Men, don't you love to hate them?

'What kind of equality is this, then? Mysogynist is a label that all live in fear of, while misandrist is just a funny word'
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The Independent Online

Men, eh? What are we going to do with them? They beat their wives again and again and won't even stop when they get what's coming to them. They emotionally abuse their partners, then wonder why their relationships fail. They abuse and impregnate the female children in their families, then hop it out of the country without a backwards glance. And that's just the men on EastEnders.

The men on Footballers' Wives are just as bad. They go on binges, take part in orgies and pride themselves on their emotional detachment from their eponymous soulmates. And at those frequent times when the consoling of cheated, lied to, even burned and maimed wives, is needed?

They give them a big cuddle and a bunch of "never again" reassurances. Then the camera pans round, they raise their heads from the glossy-but-dishevelled hair of their needy, seedy trophies and stare off into an empty middle distance that proclaims their pants to be on fire.

These men are portrayed as so dysfunctional that even Germaine Greer cannot bear it. She suggests that the two female writers of the series are "...less interested in the dehumanisation of the players than they are in melodrama, but as the series matures, they could enter into the extreme form of phallic anxiety that afflicts men who, as athletes, have become identified with body and therefore feminised; to be dominated and humiliated ad libitum. The treatment of David Beckham and his wife by fans, management and the press, at home and away, is a case in point".

The writer and broadcaster Shyama Perera would, it seems, rather like to see more of this "extreme phallic anxiety". Commenting on the newspapers on BBC News 24, she had some things to say about the recent disturbances in north Belfast. More in sorrow than in anger, she suggested brightly that 90 per cent of the male ego resided in the genitals. If only they could be removed until men were about 30 years old, then the world would be a better place.

It need hardly be pointed out that if the boot were on the other foot, and some otherwise perfectly reasonable chap opined to Kirsty Wark that maybe female circumcision wasn't such a bad idea, he would suffer something of an intellectual castration.

So what kind of equality is this then? Misogynist is a label that all live in fear of, while misandrist is just a funny word that is rarely included in anybody's idiolect. Except the chaps from Angry harry.com, of course, who contribute to a website dedicated to exposing the misandry they see all around them (and sometimes in this column).

Most recently Harry's angry men have alighted on BBC2's Late Review. On last Friday's show, the critic Bonnie Greer condemned the film In the Bedroom for its misogyny. In a long rant, one furious man fumed that he had "yet to see anyone on the programme describe the piece under discussion as being 'misandric' or in any way men-hating' or 'male-bashing' ". The contributors were, he seethed, "little more than mouthpieces for political correctness and the feminist movement". The whole show, he concluded, "is a fraud".

Perhaps this gentleman would find a little comfort in the US, where In the Bedroom was made and where there has been lively discussion of a book published last year and entitled Spreading Misandry: the Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture. Detailing swathes of negative imagery of men, the book argues that feminism has gone too far and that the gender balance has now tipped in favour of women.

But much as I sympathise with that view, I think that it is narrow and dangerously counterproductive. Yes, there is an imbalance between what hateful things can be said with impunity about men and the hateful things that can be said only at risk of wide condemnation about women. A while back, in an outrageous example, a divorce lawyer ran a poster campaign exhorting husbands to "Ditch the bitch" and telling wives that "All men are bastards". Guess which line was most roundly condemned by women's groups?

But a chorus of disapproval doesn't make the existence of, say, woman-hating rap lyrics any less sinister. Feminism has not eradicated misogyny any more than masculism can eradicate misandry. Quite the contrary.

And while this imbalance certainly exists, it is not by any means driven only by feminism or political correctness. The reaction against these extremes, and the desire to maintain the old stereotypes, is very much alive as well. Both genders feel and make the conflicting demands of old stereotypes and new ones.

People are confused. This explains the love-hate relationship that the public has with Mr and Mrs Beckham more fully than Ms Greer's athletic vasectomies. What is more threatening to the misogynist Cassandras as well as the misandrist ones than a happy post-feminist couple?

Take, for example, Andrew and Debra Veal. Johnny Vaughan, a funny, laddish man, interviewed this couple the other night. Their special claim to fame is that they set out to row across the Atlantic together. He was airlifted off the boat after two weeks, and she finished the journey alone.

Among all this human drama and achievement, the thing Mr Vaughan was really interested in was taunting Andrew for being such a wuss as to develop a morbid fear of the ocean and leave his wife to get the job done.

To this end, he asked Debra how she could possibly respect her husband any more. She pointed out the obvious. That she was more proud of him than ever – for being able to face his fear and admit it gracefully, for supporting her without jealousy in her ambition to continue, for standing up to the media as a man who was not afraid to challenge the stereotypes his gender was still asked to conform to.

What a couple. Here was a televisual glimpse of a man and a woman getting on with life together untrammelled by either misogyny or misandry. They may have travelled in different ways, but they had both reached the same place – and I don't mean Barbados. In this case, it was Johnny Vaughan who was demanding shallow, ego-driven stereotypes from a man, and at the same time belittling the heroic achievement of a women. What is he? Misogynist, misandrist, misanthrope'? Or just, like a lot of us, a bit confused. Because all this talk of misogyny and misandry is confusing. These labels are not opposites. Often they go hand in hand.

On EastEnders and on Footballers' Wives, for example, the female characters are just as loathsome and repulsive as the male ones. In fact, it is difficult to think of any popular drama that does not thrive on setting men and women against each other. Popular culture doesn't have much that is positive to say about anyone at all. Neither does the sort of real life that gets into documentaries. A glance at the evening of factual television on the same night as Footballers' Wives reveals a feast of negativity.

Real Bad Girls: a look at research linking escalation in female violence with an increase in alcohol consumption.

Fat Club: His confidence high after losing four stone, Tony goes in search of his father who left the family home when he was a baby.

Raw Deal: Documentary about a controversial rape trial in America.

Misogyny? Misandry? Misanthropy? What does it matter what we call it. It's all hate and resentment of other human beings, and it's turning our culture into one of self-loathing, self-abasement and sheer unthinking nastiness.

But by refraining at least from making unfair generalisations about men that we wouldn't want made about ourselves, and trying to be as aware of negative portrayals of males as we are of females, women could do something to help stop the rot. I mean, if we don't, who will? Joke!

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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