One small step for women this weekend – and one giant leap for mankind. While the French government introduced a policy to address all women by their maiden names in official correspondence, causing consternation among the old guard, Britain has been busy getting to the very root of "what it means to be a man today". This latter has been happening at a festival in the Southbank Centre, south-east London which concludes today with events on alcoholism, politics, and sexual and racial taboos, among others. Called "Being A Man", it is the brainchild of Southbank artistic director Jude Kelly – a woman, but don't let that put you off. Lunch will be provided and a vegetarian option is promised, but if that threatens anyone's masculinity, table football will also be laid on.
We shouldn't scoff, of course. In fact, the event sounds like a great idea. Not least because it will get up the noses of the type of men who criticise all female-focused events because "those nasty feminists wouldn't like it if we had a men-only festival would they, eh, eh?" Turns out we don't mind a bit, so fill your boots fellas.
The website warns that "some parts of the discussion will be for men only", which makes me feel a bit envious, because most of last week's conversations leading up to the festival were thought-provoking and intriguing. All the men involved stress that the event is about figuring out how to be a happy and decent bloke in a changing world, and not a secret society plotting to keep women in their place. "Celebrating being a man is a bit like having a Union Jack on your gate," said one man in an early discussion. The feminist translation of this realisation tends to be along the lines of "check your privilege", which is not so catchy.
Nor is this event just for straight, white, middle-class men trying to think up reasons why they are the oppressed minority. Yesterday's itinerary featured separate events on "being a gay man"; "being a black man"; "sex"; "the professionals" and "being a dad". Finding it hard to choose your pigeonhole? Welcome to our world, guys!
I'd love it if a female spy at this weekend's festival blew the whistle on those all-male discussions and revealed that actually men's fears and ambitions are much the same as women's, after all. I certainly see nothing that challenges my feminist principles in talks about cooking, parenting, or "what gay men have been teaching straight men about relationships, masculinity and love".
Maybe after a weekend of thinking about masculinity in a non-judgemental environment, those male participants might look again at the measures proposed in France, which have been greeted by knee-jerk critics as "a totalitarian intrusion into family life". The measures include equalising rights to parental leave, tackling domestic violence and discussing gender issues in schools. Supporting a radical feminist agenda, or just Being a Man? Perhaps the graduates of the Southbank's first Man Fest will be able to tell us.