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Hail the prophet of masculinism

With `The Whole Man', Dr Greer has returned to one of the most important issues of our time: men
IT IS now almost 30 years since Dr Gerry Greer, then a flamboyant and fast-living hero of the counterculture, redefined late 20th-century gender roles in his ground-breaking polemic New Balls Please: Towards a New Masculinity. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the book prompted millions of words, thousands of Men's Studies courses at universities, and hundreds of international conferences, where leading male thinkers could discuss the changing role of men in society with other leading male thinkers.

Now, with the long anticipated publication of his new book The Whole Man, Greer has returned to one of the most important issues of our time: men. Yes, Gerry Greer is back - and this time he's angry.

Of course, as many of our leading male writers have pointed out over the past week, we have all come a long way since the days of New Balls Please. Sometimes, over the past three decades, it has seemed that hardly a week could go by without the publication of yet another study raising new and ever more provocative topics.

What kind of male orgasm is now politically acceptable? Why is the all- important role that men play in modern society so often taken for granted - indeed, sometimes not even mentioned at all? What should we do about the media's obsession with unacceptable male role-models, from Jack Nicholson to Liam Gallagher, who reinforce sexist stereotypes of men as randy, unreliable, slobbish and rude? Is it acceptable for a concerned, post-New-Balls man to dress sexily, in figure-hugging jeans? Does conforming to the socially approved habit of, say, removing excess hair from one's nostrils represent an acceptance of an oppressive feminine aesthetic?

Dr Gerry Greer was in the forefront of these urgent male debates. When he revealed to a shocked world that, at the age of 19, he had been sexually harassed by an older woman, many of his fellow male writers were quick to confess that they too had been traumatised by ravening, exploitative women. For the first time, it became movingly clear that, in a very real sense, all men were essentially victims.

Now and then, a woman would try to enter the debate with contributions which all right-thinking men quickly recognised as misguided, opinionated or simply irrelevant.

Encouraged by the flukish success of the American best-seller Iron Joanna, an absurd and frankly rather sinister new-age volume which encouraged women to go to the woods together and get in touch with their inner bitches, British writers like Nellie Lyndon and Davida Thomas published books expressing a female perspective on the gender debate. They were widely ridiculed by all right-thinking men as hopeless inadequates whose views were utterly irrelevant to what was essentially an all-male debate.

Not that the views of Dr Gerry Greer always found favour with what the media had come to describe as "the brotherhood". On one occasion he fell out with a fellow writer who had falsely alleged that Greer's views on parenthood had been informed by a decision to have a vasectomy at the age of 25. A discussion ensued in which Gerry described his critic as a bald-pated git with fuck-me brogues and three pairs of socks stuffed down the front of his underpants.

If, at this point, certain people had become tired of the debate, they did not include publishers or features editors. Dr Greer was paid pounds 500,000 to update his views. The Daily Telegraph excitedly serialised it for a week. Less important news topics - the world economy, the future of Europe, the rise of biotechnology, the death of the countryside - were kicked out of the broadsheet newspapers to make way for page after page in which every prominent media male was asked to react to Dr Greer's exciting new views.

Naturally, there were a few nay-sayers and sexists who argued that, after 30 years, the New Balls debate had become little more than a media circle jerk of interest only to the writers participating in it. It was said that most of the questions being discussed by this small, self-obsessed group of pundits were utterly irrelevant to the lives of men in the outside world, earning a living or bringing up a family. The subject had become dull, it was argued. While the discussion of gender relations had once been important, there really were rather more urgent matters to discuss at the end of the millennium.

It was even suggested that, in the acres of newsprint devoted to the issue, the reactions of one or two women might occasionally have been of interest. Unfortunately, none could be found who gave a toss about Dr Gerry Greer and his new, improved views on the whole man.