Return to gender: Men don't talk about anything, let alone other men

OLIVER BENNETT speaks out

t is tempting to stick up for poor, beleaguered blokes, as we so often seem to be under attack. But that would be irritating in itself, because men feel all hard-done-by and persecuted at the tiniest slight. And, as a man, I find that pathetic.

For it must be said that in many ways, men are a complete drag. We offer a massive portfolio of irritations, many of which come down to a foolish, false pride. Take the Yob - that Untermensch in which the UK sadly excels. Who do yobs think they are, swaggering around acting like they're it? It is bizarre and baffling behaviour.

Men are also aggressive. They love teams, groups, mobs. There is something scarily unattractive about this. At football matches as a peer-pressured teenager, I would find the brute crowd ugly and scary, whereas some seemed to derive primeval excitement from it.

Men belch, fart and even piss in a bellicose manner, like tom-cats spraying their territory. Yet when men are at public urinals, they do not, cannot, do the one thing they really, really want to do, which is to look at their neighbours' penises ("Oh my God, it's longer than mine!") Women constantly decry their bums (always too big) and their breasts (often too small), but the male relationship with his dick is, I would guess, far more terrifying. Oh, and men wipe bogeys on toilet walls and spit on the street. They are disgusting in ways that women can only begin to imagine.

"You construct elaborate rituals to touch the bodies of other men," wrote the artist Barbara Kruger. Look at rugby, with its heads trapped twixt hairy buttocks like eggbound hens, or football, with its linked-arm singalong bonhomie. Other than these displays, most men disallow bodily affection with each other. Even when they do, it often appears phoney: Matt Damon- style mini-hugs, or back slaps that betray an underlying brutality.

Men are emotionally austere, frugal with feelings. They dare not risk being caught without their armour; be it brute strength, professional superiority or rote knowledge. Know-alls are nearly always men. And men like to finish other people's sentences for them. They are world-beaters at interrupting. And they also walk off in the middle of conversations.

Men displace their emotional lives into football and record collections, sorted alpha-numerically or by genre. Men are great categorisers. Train- spotters are men (this is a generalisation: please do not write in if you are a female train-spotter). Men have a deeply irritating need to order the world.

Yet men are fragile. It is always men who, when made redundant, leave the house at 8.30am with an empty briefcase like the guy in The Full Monty. They may not admit to depression - "Don't worry about me. I'm fine, mate" - but they crack in devastating ways. And when men do go under, they often take someone down with them. A sad women cuts her arm; a sad man cuts someone else's arm.

Men have a big gap between reality and fantasy. Most psychopaths are men. They cannot see why it is wrong, say, to cut people up and store the parts in their fridges. Most sexual fetishists are men as they tend to objectify their lust

Many women have been baffled when their bloke gets more excited by a dog-eared copy of Big `N' Bouncy than the girl lying beside them.

And yet men are often deluded about their own attractiveness. I know several whose looks are un-prepossessing but who remain incredibly critical of women's bodies: "Too fat for me, mate. You can have her. Arf arf!" When asked about how many sexual partners they have had, men lie upwards ("Oooh, 500-ish"), and women lie downwards ("Oooh, five-ish").

It is said of men that they have sex just so that they can talk about it. That's why they seem distant during sex; in their mind's pub, they are already bragging. Men do not nurture relationships. If women "write more letters than they post", to para-phrase the title of the book, then men barely commit pen to paper, apart from the odd beach- babe postcard saying "Not many of these to the kilo! Cheers, Dave."

Women have to solicit reassuring compliments from men: "Do you love me?" "Yeah, course I do, otherwise I wouldn't be here would I, you silly old nag?" In the sex war, wrote Cyril Connolly, "thoughtlessness is the weapon of the male, vindictiveness of the female."

But then, men betray their deep neediness by getting weird about the men she works with, those she's "had" before him, or those she might "have" in the future. Men want to be the only one she'll ever sleep with.

Some men don't like children. When I had a child, some male friends' attitudes were "Don't ask me to give a stuff". (This might be a Brit thing; I've noticed that in places like Greece and Turkey guys love kids). Men are anxious around women, too. They'd rather be in a tight male team, trading competitive anecdotes and trying to be witty. If by some tragic accident they are joined by women, then they start to make deprecating quips about each other, in their vainglorious, incessant attempts to be Alpha Rhinos in the safari park of life.

But at least men get the drinks in, which is more than can be said for women.

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