A couple of articles caught my eye in Saturday’s Financial Times. First, this piece by Emily Stokes, which sat on the op-ed page right below this one, by John Lloyd. I couldn’t decide whether they appeared together by accident, or if their proximity was meant to be ironic.

Ignoring significant evidence to the contrary, Lloyd claims feminist ‘successes’ make Harriet Harman’s rhetoric ‘archaic’. I guess he hasn’t heard about massive pay gaps between men and women, well-documented glass ceilings, and female TV presenters losing their jobs as payback for losing their youth. As for Stokes, she says the only place for women on the political podium is as cheerleaders for their heroic husbands, and not as politicians. ‘Nobody likes a Lady Macbeth’, she concludes.

Sure discrimination in all its forms still exists in most areas of society, but sexism remains the last outpost of socially-acceptable bias. For instance, it’s deemed laughable to claim that attitudes towards risk might have been different if women had occupied more senior positions in the financial sector. Simultaneously, it’s perfectly permissible to exclude women from the serious business of tackling the credit crunch that resulted from the well-documented disregard for risk.

This double-speak is illuminating, exposing the fact that Lloyd’s ‘triumph of the right’ is purely rhetorical where equality is concerned. A lack of meaningful childcare policies is transformed into a personal ‘choice’ women make between careers and family life. ‘Fairness’ means that positive discrimination schemes are deemed to fly in the face of ‘merit’, never mind whether ‘merit’ is the prevailing criterion for advancement. And no female leader – from Queen Victoria to Margaret Thatcher, or from Chile’s Michelle Bachelet to Yuliya Tymoshenko in the Ukraine – has managed to unseat Shakespeare’s ruthless anti-heroine as the prototype for ambitious women.