Sophie Morris: The decline of men, or just a spot of man flu?

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The Independent Online

You know the drill: you wake up in the middle of the night to find an empty space in the bed next to you, long cold. On rising to investigate, you discover the living room door is closed and odd grunts can be heard from within. You open the door to see – of course – your partner hooked up to his games console as if it he were on dialysis, convinced that by playing in the dark and wearing headphones, his guilty moonlighting will go unnoticed.

Next time this happens, before you open your mouth to nag, why not give him a back rub instead? It's a jungle out there for the modern man, you see. Tarzan has realised that beating his chest is no longer an appropriate mating ritual, and that he is expected to make considered small talk and cook (not just buy) dinner instead, and he's mightily confused. Hence his retreat to play with his joystick all alone, while his wife steals his half of the duvet, along with the keys to his Porsche and his chair in the boardroom.

So goes the central premise of a new book from the US, The Decline of Men. "At the dawn of the 21st century," it informs us, "men are not just the weaker sex, they are also fast on their way to becoming poorer, dumber, sicker, lonelier. More marginal, more unnecessary, less loved."

Hang on while I re-string the violin. But I can see where the author, Guy Garcia, first got wind of this "national emergency", as he calls it. When strength is measured by who scores highest on the Wii boxing because it's not the done thing to break another bloke's nose, no wonder men are feeling the chill of emasculation. It makes sense for them to be poorer, too, given that their wives want to leave the house more often than they did in 1950, and demand more than a housecoat and slippers to go out in. But are they really dumber? The number of female graduates is soaring, but that doesn't in itself make men any dumber. No doubt they feel threatened by the competition. How about sicker? Here they lose out again. Men can't even run a temperature without being pilloried. At this time of year, medical complaints of all descriptions are dismissed as "man flu".

Garcia's impassioned manifesto sets out to stop this rot and bring back real men before it's too late. There would be no complaints from my corner. Finding a man who can assemble an Ikea flatpack is always a joy, and while men are technically surplus to shopping now it's all done online and the groceries don't need carrying, it is always useful to have someone to wait in for deliveries.

Garcia's whinge continues thus: "The classic male virtues – physical strength, aggression, self-sufficiency, resolve – that were so useful in agrarian and industrial societies, are increasingly out of date in the post-modern world where networking, co-operation and communication are key."

Did he go to sleep for 100 years and wake up to discover that women wore trousers and men weren't ashamed to use moisturiser? Men like Garcia are spooked by the contortion of male and female gender roles and struggle to decipher the many shades of grey inherent in the characteristics of both men and women.

If I were a cynic, I'd say this was a sly piece of propaganda aimed at rallying the male troops to get back on top where they belong. But when did their grip ever slip in the first place? If there really were any risk of them thinking themselves the "weaker sex" they wouldn't accept being called "weaker". Since when is it ok to make fun of a minority and marginalised group?

But he would probably still benefit from that back rub. Fighting virtual battles can be as tough as real ones, as The Decline of Men well illustrates.

A civilised façade is hard to keep up for ever

Now that Madge and Guy are no longer on "speakers", I suppose the only way they can communicate their anger at each other is through the press, and this week Madonna's spokesperson Liz Rosenberg told journalists that Ritchie did in fact receive a hefty divorce settlement from the Material Girl, rather than walking away without a penny and his pride intact, as was reported when they divorced last month.

Until now their behaviour since the split had looked near impeccable – certainly a refreshing antidote to the drawn-out Mucca and Macca proceedings – but the mud-slinging precedent has been set, and we can expect much more.

It seems that Ritchie accepted somewhere in the region of £50m from his former wife (estimated wealth £300m). No wonder Madonna wanted the world to know that. Otherwise it might have looked as if Ritchie had put up with years of obsessive compulsive bullying from his wife and was booted out of the marriage with nothing.

Your round, Guy.

It's work, James, but not as you know it

"Virtually everyone will be doing something in return for their benefits," said work and pensions secretary James Purnell during an explanation of the proposed welfare shake-up. He's thinking of single mums in particular, who will be required to seek work and attend interviews and internships in order to claim benefits.

The terrible spectre of modern parenting has cast a gloomy shadow over Britain in recent months, notably in the example of Karen Matthews, who attempted to exploit the system and her seven children to fund her sofa-surfing lifestyle. Matthews will be punished with a lengthy jail sentence, but this is no reason to castigate every other single mother on benefits.

There are no doubt a few more Karen Matthews in their midst, but the majority have a very important job, to raise a generation of responsible children, not the next Sean Mercers. If children aren't mothered they will turn to other support systems later on – maybe a friend, maybe a gang. Single mothers who stay at home and love and care for their young children are "doing something in return for their benefits".