Jackie Clune: Most men can go for hours, even days, without having a single thought...

Last week my partner declined my amorous advances. He had to finish taking up the new curtains in the baby's room instead. He was, he added, also very tired after a two-hour heavy session with Henry. No, it's not some kinky bisexual three-way arrangement; Henry is the name of his favourite household appliance, viz, a small red vacuum cleaner with a smiley face. My boyfriend is devoted to Henry. He waltzes around with him almost every day, then leaves him sitting in the middle of the floor just so that he can stare at "that cute little face". It's not putting it too strongly to say that Henry, and not some notional biochemical brain difference, is coming between us.

This may well come as a surprise to the writers of this autumn's handbooks on how to cope with your man. For while this season's catwalks are full of retro clothing chic - the Sixties are back, with swirly patterns and monochrome minis all the rage - intellectual fashion is currently enjoying another kerb-crawl through the Fifties. This is especially true of sexual politics, for today not only are we told that we have to follow the rules, respect the caveman and be a domestic goddess, but we now have to worship men as a "gift from God". According to Dr Laura Schlessinger, men require what she calls, in the title of her book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, while social scientist and family therapist Michael Gurian suggests in the even more ridiculous-sounding book, What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man's Mind Really Works, that it's not men's fault that they ignore dust, it's their genes.

What is it about American authors and Fifties conservatism? Are they so enamoured of those Rock-Doris movies that they have constantly to try and drag us all back to some gingham and apple- pie, soft-focus hinterland?

Schlessinger, an apparently respected psychotherapist and radio agony aunt, states that women have a "loving obligation" to provide sex for their husbands whenever they want it (which, of course, if you're a real man is all the time and if you're a real woman is virtually never). She also bids us women to admit to being nags and whiners, and advises us that marriages would last longer if women could submit to the rule of "God's gift".

Gurian, meanwhile, has his Y-fronts in a twist about the "dangerous assumption" that men have become redundant, and recommends that women bow to men's biological need to shut off completely and spend all night flicking the remote control.

I'm torn between two reactions when I read such revisionist-masquerading-as-visionary tosh. On the one hand my feminist hackles rise at another attempt to undermine the advances women - and men - have made over the past 30 years, and on the other I am filled with unreconstructed guilt and self-loathing about what a poor excuse for a real woman I am. I just don't recognise the gender behaviour they describe. I am the antithesis of the nagging, frigid, housework-obsessed stereotype they wheel out. I can't remember the last time I cooked, ironed or dusted. And as you can see, my partner fails to match up to their Neanderthal, grubby sex-fiend image of proper manhood.

The only thing that stops me from thinking we are part of a bizarre gender-swap experiment is the fact that I have to admit he is a traditional male at heart after all: he can zone out for hours on end. Whether this is indeed a function of biochemical make-up or just male conditioning I don't know, but I know that I love it. It came as a great relief to me that he doesn't really do "let's talk about our feelings". If I ever do fall into that supposedly female trap of trying to find out "what he could be thinking", he always replies, "nothing". Something I have concluded is that, far from being the complicated enigmas Gurian hints at, most men can go for hours, sometimes even days at a time, without having a single thought. It's as if they have really efficient screensavers; if there's nothing important going on they just get relaxing fish-tank noises and graphics of koi carp floating between their ears.

Comments