Ten years ago my life took a peculiar turn. From December 1990 until the middle of the decade, the common round was regularly spiced with unusual surprise.
One day, I would open a newspaper and find it telling the world that I must be impotent. Another day, I would read that I must have a little penis. While I was eating lunch at home with the woman I lived with, her eyes might drift over the page of a magazine and, seeing my name, she would read that I obviously couldn't get a girlfriend.
Walking through the aisle of a commuter train, going to the buffet car to get coffee, I would suddenly realise that many of my fellow passengers, casually turning the pages of their morning newspaper, were yawning over photographs from my wedding in 1977 and glancing at banner headlines which told them I had gone off my trolley.
In the middle of a winter evening, as we were dishing up our dinner, the doorbell would ring at the remote house in Suffolk, two miles down a farm track, where I lived with my girlfriend and her children and we would find a tabloid reporter and her minder standing on the step and saying: "We thought we'd just drop in." Turning on the radio on a Saturday morning, just as I was winding myself up to an attack on the household heap of ironing, I would hear Ned Sherrin observe as an aside that I was obviously very seriously disturbed by personal problems.
These unusual experiences came my way because I had written some articles and a book. The first and most controversial of these articles was a 5,000-word essay published in The Sunday Times Magazine in December 1990. That essay was given the title (which I felt to be misleading) "Badmouthing". In it, I committed the offence of writing sceptically, even disrespectfully, about feminism. I raised some doubts about the central claims of feminism and I questioned some of the fundamental tenets of its ideology.
Writing articles and books is my work. It is what I have done for 30 years and what I expect to do for the rest of my life. Until December 1990, I was among the highest-paid and best-established feature writers in British journalism, contributing regularly to every "quality" paper and writing about everything from sport to music, from politics to books. I had written the Atticus column in this newspaper. I wrote columns, profiles and feature articles in The Times, The Independent, the Evening Standard and many others. After Badmouthing, however, I became a pariah, a professional and social outcast. My income plummeted from many thousands of pounds a month to hundreds. In the whole year of 1993, I earned less money in total than I had earned each month in 1989.
I had achieved something that may be unique in our age: I had committed an unpardonable heresy.
In an era of no faiths, no moral certainties and no saints, it is almost impossible to say something that so outrages a common creed that its author will be banished or ostracised. Any view or opinion is permissible on the monarchy, the church, political leaders and other public figures. Treason has been abolished. Indecency does not exist. There are, effectively, no limits remaining on the licence extended to entertainers. Yet my writing resulted not only in my professional ruin: it also made me an untouchable. Over the 20 years of my career before Badmouthing, I had made friends with many fashionable people - writers, actors, sports and television celebrities, some of the best-known names in the media here and in America. After Badmouthing, most of these people cut off all connection with me and have never contacted me since. Neighbours looked the other way when they saw me in the street and strangers shifted away from me on the Underground. These things happened. Truly.
What had I said? What could I have written that was so violently offensive? The starting-point for this essay was to say that an atmosphere of intolerance surrounded men. In advertising, in entertainment and in the news media, it had become commonplace for men collectively to be seen as mentally and culturally inferior - idiotic, im-practical, ineducable, violent and slobbish by nature and incapable of love both as husbands and fathers. My article was probably the first to be published in a major newspaper in the West which said that the routine separation of tens of thousands of children from their fathers through the divorce courts was the most serious human rights issue of our time. I think I was the first journalist to suggest that boys, not girls, might share a collective disadvantage in schools. And Badmouthing was definitely the first article in the national media to observe that, while women's illnesses were the focus of immense concentration and spending on research, illnesses that affected men only, such as prostate cancer, were ignored by medical science.
Many of those observations are now commonly accepted. Government campaigns urge men to be screened and to check themselves for prostate cancer. The position of boys in education and of young men in employment is generally agreed to be a subject for concern. The divorce courts are, broadly speaking, a little more protective towards the relationship between children and their fathers. Looking back on what was published then, I think most people would now feel that the arguments I advanced were reasonable and the evidence I produced was sound.
So what was the trouble? If the essay had concentrated only on the dilemmas and difficulties of modern men and boys, it might have excited debate but probably not uproar.
But I went further. I connected the intolerance that was allowed towards men and the neglect of their disadvantages to the universal dominance of feminism. We could not see that men truly did share some serious social disadvantages, I argued, because feminism had appropriated all gender inequalities to women. If we lived in the society generally described by feminists - a patriarchal society organised by men for the benefit of men - it was impossible in logic for inequalities for men to exist at all. My article was received, therefore, as an assault on the foundations of feminism - and, indeed, that is exactly what I had intended it to be. It followed that, if everybody agreed feminism was correct, there must be something wrong with me. I must be mad. Or morally defective. Or several inches short in the penis. Or sexually inadequate. Perhaps my wife had left me. Or I couldn't get a girlfriend. It certainly was not possible that I might be right on some points or might have a good case in general. That possibility was unthinkable. Everybody at that time either agreed with the essential propositions of feminism or had the good sense to keep quiet. As my treatment was to show, any voice that was raised in dissent would be silenced.
George Orwell once wrote that "the Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent". Feminists, being the disciples of a creed, adherents of a faith, share the same attitude and assumptions. Because I had attacked their holiest of holies, because I was a barbarian who had broken into their temple and turned over the altar, I had let myself in for the contemporary equivalent of a tarring and feathering.
Even before my article was published, it had caused unprecedented trouble. A group of women who worked for The Sunday Times Magazine wrote a round-robin to the magazine's then editor, Philip Clarke, asking him not publish my essay and warning that it would leave "an indelible stain" on the magazine's reputation. Some of those women had not, in fact, read my article but that did not hold them back in their condemnation and censoriousness - a pattern to be repeated constantly in the years ahead. Clarke stoutly told them to mind their own business.