taken away while they're text messaging about guys.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sonia, what about you, do you ever act like a bimbo to get a bloke?

SONIA RAHME: I do actually. It's quite embarrassing but I admit that when I do go clubbing or to bars with my girlfriends and we tend to stick around and look all prim and proper in our nice little outfits – which we are well dressed by the way – no-one really approaches us but if we start to laugh or giggle or do something really silly then we get attention. So I guess that's what we do to get attention.

JENNY BROCKIE: Andrea, what about you? You've had advice, I think, from a male colleague about how to attract men?

ANDREA NORTH-SAMARDZIC: Yeah, from a married man which makes me a bit sceptical. Yes, the guy that sat next to me said, “Well, you're too pretty and you're too smart. You've got to choose one or the other. So you've either got to be pretty and dumb or smart and ugly. So choose a camp, stick with it, because otherwise it's just too much for us.”

JENNY BROCKIE: So what did you choose, Andrea?

ANDREA NORTH-SAMARDZIC: Well, I'm getting a PhD and I'm wearing my high heels so I can have the best of both worlds.

JULIAN MORROW: Well, I think that's what guys are after as well. Good for you. Absolutely.

I mean I don't want to for a second underestimate the shallowness of men but I reckon that there seems to be the dichotomy running that there's either sexy or there's feminist. I mean, feminism is incredibly sexy. You know, women who are intelligent, articulate, who know about these issues are fantastic catches and I reckon, you know, have both, go for it, you know.

PETER FITZSIMONS: This is really working. We can turn this into 'Perfect Match'.

JENNY BROCKIE: He's married. His wife's sitting next to him.

CATHARINE LUMBY: Jenny, can I say also that, you know, I think these debates have been going on forever. I'm sure Eva knows this but I know in the '80s when I was at university, people were saying oh, my generation was the dumb-downed generation, we were the ones who dropped the ball, we were insufficiently political, we wouldn't call ourselves feminists.

Well, my experience was I called myself a feminist at 18, very few other women I went to university with did. But I'm not a feminist on the basis that I want lots of women to call themselves feminists. I'm a feminist because I want choices for lots of women, whatever they choose to call themselves.

So I wonder, I'm interested in what Maureen has to say about this, whether you think this is just a kind of cyclical thing where people tend to look at younger generations and what they notice is, you know – which they didn't see themselves when they were young – is that a lot of women actually are not very interested in activism and lots of people aren't interested in politics but maybe it was ever thus.

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah, maybe it is and maybe, you know, maybe things just tend to overcorrect themselves.

JENNY BROCKIE: You also say in the book that you think men prefer women who are in awe of them, who serve them or are in awe of them.

MAUREEN DOWD: Not prefer. I just said I think that, you know, at the dawn of feminism I think it was assumed that, you know, we envisioned this Tracy-Hepburn kind of equal careers and sparring and it would all be challenging. And I think a lot of guys do like that but I also think a lot of guys don't, a lot of guys want women who are in awe of them.

So some guys find that draining. So I'm not negative about it. I'm just saying you've got to find, you know, the right kind of guy for you quickly, not waste a lot of time on the ones who want women who are in awe of them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Deep down all men want is a virgin in a gingham dress?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, on the plane we were watching Steve Martin's 'Shop Girl', you know, and that's about as far from a Tracy-Hepburn movie as you can get. Like, you know, he's dating a much younger woman who's in awe of him and he'll call her for a date and she'll go, “Oh yes, that will be great, whenever you show up.”

And you know, it's just some guys want that. Some guys don't want to be challenged and, you know, don't… And a lot of younger women think that, you know, to have this kind of perfect equality and jobs and everything is too hard and too much of a grind and that maybe it's a bit easier if somebody revolves around somebody else.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right, Anthony? Is that what you want?

ANTHONY COLREAVY: Yeah, look, I definitely want a girlfriend or a wife who is challenging still but I guess I want to live the Australian dream of, you know, going out there and working and coming home to a home-cooked meal with the wife raising the kids. You know, I'm a simple bloke with simple needs.

And obviously she's going to want to do that. Obviously I'm not going to marry someone that doesn't necessarily want to do that. But, you know, in a perfect world… That's tradition, how I guess I was brought up was that this is how it's done and I came out pretty good so I want to follow that tradition and do the same.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ertan, what about you? You're a factory worker from Melbourne and you describe Australian women as cats. Why is that?

ERTAN ASIK: Yeah, because most of the girls I've known, they'll purr on the leg that suits them fine, you know what I mean? You'll treat them nice and then they find somebody better, they'll purr on that leg. That's how girls have been with me.

