For females in the US and UK, 2018 held much promise. The sordid revelations about Harvey Weinstein last year, the #metoo campaign, the palpable anger over gender discrimination shook up both nations. Women told appalling stories about harassment, gropes, fear, rape, and degradation; sexist, predatory men were denounced. Power could not protect them.

The Golden Globe awards and Oprah Winfrey's epic speech caught the zeitgeist: "For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up. Their time is up..." Is it really?

Men are hitting back, claiming to be victims of raging "ugly bitch gangs" as one of my readers put it in an email. The pop singer Seal and other chaps have been sounding off about their pain and "hypocrites" like Winfrey who played along with male powerbrokers when it suited them. Such defensive action and posturing is entirely predictable.

However, feminists aren't as alert to the calculated damage inflicted by females who disdain collective action for rights and dignity. It happens over and over and we are never prepared for it.

This time the enemies within turn out to be a group of influential, talented and successful French women led by the film star Catherine Deneuve, now middle aged. They wrote an open letter in Le Monde accusing American and British women of "puritanism".

For them, the chase, flirtation, being touched up on the Metro, stealing a kiss, having arses and boobs grabbed is natural, just men being men. These are "non-events". The conflation between such "harmless", instinctive behaviours and rape is unjust.

Such attitudes are widespread. That explains why the erstwhile head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn got away with his libidinous ways for so very long and why President Francois Holland carried on blissfully with a string of ladies. France thinks of itself as a nation of sophistication and easy sexuality.

Thankfully, younger French feminists no longer buy into that myth. They see Deneuve et al as "recidivists" who despise victims of unwanted male attention or aggression.

The most acerbic response has come from the Italian actor Asia Argento, one of the first accusers of Weinstein, who said: "Deneuve and other French women tell the world how their interiorised misogyny has lobotomised them to the point of no return".

But there is also a cultural context that encourages a specially seductive kind of submissiveness to men. France's Simone de Beauvoir, author of the feminist tome The Second Sex changed many lives, mine included. But think of how subservient even she was to Jean Paul Sartre, her long time, faithless lover who wanted to have it all.

Remember France gave the world Le Liaison Dangerouse, the sadomasochistic Story of O which has the heroine cruelly trained to let men mercilessly use her body, and Marquis de Sade books on abject violent female subjugation. The messages embedded in these bestselling books still affect the way women see themselves and how they are seen by men.

I was on holiday in France when my baby girl was three months old. I went to a doctor because I was having bad asthma attacks. He was perfectly efficient and polite, and told me I had to get in shape; that my tummy and body would "not be attractive to" my husband. In an instant he destroyed my self-image and made me feel I was failing the father of my child.

My French girlfriend could not understand my distress. French females are brought up to keep thin and look perfect, stay desirable and sexy. Perhaps it's time for them to ask themselves if this reinforces inequality between the sexes. Of course we all like to look good and have great sex. But too many French and also Italian, Spanish and Portuguese women are captives of male desires.

In Britain, feminism has had a stronger presence but we too have shrill, anti-feminist quislings. The academic, Dr Catherine Hakim, for example, in her infamous book, Honey Money, advises young women to use their faces and bodies to get jobs, opportunities promotion and more money.

This "erotic capital", she thinks, should be liberally used. That's not all. Hakim also says that too many wives are denying sex to their husbands and thus creating angry, violent men.

When the Tory Toby Young recently got caught up in a storm over his tweets on women's breasts and other loathsome stuff, broadcaster Libby Purves, columnist Sarah Vine and other women came out in his defence.

So 2018 may turn out to be disappointing after all. The fightback by regressive, reactionary males and females is sapping my optimism. Oprah and female celebs may be deluding themselves. Real, life-changing feminism has not arrived. For our daughters and sons too, the struggle goes on.