Not quite New Man but less of a chore than Sloth: The latest male lifestyle trend may not be great news for women but it's better than some of the alternatives, says Ruth Picardie

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The yuppie, the dinkie, the post-feminist, the slacker, the Newish Man . . . social tribes have long been a favourite with market research companies, ad agencies and journalists. Sociologists say they are an attempt to make sense of the post-industrial, post-modern world, in which the traditional alphabet of social class is obsolete. Cynics say they help pay the rent: lager manufacturers are suckers for niche marketing; lifestyle pages need to be filled.

Already this month we have had the Babe Feminist, defined in the Evening Standard as 'the new breed of women's libbers - self-assured, sexy, delighted to wear lipstick and silk lingerie'.

Now comes the Newish (not to be confused with Jewish) Man, a spin-off from the Men 2000 lifestyle report, published by Mintel at a smacking pounds 795.

'Mintel asked 1,576 men and women how they divided the everyday household chores of grocery shopping planning, cooking and laundry,' says the press release. 'By including the men who say they are wholly or mainly responsible for just one of these tasks, Mintel was able to find 'Newish Man'. Nearly one in five men (18 per cent) qualified for this title.'

The Newish Man is contrasted with the more numerous but less snazzily-titled Semi-Sharer, who sort-of helps (32 per cent), and Sloth, who does nothing at all (50 per cent). And the New Man? Since only a negligible proportion took total or equal responsibility for household tasks, he has officially been given the push.

At face value, the Newish Man is not a major sociological breakthrough. Where are the handy accessories that help to identify social tribes, the Essex Girl shell-suit and white stilettos, the crustie's bottle of cider and thin mongrel on a string? It's not yet clear whether the Newish Man has simply rejected the New Man's beard and sandals but kept the woolly jumper.

There are also several definitional problems with the Newish Man and his shared tasks. Ironing, I accept, is a bore. And when it comes to the kitchen, few men have got beyond spag bol and oven chips. But why include 'grocery shopping planning' as a defining domestic experience? I've never met anyone who felt that drawing up a shopping list was a major chore, at least compared to that crucible of angst, cleaning.

In my house, the cleaning arguments centre around bleach (must be the thick sort). I insist that the kitchen cloth should be bleached at regular (OK then, daily) intervals, to stop it going slimy; according to my partner, this is a sign of deep neurosis and the source of much pointless squabbling.

My experience about cleaning was borne out in a highly unscientific survey of friends and colleagues. 'She's terrible on cleanliness,' says Jeremy, 33. 'I urge her to do more. The place gets more and more of a tip until we have an argument and then it gets done.'

'I sent him to the launderette because it's a self-contained task,' says Linda, 27. 'I can't trust him to spend an hour and a half cleaning the house. It wouldn't occur to him that some things were dirty. And he has an ideological objection to employing a cleaner. We have endless arguments about it.'

'I would quite like to clear the car out occasionally,' says Kevin, 35. 'But she thinks there's something suspicious and suburban about it.'

The other problem with Newish Men is perception: he claims to take on a chore, but does his spouse verify this? 'Of course, the concept of 'equal' sharing is a subjective one,' continues the press release, 'and it is revealing that, while more than four in 10 married men in Mintel's sample feel their contribution to at least one of the three tasks is equal to that of their partner, only around a quarter of married women are of the same opinion.'

It may be, therefore, that the Newish Man is merely a boastful Sloth. This possibility was confirmed by my research. 'How many lies has he told you?' asks Andrea, 32, whose husband Jeremy had claimed his wife was 'terrible on cleanliness'.

Despite these quibbles, I believe the Newish Man does represent something significant in the development of domestic relations.

To begin with, the New Man has long been redundant as a model for the post-feminist man. It's not so much that women have abandoned the idea of sharing household chores, more that the tag has been damaged by association. Even my personal model (all the cooking, most of the laundry, half the shopping, never mind the bleach) denies being a New Man, with its connotations of Seventies styling, patchouli oil and poor muscle development.

At the same time, other attempts at updating the New Man have failed: the New Lad, invented by men's style magazine Arena, was a phenomenon limited to football- watching, lager-drinking, indie music fans; Iron John, Robert Bly's book about male bonding, was a strictly American phenomenon.

The Newish Man rings true in Nineties Britain: trying to be fair in a half-hearted way, in contrast to the excess of the Eighties and the evangelism of America.

He isn't, strictly speaking, great news for women: he leaves two out of three of the household chores to his mate - and this is bad news if his chosen task is shopping list monitor - and he represents a mere 18 per cent of the male population. But look on the bright side: his only competitor is the paranoid anti-feminist personified by Michael Crichton, Neil Lyndon and David Thomas. Better Newish Man than Male Victim.