Howard Jacobson: Struck dumb by too much women's stuff

There isn’t a man I know who has ventured into the ‘slut’ walks debate and come out alive

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Wall-to-wall C-word this week.

Hard to know, for a man, where to look or listen. It was Sandi Toksvig, with her lame joke about the Tories putting the "n" in "cuts", who started the ball rolling, if that's not to mix the metaphors. I was relieved the hatchet job on her style of self-satisfied rudery was undertaken by another woman, and in this paper to boot – Julie Burchill in impressive total annihilation mode, not a living thing left standing, not even a single blade of scorched grass, after she had finished. Julie Burchill has few rivals when it comes to dismantling smugness, as witness, in the same article, the job she did on that other highly offensive C-word, the cyclist. Two C-words for the price of one. Bravo.

My squeamishness when it comes to the C-word in the former sense is ridiculed by friends who assure me that it bears a freight of offence only to men of my generation, and that their children fling it about with the insouciance of kids playing with a frisbee. Tough – we are all stuck with the fastidiousness we've been bred to. "Well, I'll go to the foot of our stairs" was the nearest to bad language I heard before the age of 13, and "bugger" was enough to have your pocket money docked for a month. Which meant four weeks without Spick and Span, the 1950s porno magazine of choice, in which there wasn't only no C-word, there was no intimation of what it might denote, no mons veneris, no pubic hair, no vagina, just a fan-shaped absence. Those who grasped the rudiments of penetration were much confused as to how, in that case, it could be effected, and those who knew nothing marvelled and wondered still more. This, reader, I call a decent moral upbringing. There was something awe-inspiring to find out, some bewildering obstacle to overcome, some terrible injunction to transgress. Where you go for transgression if there is nothing to transgress I cannot imagine. Maybe you don't go anywhere. Maybe the very idea of the transgressive has gone out of the window, leaving me and the Marquis de Sade in the "s**t" word.

It has been a week, anyway, for a man of my sort to stay silent. Too much women's stuff – the Orange Prize, Carol Vorderman's behind, mistresses complaining that their footballer lovers dump them the day they get married (the bounders!) and, most vexing of all, "slut" walks. There isn't a man I know who has ventured into the "slut" walks debate and come out alive. It doesn't matter what you say, doesn't matter how draconian the punishment you believe should be doled out to rapists – castration, tarring and feathering, drawing and quartering, asphyxiation, garrotting, the guillotine, the electric chair, even a lifetime listening to Sandi Toksvig chairing The News Quiz with a bag over your head – the minute you add, "But that said ..." you are assumed to be justifying rape after all and you are the one facing the guillotine. So I will not essay a word against "slut" walking, except to say ... But I do not, reader, possess the courage to say it.

Whether the field is any clearer for me to discuss Ryan Giggs, I am not sure. If an angry woman doesn't get me, an even angrier lawyer might. So I will proceed with care. For a person having – supposedly, allegedly, if you believe all the c**p you read in the r*d t*ps – such a rollicking good time, why doesn't he look happier? What's the point of taking mistresses (that's if he has), and invading the sanctity of your brother's bed (that's if he did) if you don't enjoy it? The point of sex is fun, Ryan, unless it's babies, and you weren't surely looking to increase the size of your family.

Giggs has always been a problem to me, as a Manchester United supporter, on account of his apparent mirthlessness. No joke lines on his face. No instinct for self-mockery. No sense of the ludicrousness of things. That this is irrelevant to his game I would concede were it only irrelevant to his game. But good as he can be – fast and nimble and far-sighted – wouldn't he have been even better had he possessed the quicksilver wit on the ball of a George Best, a Denis Law or a Cantona? Not enough has been made of comedy and sport – of how a playful mind confers an inventiveness that will make a good player a great one. When Barcelona ran rings around poor leaden-footed Manchester United last month, wasn't that precisely what we were seeing – acuity, amusement, intelligence, exercised for their own sake, the callousness with which a more highly evolved species will toy with a lower. It was a lesson in the part that jesting can play in football. It was a victory for wit over brawn. And the person who looked most bemused by it was Giggs.

So what of Giggs as a lover? Not my business, I concede, but I can't be excluded from every conversation this week. Fellini made a film about Casanova in which the great seducer was played by Donald Sutherland. "I wanted," Fellini is reported to have said, "the character to look tall and straight like a walking erection." He went on to tell Gore Vidal that Sutherland fitted the bill perfectly as he had "a wonderfully stupid look. He looks unborn ... still in the placenta". And when you're in the placenta you don't make jokes.

Placenta man has always been big in Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio in his earliest films called to mind a foetus. It would seem to be what women want in a heart-throb – either the erect penis or the yet to be delivered baby. To me, Giggs has a look of both. That such a look confutes the usual idea that a lover-boy (that's if he is) should be funny, flexible and vivacious only goes to show how wrong we can be about the erotic life.

Fellini's Casanova makes his conquests in a sort of mindless stupor; he has virtually no choice in the matter; the erection leads and he follows. We like to think that libertines have dash. Well, some might. But just as often the pursuit of women is mechanistic, and it isn't only the women who are the victims of the erection's imperative; the men at the other end of the erection are victims too. But the women could always say no, couldn't they? Or do I risk someone using the C-word about me for offering an opinion?



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