Tom Hodgkinson: As I have grown older, I have started to revert to gender stereotype


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Like many men, I am a lazy, good-for-nothing, selfish, forgetful, patronising, sex-obsessed bastard who drinks too much. Or so my wife points out. It's strange that I have ended up like this. I tried not to. I really did.

My mother brought me up to be not lazy and selfish. She was, and is, a hardcore feminist. She had children young and by the age of 30 was earning a fat salary in Fleet Street. While she was fending off the advances of pissed old hacks in a male-dominated newspaper industry and going undercover to expose brutal puppy farms, my brother and I were looked after by a series of au pairs.

My childhood was filled with a stream of feminist propaganda. "Why would any woman want to be dependent on a man?" was one refrain. She was not naturally maternal; my father remembers that she was known as "the woman who hates babies" by our neighbours while we were, erm, babies.

My father was (and is) quite a gentle soul. He baked brown bread and went vegetarian. He later became a celibate monk. So you can see that my role models were very far removed from the old caricature of the stern pater familias and simpering dependent wife. My parents were progressive.

The late 1980s were a politically correct period, and when I went to university, I made friends with the right-on feminist women (never call them girls). I never had sex with any them because I felt that to make a sexual advance would suggest I was in fact a Tory sexist pig and not a liberal after all. Instead we discussed Nicaraguan coffee and went to help local single mums with the babysitting. I eschewed all heartiness. I remember conversations that related to the appalling sexism of Valentine's Day. I also remember agreeing that Page 3 should be banned.

One night we went to see a punk band play. A girl in the audience jumped on to the stage and tore her top off to reveal her breasts. How we tutted disapprovingly at what was simply an act of exuberance. We would have been appalled by the later success of lads' mags.

Late one night, a particular friend, who I massively fancied, popped round to my room. I was in the middle of an essay crisis. We had a chat and then she left. I later found out that she'd actually been hoping that I would kiss her and had left disappointed. This is a tragedy that I still regret.

One female friend said the house I shared in my final year was the "least sexist" she had ever visited at the university. But looking back on those years, I wish I had been less anti-sexist and had more sex.

There was a brief trend in the 1990s for something called the "new man", and I thought this was a good idea. It meant you had a soft, sensitive side. I even remember writing a newspaper article on the supposed rise of the beta male, a sort of softly spoken beardy worrier who listened to folk music and did an equal share of the childcare. It would be nice if women liked these beta males. But observation shows that the alpha males get more sex, and women are still attracted to money and power.

As I have grown older, I have started to revert to gender stereotype. Living in the country, it tended to be me who chopped the logs and lit the fire, while my wife chopped the vegetables. She drinks wine, I drink beer. She puts care and effort into making me sandwiches when I go on a trip and I forget them and buy a McDonald's. I shout at the children and she defends them. Most recently she lost her temper with me because I started patronising her as we were both moving a wardrobe down the stairs: I said "SLIDE IT DOWN AT YOUR END FIRST," and accompanied this utterance with a theatrical sigh and infuriating rolling of the eyes.

Somehow it is she who ends up thinking about and doing the laundry while I opine at the kitchen table and mumble about "idiots" while listening to Radio 4. I started life trying to overturn all pre-existing attitudes, and now find myself in middle age to be simply a bundle of clichés. Are we still suffering from the curse that was placed on Adam and Eve, when God said he would put enmity between man and woman? I can't think of any other explanation.

The other day I met Peter Stringfellow. Nice chap. He gave me a gold membership card to his club. I might check it out.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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