Maybe it's time for men's lib
It's a dire time for the stronger sex. Men are in the firing line of
sexism, too, so please stop the ‘dorking down’
The other morning, I made a speech at an awards function for
the National Council for the Training of Journalists. In front of
me were 83 of the brightest young journalism students in Britain.
There were twice as many women as men.
Afterwards, half a dozen came up, asked for my card and pitched
their ideas. They were all girls too. The boys hovered, but were
too shy or too slow.
Later in the publisher’s office where I work, I bumped into our finance director. She said, as she says several times a year: “WHEN, in God’s name, are you going to get on and produce some children, Mark?” On the way home, at Euston station, I noticed a bumper sticker in a newsagent. It read: Men are like carpet tiles. If you lay them right the first time, you can walk all over them for years.
Then I got a message from Times2. After an article on sexism by Janice Turner in the summer, the paper asked readers to write in and “expose casual sexism” for a new Babe Watch column. Interestingly, a substantial and growing number were from men quoting examples of outrageous chauvinism against them. So what did I think? Let’s start with that speech. As far as the media business goes, it’s obvious that the game is up for young men. I’d also given a talk to young public relations executives a month before — there were two blokes in the entire audience. Men have been outqualified, outclassed and very comprehensively outnumbered by women. If nothing else, the glass ceiling will be shattered by sheer weight of numbers. We men are going to be a minority, and a small minority, in the newsrooms and boardrooms of the opinion-forming industries.
Then there was the finance director. Should I have complained to HR? Raising such a personal and, for all she knows highly sensitive, issue, in front of colleagues amounts, surely, to sexual harassment. (She used to compliment me on having a nice bum too. I don’t think she’s stopped for fear of HR. More’s the pity).
As for the newsagent at Euston — maybe I should have started a petition to stop shops selling this filthy sexist propaganda, at eye level, in front of impressionable children.
And then I could have worked myself up into a righteous wrath about male suicide rates, paternity leave, Abercrombie and Fitch billboards, domestic violence against men, Jo Brand, Fathers for Justice, prostate cancer awareness and the inexorable growth of a multibillion male cosmetics market, designed to make men feel old, inadequate and hopelessly insecure about their appearance.
But I’m not thinking these things. Faking it, like multitasking, must be another of those many things men aren’t very good at. Janice Turner writes with the bracing clarity of the true campaigner. I can’t fake the same kind of campaigning zeal for masculism — not least because I had to look it up.
To put it mildly, the male version of feminism
has not got much traction in popular culture. You will find one or two male writers who do have that zeal. But they don’t speak for men. Most don’t know what masculism is either, and really don’t care.
So what do I really think? I think if female journalism students are brighter and more motivated than boys, so be it. I’m not going to call for quotas. If my finance director wants to tease me — I’ll treat it as harmless banter, more or less.
As for the bumper sticker — as a baby boomer who had to undergo involuntary attitude surgery as feminism
took hold in the 1970s and 1980s, I still feel as if I’ve got about a thousand years of apologising to do. Silly bumper stickers and Jo Brand sketches are part of the community service we’re all serving.
Yet on the big issues — men’s health policy, parental access, legal equality — men do work themselves into a lather; and they are right to, because there are serious questions to be answered that just don’t get asked often enough.
I’m just as struck by what we might call instances of casual discrimination. One reader, Malcolm Lochhead, pointed out that it’s illegal for the Scouts to exclude girls, but not for the Guides to exclude boys. I’d be really interested to hear both organisations give their reasons for maintaining the anomaly; just as the main political parties should be asked why they aren’t challenging later retirement ages for men. What possible social, economic or biological justification can they find in 2009? Neil Collins , anothe reader, wrote in to ask why we have a Minister for Women and Equality. He is not alone. If Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State, genuinely believes in the “equality” side of her brief, perhaps she should immediately establish a Ministry for Men.
Then there is the casual sexism that shows up mainly in commercials. Men continue to have more spending power than women. But researchers in the ad agencies and marketing have known for years that it is women who have the biggest say in buying decisions, large and small.
Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts’ 2006 book Inside Her Pretty Little Head claimed that 80 per cent of purchasing decisions are made by women. They argued that marketing departments need to work much harder at understanding women’s motivations and decision-making systems.
They won the argument. This is a crude generalisation, but not one, I think, with which most ad agency planners will disagree. Creative briefs have radically changed to favour emotional intelligence and impact over rational, white-coated persuasion.
But there’s a sour side to the new kind of female-oriented marketing. In a new world where women make the decisions, men know their place: the stooge, the fallguy, the butt. I call it the dorking of men: look for a man in an ad and you find a dork.