PETER FITZSIMON: We've got to get you out of Melbourne, mate.

ERTAN ASIK: Melbourne's good.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you agree with what Anthony's saying about the kind of girl you'd like?

ERTAN ASIK: I agree with that.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm wondering where that leaves you guys in terms of what a lot of younger women are wanting at the moment. Are you finding that there are women that you go out with who are happy with that?

ANTHONY COLREAVY: I think girls nowadays have just got a longer time to think, like they can go actually into their career. And it's not like the good old days where 22 you get married, you have kids and you raise a family.

Now girls can actually go out in the work force and give their… ..put their schooling to good use and become a corporate woman. And when they come to 33 they can actually get married and then have kids and raise a family.

So I think they're getting the best of both worlds and they have that choice to be able to do so.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sarah?

SARAH WILSON: I'm hearing a lot of tut-tutting behind me of outrage. Look, I think interestingly at the same time as your comments and your concerns down in Melbourne, I'm also seeing a lot of young women actually swinging that way – and I think, Maureen, you pick it up in your book as well – is you are seeing a lot of young women turning to marriage and children in their 20s.

And marriage rates have been declining for years and years and years and I think six months ago the ABS reported they have spiked amongst women in their 20s and there is actually a little bit of a swing in that direction.

I don't know that it has to spell really bad news. I think we could perceive it that way sort of, you know, the older generations may perceive it that way but I think what we're seeing is a lot of young people are renegotiating some of those relationships between the genders

JENNY BROCKIE: What about you, Catharine?

KATHERINE O’BRIEN: I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't think marriage is a fashion that goes in and out of vogue and I don't think we should look at it that way. Certainly among my group of friends none of them are considering getting married. Some have serious boyfriends but they're in their early 20s and they don't want to get married in their early 20s.

They want to go out and have a career and just be sure they're with the right person because it's a very young age to make such a major decision. And I think girls my age we don't take marriage lightly. It is meant to be for life and to make that decision at such a young age is a bit… ..it might not work.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what about what Maureen was saying earlier about wanting the moniker of 'Mrs' and wanting the more conventional kind of life and wanting to nest and to raise kids at a much younger age than perhaps earlier generations?

KLAUDIA KOWALEWSKA: There's something really comforting about that, like having that structure in your life. You're not alone and you could do it in that nice traditional way but maybe without the problems that maybe not our mothers but our grandmothers had, like you have to ask your husband for an allowance for instance because you couldn't work.

Like, you know, deep down look, I have an education, I can go out and get a job, I can have my own money but I'm happy raising a family at the moment and I can just return to it when I want to.

JENNY BROCKIE: Steve?

STEVE CANNANE: Can I just come out against dumbing down when talking to guys because it really pisses me off. Because how are you going to meet the person who's right for you if you're pretending to be something that you're not?

I'm married to a feisty feminist who takes no crap from me, who is smart, I can have great conversations with but if I'd met her and she was being ditzy, I wouldn't have been interested in her. So I'd just like to say be yourself.

WOMAN: You're the exception to the rule, though.

JENNY BROCKIE: Just say that again for us.

WOMAN: You're the exception rather than the rule.

STEVE CANNANE: I think there's plenty of guys who like feisty women and who want to have conversations about politics and art and film and all kinds of stuff.

JENNY BROCKIE: A lot of agreement, here, a lot of agreement. Yeah, you're all nodding your heads. Anthony, you're nodding your head and you want the meal at home.

ANTHONY COLREAVY: I still want the meal but I don't want to sit down and eat the meal by myself and not actually have a conversation.

JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so you want the… Yep.

PETER FITZSIMON: Can I ask, we've canvassed all kinds of views about the kind of women that men want. I'd be very interested, given your book, what are the common characteristics of the man that women want. What sort of man seriously is the prototype of the kind of man that the modern woman now wants?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, you know, it's funny because there were like a couple famous guys and yeah, actually two or three famous guys who summed up relationships this way and they said that women want to get in serious relationships so they have somebody to talk to and men just want women to shut up. And I was kind of surprised the third time I heard it. But I don't know.

JENNY BROCKIE: What kind of man do you want? This is a woman who's dated Michael Douglas.

PETER FITZSIMON: If you don't know – You've written the book, men need to know, what kind of man do you want?

ANDREA NORTH-SAMARDZIC:I think the point of the book was that we just want men and we can't seem to find them.

JENNY BROCKIE: I want Maureen to answer the question.

