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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Doris Lessing attacks feminists
Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing won the David Cohen prize this year
Zimbabwean-born author Doris Lessing has used a speech at the Edinburgh book festival to defend men against what she called the "unthinking and automatic rubbishing" by feminists.

Lessing, 81, who has been strongly identified with feminism, said that men had become "so cowed that they can't fight back".

We have many wonderful, clever, powerful women everywhere, but what is happening to men?

Doris Lessing

But feminist and commentator Helen Wilkinson took issue with Lessing's remarks and has described the author as "totally misguided".

Identifying Lessing with similar remarks made by writer Fay Weldon, Wilkinson said: "My take as a younger woman who has written about gender issues and feminism is that they are rather belatedly jumping on the bandwagon that people like myself have already raised."

'Shocked'

Lessing's broadside came during an appearance at Edinburgh's Consignia Theatre on Monday.

"I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed," she told the audience.

"The most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest and most intelligent man and no-one protests.

Helen Wilkinson
Wilkinson: accused Lessing of "bandwagon-jumping"
"We have many wonderful, clever, powerful women everywhere, but what is happening to men?

"Why did this have to be at the cost of men?"

'New generation'

But Helen Wilkinson, a former project director of the Demos think-tank who recently set up the Genderquake business consultancy, suggested that Lessing's attack was out of date.

"There is a new generation that has said 'we need a new language, because many of the old battles have been won and now we need new challenges'.

"If I was putting a generational political spin on, it is like the mothers in revolt against the daughters, for something that we have already said doesn't speak to our experience very much," said Wilkinson.

Doris Lessing, famous for books like The Grass Is Singing and The Golden Notebook, won Britain's biggest literary award the David Cohen British Literature Prize earlier this year.

She has been awarded numerous prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award in 1956 and the WH Smith Award in 1986 and has been shortlisted three times for the Booker prize.

See also:

30 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Fay Weldon: Let's go to work
28 Jun 01 | Business
Dot.coms 'as sexist as not.coms'
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