Harriet Walker: The grey area in gender perceptions

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Yet another example this week of the fatally divergent galaxies inhabited by men and women. While the latest trend reports have women hotfooting it to the local salon to get their hair dyed grey, a survey reveals that 51 per cent of men find encroaching silver strands one of the scariest prospects in the canon of depressing inevitabilities.

Inspired by the likes of models Kristen McMenamy and Kate Moss, fashion-forward females are going grey gracefully and at a time of their own choosing, while the blokes frantically check for rogue wisps in the bathroom mirror, their bottom lips trembling.

Men and women will never agree on what looks good. Grey hair may have the seal of approval from the cool crowd but you can bet your first wrinkle that the standard male reaction will be one of complete befuddlement. "But you're only 25", or some such banality.

And while the trend has been touted as a good thing for the public profile of older women, the only ones getting the coverage have been under 50. It's like the current vogue for old-lady shoes; the powers that be never show you them on a real-life old lady. These poster girls are a serving suggestion only.

Grey hair is what those in fashion like to term "challenging", a word that rarely goes alongside "pretty" and never cosies up to "sexy" unless there's a "not" involved too. It's part of the drop-crotch trouser school of dressing, another thing that men find unflattering and incomprehensible.

Like black lipstick and jumpsuits, grey hair marks you out as someone a bit outré – someone to fear or envy, but not to cuddle up to on the sofa. Unless you've gone naturally grey, of course, but in that case you'll have droves of children or cats to do the cuddling, rather than a chap.

But it's men who have got it really wrong. After all, which woman doesn't prefer silver fox Alan Rickman to the inky pompadours of Sylvester Stallone or Mel Gibson? There's only really one grey matter at stake here: older men who don't have grey hair are sinister. And how come none of the ones in the survey are worrying about nose hair? That's much worse.







Bad for life expectancy but a lot more fun



The latest series of Mad Men began last week to a predictable clamour. According to the pundits, we're attracted to the seedy shenanigans of the Lucky Strike-wielding protagonists because our own lives have become too wholesome.

Don Draper doesn't eat five a day, he smokes 50. And he doesn't need a personal trainer, because he's constantly on the run from responsibility and his own past. Does he lie awake at night because he didn't buy organic carrots? The now-infamous leg-versus-lawnmower moment in the third series would never happen at a modern office party; the closest you'd come is a drunken bike ride after a night in the pub.

We think we're having fun, but our version is watered-down whisky to Don Draper's straight Scotch. We think we're having the most fun ever, because we can play each other tunes on our iPhones and look up abstruse comedy sketches on YouTube. But it's all just a spectre of old-fashioned bawdiness. Where did fun go? The way of homburgs and dirndls, no doubt, and look how bland life is without those.

I don't call for the re-institution of wholesale misogyny and racism. It's good that people smoke less. But do they have to worry more? Perhaps it's time to let fall the neurotic parameters of our modern obsession with self-improvement and making sure everyone likes us. Fire up the metaphorical lawnmower and ride it across the office floor; just don't get so drunk that you sleep with your best friend's wife, sit on your homburg and forget to buy organic carrots.







Nothing more reassuring than a royal ancestor



When Louis XV's mistress, Jeanne du Barry, was presented at Versailles in 1769, Marechal Richelieu had to bribe an impoverished dowager to act as her sponsor. Only after the ceremony could the commoner du Barry socialise with the court's upper echelons. Thankfully no such pecuniary pettiness is needed for Kate Middleton – who, it was discovered this week, is distantly related to Prince William via a lesser-known Tudor tyrant. So she is posh. Phew.

The Queen must be relieved. She's under no illusions about her subjects – the only thing we hate more than a posho is someone claiming they're posh when really they're not. Posh people hate them too. So it's good news to hear that Middleton has more in common with Wills than a love of staid clothing and interminable military parades.

Sir Thomas Leighton is the man, bloodthirsty Governor of Guernsey between 1560 and 1610, the Prince's 12th generation great-grandfather and Kate's 11th. Us plebs can feel some relief that the poshos really are all in it together and always have been, while the elder royals can relax with the knowledge that, while the country might be going to the dogs, at least it's not Sweden, where the Crown Princess recently got hitched to her personal trainer.

Middleton has some way to go though – Princess Di was related to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Is there any bribe big enough to get her to step into those ill-fated shoes?

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