But this hasn’t slipped past Times readers. These are some of the things they’ve spotted. Here’s an oven cleaner so easy to use that “even a man can do it”. Here’s a man being thrown out of a moving car because he’s so stupid he can’t buy the right ice cream; and another ejected from the house because the girl bought the right brand of period pain relief (“If only getting rid of all pains could be as fast . . .”) I’ve seen them too. Here’s a hopeless ex-boyfriend dragged along in the dirt by two smiling female joggers — can’t remember the brand, don’t especially want to. As our monitors remind us, just reverse the roles and imagine how far you’d get in an Advertising Standards Authority hearing.
I wonder what parents think is worse. Their girls are expected to aspire to be thin, gorgeous, sassy and rich. Their boys are expected to become scruffy losers whose pathetic existence is brightened up only by a pint of Carlsberg and their weekly fix of Nuts magazine.
As for Abercrombie & Fitch ads, David Beckham posters and Men’s Health covers — no, we don’t feel threatened. As long as Andrew Marr and Ray Mears get prime-time TV programmes and women say that they find them sexy, most of us feel that we will work with what we’ve got, with or without the six-packs and the perfect abs.
While writing this piece, I’ve been thinking a lot about a 1950s short story by Ray Bradbury. It’s called The Other Foot. Black Americans have built a colony on Mars. One day, a rocket carrying white evacuees from a devastated Earth lands. The Mars-dwellers immediately begin to put up “no whites” signs on the hairdressers and restaurants — to rebuild the paraphernalia of segregation. In the end, they relent. An eye for an eye, they realise, is no way to build civilisation.
Looking at our male Bloke Watch file, below, I do wonder if the boot is being worn on the other foot. Are women, for so long the victims of prejudice, chauvinism and discrimination, kicking us where it hurts? Not yet, because a kick in the balls is still slapstick, something guaranteed to make everyone titter when you see it in an ad or a sketch show.
Nevertheless, it’s inspiring to see that Times readers are on the case.
Bear in mind that these Bloke Watch posts are a small sample — but hopefully more than enough to get policymakers and marketing people thinking again. Bloke Watch
Charging men extra for car insurance. Is that not sexist? Men not being allowed to wear shorts to work when women often can. Is that not sexist? Some women being allowed to retire at 60 when we’ve always had to retire at 65. Is that not sexist? There’s a monument to the women who fought in the Second World War, who do deserve credit, but equally so do men, to whom there’s no specific monument. Is that not sexist? The fact no one cares about young men who can’t find suitable employment. Is that not sexist?I’m afraid sexism is a two-way street. Joe Sutch
Journalists (C4’s Jon Snow among them) continue to attribute MPs’ expenses greed to the culture of a “gentleman’s club” at Westminster. In fact women MPs are over-represented among expenses cheats. Snow’s guest Ann Widdecombe gave him short shrift when he tried that line on her (because only women can now stick up for men). Plenty more where this came from girls, stand by. Andrew Schofield
“That’s why mums go to Iceland.” Well, becoming a single dad in the mid-1990s I regarded that as sexist . . . and haven’t set foot in the place since. I also boycotted certain superstores when they introduced “mother & child” parking spaces — until they gained some enlightenment (with some persuasion) and renamed them “parent & child”. Mark Winspear
Maybe you haven’t tried to get into a club lately as a bloke and been knocked back. Maybe you haven’t had to actually PAY to get in (all those “ladies nights”). Maybe you haven’t had to PAY for your drinks instead of getting them for nothing. Andrew Schofield
I would like to point out two examples of adverts that show that sexism works both ways.
1) The notorious Diet Coke “11.30 appointment” ad from the mid-1990s, which depicts women enjoying the drink while gawping at a topless hunky window-cleaner 2) The Carte D’Or ice-cream advert in which a woman throws what appears to be her boyfriend from a moving limousine because he has not bought her the correct ice-cream.
Reverse the roles in these scenarios and you may see my point. They no longer seem like “a bit of fun” but are more likely to be interpreted as a group of pervy men gawping at a young lady and a man assaulting his partner! Tom Ledden
Perhaps we should all grow up and just enjoy the humour. Sign in local post office:“Do you want to speak to the man in charge or the woman who knows what’s going on?” Sign in local pub: “If the job was (sic) easy, a man would be doing it”. James Tolson
Have you seen an example of sexism that has left you fuming? E-mail it, and a picture if revelant, adding where you saw it and why it made you angry, to firstname.lastname@example.org