Amy Jenkins: Now men know what being treated as a 'minority' feels like


Is it the end of men? An article in this month's Atlantic magazine thinks it might be.

Figures out in the US show that women have become the majority of the workforce over there for the first time. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next 10 years, all but two are occupied primarily by women. More women than men are gaining degrees and, in China, women own more than 40 per cent of private business.

No wonder, then, that cosmetics companies have got on to selling men moisturiser (they're going to need it) and advertisers are busy objectifying them in underwear commercials. What's the next logical step? You guessed it. Their very own minority radio show. Men's Hour With Tim Samuels will be brought to us on a Sunday evening by Radio 5 Live. The programme will be delving into "uncharted emotional territory for men". There will be a shrink on hand in case any of the celebrity guests break down while talking frankly about male identity issues. (They hope for Jamie Oliver and José Mourinho.) There will be jokey slots like Questions You Dare Not Ask Your Doctor and Thought For The Gay. There will also be a token woman who will be apologising for "feminist cant", such as Marilyn French saying that all men are rapists.

Judging from online comments – and I know you should never judge anything from online comments, but here I go – there's a danger that men will feel patronised by this kind of targeted programming. To that I say – welcome to being a "minority". Feminists have long cursed the way women's interests have been routinely regarded as minority ones (despite our numbers) and hived off into the ghetto of a women's page or a Woman's Hour on the radio.

But what these gender-ised pages and hours really represent is a chance to talk about sexual roles. On the one hand, you've got the experience of men and women as members of the human race – and on the other, the experience of men and women living out the tight gender roles that society ascribes to them.

If a Men's Hour spends time addressing the particular challenges of being a son, a husband and a father in 2010, then it'll make for good listening. Indeed, the BBC press release says the show will be less about "leering at ladies and more about maintaining monogamy". I'd love to hear a man talking honestly about pressure to be a "lad" and the difficulties of staying faithful in our sex-for-sale society – where soft porn is the standard on MTV, current women's fashion is to dress like a prostitute, and we're all meant to be having it all and having it large simultaneously.

And then there's "the end of men" to contend with. A World Cup-themed ad is doing the rounds at the moment for the alcopop WKD. It shows a slob of a man sitting in front of the footie and reluctantly asking his slaving wife if she needs help in the kitchen. She says "yes", so he shouts to his mum to go do it. His mum is then revealed to be about 90 and to be outside washing down his white van in a vigorous lather of suds.

The advert has attracted some attention as being demeaning to women but, in fact, the women come out of it very well. The man comes out appallingly. He may be cutely "wicked", but he is also lazy, uncaring, unprincipled, mean, a slave driver, a slob, badly dressed, overweight, useless... Yes, it's a sexist ad, but it's sexist about men, too.

Also note that the press release for the new Men's Hour describes their foray into men's emotions as "uncharted". Of course, this isn't strictly true, but the fact that they use the word "uncharted" at all speaks volumes. There's simply not enough out there about men's feelings. Men are not as circumscribed by gender rules and expectations as women, but they are circumscribed nonetheless.