The modern man, we are told, is a victim: redundant, anxious and oppressed (especially by the modern woman). But if there's a male crisis going on, Ruth Picardie reports, most men can't see it
Men and victimhood now go together like bras and pyres did in the Sixties. Whether it's the catastrophic decline in sperm quality; fathers driven to suicide by the Child Support Agency; anorexic boys; or scary, Wonderbra-wearing bosses such as Demi Moore, masculinity appears to be in crisis. Women, meanwhile, seem to be surfing on a post-feminist wave: hogging all the A-levels and rampaging in gangs at school, grabbing the jobs and busting through the executive glass ceiling at work.

At the same time, the most successful men's magazine in the country is loaded (circulation 175,000), a relentlessly upbeat celebration of birds, footie and booze. The nearest it comes to expressing anxiety is "Dr Mick's" health page (Q: "Hang on, if shite food doesn't cause constipation then what the f--- does?" A: "It's a design problem, mate ..."). In the words of James Brown, the editor and a self-declared sexist: "I don't think you can sit around moaning about being a man. How many men get beaten up by their wives?" Meanwhile, Warren Farrell's The Myth of Male Power (Fourth Estate) - intended to be a men's movement bible - sold a disappointing 5,000 copies when published here in 1994, amid a media circus. Even Neil Lyndon, author of No More Sex War: The Failure of Feminism (9,000 paperbacks sold) tells me over the phone: "I have a very happy life, thank you."

So what's going on? Is the new male victim an invention of a handful of activists keen to promote their own careers? A media hijack by irrelevant special interest groups such as Families Need Fathers? Are men in denial about their steadily eroding status? Or is the truth more complex still?

Last Thursday, at a grim unemployment benefit office in inner London - graffiti in the stairwell, litter blowing in the street - I met Mark (not his real name) who had been waiting to sign on for three-and-a-half hours.

Mark, 19, with a scrubby beard, was over from the south of Ireland looking for work. Living on the street, he couldn't get a cash-in-hand job because he had no money to get to work, or to eat. "What's the point?" said Mark.

Our conversation carried on in the same nihilistic vein: Mark left school at 16 because he "couldn't be bothered". He smoked 40 to 50 cigarettes a day but didn't worry about his health. "Why should I? I could come out of the gym and get knocked down by a bus." He'd left his girlfriend of two years - a college graduate, like four of his sisters, now working as assistant manager of a superstore back home: "She wanted to come over. I told her to f--- off. It just didn't work out."

Has he been attacked on the street? "Who hasn't? A few years ago I was coming out of the pub and two policemen gave me a hiding for no f---ing reason." One friend was beaten to death after falling in with a bad crowd; another died from a heroin overdose, another trying to get high on gas. "The lads I used to hang out with," said Mark, "are either locked up, dead or on the run from the law."

In 10 years' time, Mark thought he'd "probably be dead. Someone could find me dead tomorrow morning." Did he talk about these feelings with friends? "Soccer. I talk about soccer." Finally, I asked, was he depressed? "I'm not depressed," said Mark. "There's a big difference between being depressed and not talking to anyone."

An hour later, I had lunch at a traditional City pub - dark oak floors, superior sandwiches -and sat next to John, a 41-year-old banker from suburban south London. He was on his own, drinking a pint and studying sports results in the Evening Standard. What did he make of the new male victimhood? I asked. "I put it all down to hype," said John. "We've still got it pretty good."

John, it transpired, was separated from his wife of three years, and saw their two-year-old daughter once a week. "I'd like to see more of her," said John, "but I've got other commitments." These turned out to be a dependent parent, a chronically sick girlfriend and debts of pounds 10,000, accumulated by his ex-wife. In order to pay maintenance, rent on his flat, fees for his mother's old age home, interest on the debt, and another pounds 200 a week on a commitment he wasn't prepared to discuss, John worked 8am to 5pm at the bank where he has been employed for the past 20 years, and moonlighted three or four nights a week as a minicab driver, usually from 7pm until 2am, occasionally all night.

Did he think a 75-hour week was excessive? "I cope with it," said John, who had dark rings under his eyes. "My boss works from 7am to 7pm, never takes lunch and goes in every weekend. Frankly, I've given up on competitiveness at the office. There's been a lot of downsizing and uncertainty. They'd do me a favour to make me redundant. Then I could pay off my debts. I quite like the taxi work. You're meeting people, not talking to a computer all day. It's more like a little family than going to the office and doing seven hours."