MAUREEN DOWD: I don't know. I have a lot of different types actually.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's a very non-answer answer.

MAUREEN DOWD: Well when I write my memoir I'll come back.

JENNY BROCKIE: You've talked about the aroma of male power being an aphrodisiac for women. You've talked about women wanting to marry up as well as men wanting to marry down. But you've said that the perfume of female power is a turn-off for men. Do you think that's the case? Has that happened to you?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah, I don't have a hard time finding people to date but in my job it's a little bit different because if the male columnists write tough columns about men in power, you know, it's just seen as appropriate verbal duelling and they're just tough but sometimes when I do it, you know, there're a lot of castration jokes made and women don't want to be seen as castrating.

And like if I'm written about, they'll use… Like for instance I was in a clue in the 'New York Times' crossword puzzle recently – “sharp pinned Maureen” – and I don't think it helps getting dates if there are like sharp objects associated with me.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you do talk about women generally wanting to marry up. I mean we've talked a lot about what guys want but you also say that women want to marry up?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, even one of my male colleagues, John Tierney, wrote a column recently saying even when women marry… ..when women marry down they get a little antsy about the guy's earnings, you know, and there's no equivalent of that with men.

The man wouldn't be… For instance, if a woman marries a man who doesn't make as much, he might feel emasculated and it might make him feel bad but, you know, if a man marries a woman who doesn't make as much, it's just not an issue so it just doesn't exist.

I mean you see this with – not that you can talk about Hollywood stars as representative of anything – but you see it all the time about actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank and their husbands are having trouble with their success and it's just, you know, the male ego can get hurt very easily with that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well, have we got the story for you. There's always someone who defies the trend. Antoinette Curra discovered this when she visited a group of Australian expats living in Singapore. Have a look.

STORY: SECRET MEN’S BUSINESS

REPORTER: Antoinette Currah

Kimberley Andrews is a woman who has made it to the top. In the busy commercial hub of Singapore she is a high-powered executive earning a six-figure salary – and that is US dollars. Kimberley works for a big pharmaceutical company and makes decisions involving millions of dollars every day.

KIMBERLEY ANDREWS: Yeah, if we could catch up at 12:00 for that meeting, that would be really good.

And while Kimberly breaks through the glass ceiling, her husband, Kevin Hornblower, leads a life most Aussie blokes would kill for.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: Honestly, I do nothing.

He develops his backhand on Wednesday, hits the driving range on Thursday, plays basketball whenever he can and rounds out the week with a game of Aussie Rules.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: And I look after my daughter when I sort of am in the mood to. We have a live-in maid. She gets up at about 6:30 in the morning, goes to bed about 11:00 at night.

Cooks us breakfast, lunch, dinner if we want it. We always get her to cook dinner. We don't get lunch because that is a bit pretentious. When the maid has got to do the ironing or something, I say “Yeah, rightio, bring her in to me. I'll look after her.”

Kevin is part of an exclusive men's club for expatriates living in Singapore, mostly Aussies. They have called themselves SMB – secret men's business. They are all kept men – they don't work, they're financially supported by their wives and girlfriends.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: We have lunches where we get sort of 30 blokes occasionally turn up to lunch and all of their wives are at work in an office – high-power, high-stress – and we're all sitting there drinking copious amounts of beer, spending their money. So, you know, we get over it pretty quick that, you know, we are spending their money.

Kevin was more than happy to leave his bus driving job in Australia.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: I've always been a day-to-day sort of guy where, you know, if I have the money, I buy things, if I don't have the money, I don't buy them. So I've never really sort of had the long-term goal that I want to be a corporate CEO or anything like that. I'm just quite happy to roll along with the punches and live life and be happy.

It is easier to roll with the punches when your wife bankrolls the luxury car and the apartment with four bedrooms and five bathrooms. But what's in it for her?

KIMBERLEY ANDREWS: We make a great relationship, a great family and he has attributes that I never did have and it strengthens our partnership, so I actually don't like the term of saying that I married down.

The two met at the snow and at first Kevin was intimidated by the high-powered executive.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: Yeah, I grew up in the west of Melbourne and I married to the east of Melbourne so lot of people would say that is definitely marrying up, getting out of the west of Melbourne. I've done well for myself, as silly as that sounds.

KIMBERLEY ANDREWS: I don't feel that just by default, of the fact that I'm the income earner that I have more power over Kev. Like he works just as hard as me in raising our daughter.

And sometimes it gets in the way of men's business.

