Recently I've been hearing a lot of women say, "I'm not a feminist. I'm an egalitarian."

I used to say that, too.

I wasn't always a feminist. I would have been - it's just that I couldn't stand women.

I was one of those girls whose close friends are all male.

"Women are too capricious," I'd say (only if asked, and only if asked by a woman with short nails - I had a sense of self-preservation, after all). "They're too competitive, too shrill."

In my defence, that had been my experience to date.

Although I was a tomboy and most of my interests fell in the traditionally male arena (music, technology, geeky obsessions), I yearned for a female best friend - you know, someone to drink sparkly wine with while watching Sex and the City and applying face mask (apparently I gleaned all my knowledge of female friendships from Maltesers adverts).

But I went to Hogwarts Academy for Vindictive Cows (our school motto was "sulum mulier pro ipsa" which loosely translates as "every catty, spoilt piece of jailbait for herself"), where you could barely stand in the lunch queue without getting stabbed in the back by some snobby, crimp-haired NKOTB fanatic.

And as I entered adulthood, almost every female friendship I attempted eventually imploded when the other party morphed into a bitchy, patronising self-styled alpha female who shat all over me while I stood around like a dork in utility trousers, wondering what the hell was going on.

I have more ex-best friends than ex-boyfriends.

Half the blame lies with me, of course, for being too easygoing and avoiding confrontation even when I could see the friendship warping before my very eyes.

But it was so exhausting! I mean, this is the level of logic I was having to deal with:

Me: "What's the matter? Why are you upset?"

Female friend: "You didn't want me at your party on Saturday, did you?"

Me: "What do you mean? I invited you! You said you were busy."

Female friend: "Yes, but you only invited me once."

So I'd give up on women and retire to the pub with my band of loyal men.

"Was it me?" I'd obsess. "Why was she like that? Did I do something wrong?"

"Fuck her," my male friends would say. "She was weird and she had crap tits. Drink your beer."

Which was so nice.

It would only get tricky if one of my male friends developed a girlfriend, because she'd eye me with watchful mistrust and I'd have to take her to the loos to dispel her fears ("he's like a brother to me!"), and eventually when she dumped him he'd drink too much and get misty-eyed and ask me to marry him (but in fairness this only tended to happen once every three years), and I'd have to, er, take him to the loos and talk sense into him ("you're like a brother to me!")

And well... yes, perhaps these male friendships were as problematic as the female ones, but at least they were predictable.

But what was I to do? I liked the idea of feminism, of sisterhood, but to me it a was nothing but a beautiful fiction, like Narnia, or the yeti, or the white Toblerone (my local Spar was notoriously ill-stocked).

Then I got a bit older. A bit wiser. Met some people. Met some female people.

Female people who didn't try to emotionally blackmail me, or put me down in front of others, or steal my stuff, or my ideas, or the bits of my personality that they liked, or my friends.

And the more of these women I met, the more I realised that the women in my past shared two common traits.

1. They were INFUCKINGSANE. Clearly. Totally mad. And madness is not, of course, a condition that's limited to the female population - I have met enough male nutters and flakes to confirm this.

2. I think if you are a reasonably attractive, reasonably intelligent, friendly and open-minded woman of a slightly too easygoing and clueless disposition you tend to attract psycho bitches from hell with alpha female complexes.

I know this because these days they still flock to me in their hordes. The control freaks, the office bitches, the sly women who try to sidle under your skin then sweetly put you down.

But now I gently turn them away with a smile and go skipping off to my own little contingent of long-term friends - both male and female - each of them supportive, blisteringly funny, wise and entirely devoid of ulterior motives (well, entirely devoid of the really evil ones anyway).

These experiences, as well just being more socially, culturally and politically aware, have made me realise I am a feminist. And an egalitarian.

The two aren't mutually exclusive.

I mean, you're never going to see me stomping about with the man-hating fundamentalists, nor three WKDs-to-the-wind with a bunch of shrill women shrieking disparaging comments about our significant others' penis size/aversion to foreplay or ironing/generally being "typical bloody men".

But then that's not feminism, is it?

Not unless you want it to be.


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This is me with my bonafide close female friend Ellie. Wine had been taken. The other image is courtesy of superbomba's Flickr stream.