Television Review

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The Independent Culture
Gosh, we men have a hard time of it - when we're not being demonised by the feminist lobby, unemployment is eroding our self-esteem. I tell you, women have it cushy.

Well, possibly. That's certainly a popular message these days. In The Word on the Street (BBC1), this week's series of pre-Easter talks, the Right Rev James Jones, bishop of Liverpool, was wandering around the north-east looking like Anglicanism's answer to Ray Mears and asking unemployed young men if they thought there was somebody out there looking after us. A sample answer: "There's got to be somebody out there because, like, they say there's aliens and that, like the Roswell and that, so there's got to be somebody looking after us, or everything we do, we'd put a foot wrong." I suspect this tells us less about spirituality or young men's role in the post-industrial world than about just how embarrassed young men can be by a close-up confrontation with a bishop in a fleece jacket.

This was an odd prog- ramme, combining some fairly predictable state-of-the-nation comments with some rather tangential remarks about the need for spiritual renewal and a bit of Mark Knopflerish guitar-work in the background. Mostly what it told us was what we already knew: that working-class men, in particular, are finding it harder to find work, and few of them think the increased leisure time makes up for it.

More sympathy for men came in Counterblast (BBC2), in which Erin Pizzey, who founded Britain's first refuge for battered women, railed against what she sees as the prevailing orthodoxy of man-hating. In her opinion, false claims about the prevalence of domestic violence, and about the extent to which women are victims of men, has led to men being dismissed as "disposable" components of family life. While the nuclear family itself has been held up as a source of repression for women and children. This is not simply a theoretical problem: social services, riddled with this orthodoxy, will tend to react to problems within a family by removing the man and breaking up the family.

It's certainly true that masculinity is somewhat out of fashion: I have met a number of prospective parents worried by the very idea of having a boy. It's also the case, as Pizzey suggested, that relationships are more complicated than is implied by a simple man-hits-woman model. But I think she over-simplified herself; this "demonisation" she perceives is part of a much more complex pattern, as the balance of power between the sexes is adjusted.

Coming Clean (BBC2) offered a neat encapsulation of this, as couples discussed who does the lion's share of the housework: Lynn got cross with Craig for not pulling his weight, and Conrad insisted to Karen that he wasn't going to unblock the drain. You didn't get any sense here that the men were the aggressive, dominant partners in the relationships - quite the contrary. But at the end, as he cleaned the windows, Conrad confided to the camera that he knew he didn't really do his share; he just liked winding Karen up: "I'm a bloke. That's what blokes do best, wind women up."

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