How did he see the future? "I really don't know," said John. "I'm a bit confused at the moment." Finally, I asked John, was he troubled by life? "Only problems that I've brought on myself."

Mark and John provide complicated answers to the question of whether men are the new victims. Certainly, their experience validates many of the statistics wielded by the men's movement, soon to be rehearsed in What Next For Men? a collection of essays published by the London-based consultancy Working With Men.

In 1979 there were 13.1m men and 9.4m women in employment; by April 1993 this had changed to 10.7m men and 10.1m women. An estimated 90 per cent of the jobs created during this period have been seen as "women's work" (part-time and/or low-paid); a similar percentage lost were "men's jobs" (manual or skilled work with wages sufficient to support a family). There are about 127,000 males aged 18-24 who have been unemployed for a year or more, compared with 38,000 women. Of those in work, British men work longer hours than any other group in Europe - 43.9 hours a week, compared with women's 30.3 hours.

It's not just changes in the economy which look grim for men. By 1992, male suicide rates outnumbered female rates - which have been steadily declining since the mid-Seventies - in a ratio of four to one. The number of male drug addicts notified to the Home Office multiplied threefold between 1983 and 1993; 77.7 per cent of all drug addicts are male. In 1990, the victims of violent crime were 67 per cent male. In 1993, 45.8 per cent of girls achieved five A-C grade GCSEs, compared with 36.8 per cent of boys; 16 per cent of girls gained three or more A-levels compared to 14 per cent of boys. Women make up 53 per cent of the university population.

Does this make men society's new victims? Not as a cohesive group, as Neil Lyndon's declaration of personal happiness indicates. According to Nick Winkfield, managing director of Mori/Socioconsult, the group with the greatest problems, in terms of motivation and achievement in the post-industrial economy, are young men of all social classes, aged 18 -35.

"Boys have a problem," said Winkfield. "The future looks hellish, given they were brought up to think of themselves as breadwinners." However, even this group is not comprehensively in crisis. "When we talk about depression, we're talking about an unacceptably high minority of 20 to 25 per cent. This is not the average man."

The idea that young men are more likely to be in crisis is endorsed by the Samaritans, whose report Behind The Mask: Men, Feelings and Suicide (1994) revealed that suicide rates among 15 to 24-year-olds had risen by an appalling 71 per cent in the previous 10 years. Other groups are also at risk: single, divorced and married men; men at either end of the social spectrum; alcoholics and drug addicts (who are all overwhelmingly male). But even the men in crisis do not see themselves as victims - not even Mark and John, who appear to this female journalist to be suffering appallingly from changes in the economy and the breakdown of the traditional family. Even in the Nineties, everyone agrees, British men don't relate to themselves or the outside world in a touchy-feely way.

"One of the guys here gets spanked by the CSA every month," says James Brown. "He hates it. But he doesn't whinge about being oppressed."

"Somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of men over the age of 40 are more or less impotent," adds Nick Winkfield. "There are huge problems. But the real problem is getting men to talk about it. Look at Charles and Di - it's always the woman that wants to talk."

"British men are now used to buying glossy magazines," says Joanna Prior, publicity and marketing director at Fourth Estate, who published The Myth of Male Power. "They care about fashion and perfume. But they're still not very good at exploring their own psyches. Men simply don't buy these kinds of books."

"Most men feel anxiety of some description," confirms 19 agony uncle Matthew Whyman, who gets up to 30 letters a month from boys "but very few are able to put it into words. Men from all walks of life will deny fear of losing a job, because they can't talk about it."

Clearly, a significant minority of men are in crisis, yet few of them see themselves as oppressed. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing. Because help-me-I'm-a-victimism isn't going to help any man adjust to the changing roles required by the post-industrial economy and the post-feminist family. In the words of Rosie Boycott, pioneering feminist and now editor of Esquire magazine (circulation 106,000): "What irritates me about people like Neil Lyndon is he pretends to be empowering men. There's good stuff out there, too. Blokes are having a good time, working out new ways of being men."

Perhaps Mark and John will work it out, too.

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