Leading article: Male dignity is such a fay idea

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The Independent Culture
FAY WELDON thinks that triumphalist feminists are "depriving men of their dignity" by, for instance, putting an advert on television in which a woman implicitly insults her husband by likening him to a car. And this, she says, is a bad thing.

Politeness, however, is regarded as a good thing - especially in this country. Comparing one's husband unfavourably to a car is certainly not polite and is also uncomfortably close to the Fiat advert from the 1970s which said: "If this car was a woman you'd want to pinch her bottom." (Graffiti riposte: "If this woman was a car she's run you over.")

But all is supposedly fair in love and war. Since feminism is about both, it is hard to see why politeness is strictly relevant. And as for "dignity" - what is Ms Weldon's point?

The advert is a piece of role reversal, which means the man in question is only experiencing something that has been experienced by countless women already. Poor bunny.

Sure, two wrongs do not make a right. But to imagine that men cannot cope with something which women have coped with for years is to give them less credit than they deserve. (Learning by example is very effective.)

Who needs "dignity" when the corollary is being patronised? What should women do: put men on a pedestal? Treat them with kid gloves? Refrain from expressing themselves fully when men are around? Sound familiar?

Conversely, the better you know someone, the harder it is to maintain your dignity in their presence. This is because dignity implies distance. The desire to get wrapped up in someone else's mystery is one of the ways we know we are in love. But in order for a relationship to last, patterns have to be created that suit both people and allow them happily to exist in each other's penumbra.

Ms Weldon probably likes the patterns in her own relationships and feels she has achieved the right distances between herself and her friends. But relationships are changing because the world is. It is conceivable that she is not in the target audience of the car advert in question.

The English tendency to maintain one's distance and avoid confrontation is also detectable in her latest statements: after all, those who speak their minds always run the risk of being hurtful and - gosh! - that's not cricket.

But the issue is dignity and there is more dignity to be had in treating people honestly than pussy-footing around trying not to offend.