Sex war: Now it's personal

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The Independent Online
All week, two of The Independent's columnists have been warring across the gender divide. In the wake of reports that new men are miserable in a women's world and that old men are happy to justify their extra-marital indulgences, the insults flew on our comment pages. So we locked Suzanne Moore and David Aaronovitch together in a small room. And let them slug it out....

David Aaronovitch: The thing that really had the steam coming out of my ears was your throwaway remark that "the repertoire of male sexual behaviour is so limited, I could almost feel sorry for them". If I were to apply that generality to women, not only would I invite a shitload of trouble but it would be unacceptable and wilfully wrong.

Suzanne Moore: You know it is so funny that this is the one thing that got to you.

DA: But it is this denigration of everything that is male. There has been a gender revolution over the last 20 years and with it an enormous increase in the success of women in the workplace; of girls in school, increases in the number of girls with degrees. All without a concomitant increase in success for boys. And it doesn't help that your generalisations denigrate every aspect of masculinity and male sexuality.

SM: You know if I was as sensitive as you I would be dead by now. If you don't like generalisations about your gender how do you think I feel? I live in the world where I'm surrounded by generalisations about women all the time. And there is no evidence that it is not predictable to be in a position of power and want to be spanked.

DA: Yes there is. The vast majority of men just don't get spanked.

SM: I don't know that.

DA: But you talk as if you do.

SM: I just don't talk as if equality has already happened. The behaviour of men still has to change and they have to be forced to change. Why else would they give up their positions of power?

DA: Now you're talking as we're where we were 20 years ago. I despair of finding any model of male behaviour that is acceptable to you.

SM: I don't have a problem with maleness. If I make a flip remark about men, its effect is not to denounce the whole of male behaviour.

DA: Yes it does, you see.

SM: No it doesn't. You cannot be such a little flower.

DA: It's not a question of floweriness, or whatever, although maybe flowers are one thing we could be that would make us less predictable. Look at popular culture as represented on television: you say, "I can't get enough Oprah"; I say "Oprah is driving out proper discussion" - I don't mind having both, but at the moment everything is going in the Oprah direction. Everything is going in the confessional direction. Everything associated with old male notions of serious debate is tedious or boring and is not immediate enough.

SM: But you're talking about television. In the real world men are still in charge of big companies, still in charge of newspapers, still in charge of institutions. Where is this feminist, Oprah debate? Certainly not in parliament.

DA: Yes it is, it's Clinton's "I feel your pain". It's the approach for the women voters: "feel the pain, forget the policies". There is an inordinate amount of that around, the men in power wondering how they can appeal to women.

SM: And what's wrong with that?

DA: It is good, but they are driving out some of the discussions and debates that you need to retain, despite their seriousness or pomposity. And girls can talk that language because they are more socialised than boys - there is even some discussion about whether there is some sort of gen- etic reason for them being socialised better ...

SM: A genetic reason for men being crap you mean.

DA: Yeah, for them being less socialised. You put it in terms of them being crap, but to say that: "what they are is crap" is a bit of a problem for the boys.

SM: But the socialisation of men is not producing the kinds of men we will need for the 21st century.

DA: Ah, but the research tends to show us that one of the cardinal factors which helps boys socialise is the presence of a mother in the home. Now what are you going to say about that? To achieve, these boys need their mum!

SM: No! because there is plenty of other research that says you have this generation of useless boys because they don't have a father figure around. And clearly, mothers aren't going to stay at home, so instead of saying that's the way to do it, you have to say what else can we do?

DA: Exactly. You have to say - for instance, we have to have a positive notion of male sexuality

SM: (spluttering) What do you think we have - it is stuffed down our throat all the time, in magazines, on television - to be a man is to have as many women as possible.

DA: On soap operas I see an almost purely negative version of male sexuality, on documentary soaps I see an almost purely negative ... They're all bastards or wimps, one or the other. We have no positive way of talking about men at the moment - the most positive role model for men now is the male stripper.

SM: Why are you asking me to be positive about men - that's not my job, I've got better things to do than be positive about male sexuality ... Get some men to do it.