KEVIN HORNBLOWER: I've go to and go pick up my daughter, who is 11 months old, and take her and get to sing in a really high-pitched voice with about 12 other mums. I'm the only dad.

Back at their local watering hole, lunch goes on without Kevin. There are some serious talks about who is organising the next lunch and what time golf is on.

This drinking session is typical, lasting 11 hours while some of their wives are overseas. With so much time on their hands it is no wonder there is murmurs around town about extra-curricular activities.

There is talk of a boys trip to Thailand in coming weeks. After pouring the beer since the group started, the pub's manager has his ear to the ground about what the boys get up to.

PUB MANAGER: I'm sure that there has been some speculation but I know a lot of the guys so I'm not going to say anything.

Another day, and three new members take the oath of secrecy. A life that is anything but business, that's something to toast to.

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen Dowd, what do you make of that?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, it's funny because there's this debate going on in America now about a scholar and a lawyer has written a magazine piece – a woman – saying that if women have any hope of having it all they have to be really rigorous and choose a man who is their economic inferior and have one child, and that nothing else will work, and it's caused this huge debate.

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you think that would work?

MAUREEN DOWD: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is this a model that you find appealing?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yes, I agree with you guys. I think there should be all different kinds of models.

PETER FITZSIMON: Would you be happy with a man that was happy to live like that?

MAUREEN DOWD: Oh, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Would you really?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah, definitely.

JENNY BROCKIE: Truly?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So a bus driver in New York who decided he was happy to be at home looking after kids.

MAUREEN DOWD: Yeah, if the chemistry was right, definitely.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think of the blokes in Singapore, Peter?

PETER FITZSIMON: I recognise an All Black full-back there, I think. I did, I did. I think that was the same guy.

It's not my way. Not me. I mean, if that works for them, it's none of my damn business. If that works for them and their families.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why wouldn't it work for you?

PETER FITZSIMON: I'd need to be more engaged and I think… I don't know. I'd just need to be more involved doing more things but I just couldn't go day after day playing golf and tennis and throwing darts.

CATHARINE LUMBY: Can I say, because my partner basically did all the primary childcare for our 6-year-old and 3-year-old. I mean, he's an educated guy. He was a lawyer originally. But I'm the breadwinner and we have reverse roles really successfully, it's fantastic.

And it's changed him. I mean I've sort of come to see how fulfilling it can be to look after children.

PETER FITZSIMON: That's different to those guys. Those guys had the maid at home.

CATHARINE LUMBY: That's because they're expats.

PETER FITZSIMON: I know your husband and your husband works hard with the kids and that's not what those guys are doing.

JENNY BROCKIE: Anthony, is that a lifestyle you'd find appealing?

ANTHONY: No, no, my liver would give out before that. I couldn't do that.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about you, Julian?

JULIAN: It sounds great. I think the lesson from that is not that we need to pay equity for women but that we need women to be massively more paid than men and we can all just take a break.

JENNY BROCKIE: Lisa, what do you think?

LISA PRYOR, JOURNALIST SMH: He says that but he's a complete workaholic. And I think a lot of guys like him have the principles but I think it would be really difficult for them when it comes to the crunch to give up that power and exposure that you get with a career.

JENNY BROCKIE: But this is part of the issue, isn't it? Because if you have two people with high powered jobs or two people who are busy all the time, it is difficult to maintain a relationship, which is the point you're making in the book – that for women who are highly educated and career-orientated, it's difficult to find partners.

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I think there may be just a bit more realism about at certain times of your life it may be easier if one revolves a bit around the other rather than everybody trying to have everything equal all the time and you know, just to be more flexible.

JENNY BROCKIE: Maureen, just to get back to some of the points we were making earlier, I wonder what you think will happen to these glazed fembots, as you described them – the younger women who are preoccupied with Botox and preoccupied with appearance – I wonder what you think will happen to them when they hit their 40s?

MAUREEN DOWD: Well, I think, you know, I asked one of the dermatologists I was interviewing “How do you tell women, you know, when they've gone too far with putting stuff, cow goo and stuff in their faces?” And she said she tells them when their lips are so heavy that they're moving at a different rate from the rest of their face, like a badly dubbed Italian movie, that's when they've gone too far.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that's the future?

MAUREEN DOWD: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Very grim note to leave it on but we will leave it there. I'd like to thank everybody very much for joining us tonight. And a special thank you to you Maureen Dowd. It's been great to have you here.

MAUREEN DOWD: It's been a lot of fun, thanks.

SEX POWER AND POLITICS