Harriet Walker: Be a man or be a boy – just don't blame women for your choice

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He's in his late thirties, in all likelihood sitting on a sofa, eating pizza and playing a computer game; he is not out taking the kids to the park, putting up a shelf or mowing the lawn. His is the latest beery, self-satisfied chirrup in the cacophony of complaints about the complexities of latter-day existence. He is the newly identified social phenomenon: the Manchild.

Kay Hymowitz's new lament, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys, describes this creature in all his holey-socked glory. And this week brought responses bubbling up like not quite digested garlic bread. We're free to make our own life choices, comes the counter-argument. Absolutely – except that the Manchild lays the blame for his embarrassing inertia and loneliness, along with all the underpants and crisp packets he can't be bothered to pick up, at the feet of his female contemporaries. First things first: gender roles have changed. This isn't up for dispute – to expect men in their thirties to want to look after children or fix broken white goods is as retrograde as presuming that I'm doing the washing-up, powdering my nose and teaching children to sing Edelweiss while I write this article. Thank goodness we've slipped the noose of these narrowly defined futures; you'd think it would make co-existing much easier. Unfortunately not. You see, while new research by a games company suggests that most men are attracted to powerful, top-ranking women, the self-appointed spokesmanchild complains in Grazia this week that it's the years women spend clawing our way to executive level that mean the modern bloke is left in the wilderness, unable to start along the pushchair-littered path of his traditional destiny.

It's so damn tricky when you start thinking it's your God-given right to "have it all". But this hateful phrase, usually invoked by officious harridans who cluck about time-a-wasting and ovaries decomposing as you sit at your desk, doesn't apply to women any more. The ones who "have it all" now are – you guessed it – the guys on the sofa staring at a stuffed crust and moaning about how they've been emasculated by women who don't need them any more.

Because at some point, a woman will whirl into their lives, tidy away the crumbs of food and self-loathing, and reinvigorate them with affection and social niceties. That's not emasculating, is it? That's just what happens in modern relationships: men and women put up their own shelves these days, and they comfort each other in different ways.

The research also found that many men are interested in powerful and successful women because they offer security and act as a "provider". In economic climes like these, everyone's looking for someone else to foot their bills – and while it shouldn't be socially reductive for either sex to admit they'd like someone to rely on, women are regularly castigated for being gold-diggers or financial drains on their hard-working husbands. So what makes it OK for men to feel this way? The novelty value, perhaps? It's refreshing that they can admit to needing a hand, but it seems unlikely those questioned will be relinquishing the sofa or picking up their socks any time soon. It's the difference between them "having it all" and us simply "doing it all". The real problem is the supposedly justified behaviour of famous Manchild icons – David Arquette ranting and raving about his control freak ex on national radio (she tidied up after him); Charlie Sheen spouting masculinist nonsense while draped across the multiple shoulders of three blonde saps. These are men who don't want to grow up, but they blame it on the women who supposedly let them down. The cult of the Manchild is emasculating in itself; it's not our fault you don't have the wherewithal to persuade anyone to settle down with you. Spend less time on the sofa perhaps, get some nice clothes. Or, if you really do think that pizza is your life partner, just stop whingeing about it.

h.walker@independent.co.uk

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