The reality of modern men (and women)

They realise that although fish don't need bicycles, women do need good men
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Last week Harby in Nottinghamshire was left entirely in the hands of adult men as every woman in the small village was bussed out by the BBC for a new reality show. The Week The Women Went was meant to test the men - obviously - and perhaps to show them up as domestic dunces. More nobly it also hoped to foster new relationships between the blokes who said they felt estranged from community life in the tiny parish.

Last week Harby in Nottinghamshire was left entirely in the hands of adult men as every woman in the small village was bussed out by the BBC for a new reality show. The Week The Women Went was meant to test the men - obviously - and perhaps to show them up as domestic dunces. More nobly it also hoped to foster new relationships between the blokes who said they felt estranged from community life in the tiny parish.

Some of the men took time off work; other didn't. Au pairs and helpers were also taken out, and the men had to deal with the entire run of household/childcare chores. It seems that they managed fine. They kept houses and children clean, some even baked home-made cakes to greet their partners, others planned and cooked a full banquet. Young fathers rediscovered the joys of real time contact with their children and some bonding began between the chaps who had previously merely nodded to each other, in that way they do, to discourage the flow of words.

We don't yet know whether the village was engulfed in fumes of testosterone and sexual frustration which led to the undue kicking of dogs and beating of children behind closed doors or an increase in needless punches on streets or pubs. We do, however know that male and female partners in Harby truly missed each other and the indefinable ways they looked after each other.

Do feminists applaud this sign of men growing up and into their new roles as multi-taskers and family-friendly creatures, or do they deride this suggestion as shallow, irrelevant and a distraction from the serious march of the sisters who go on and on with no oasis expected?

It is a conundrum. How should campaigners react when long and hard and uncompromising crusades for justice and equality show buds of hope? Do we rejoice, or turn sour and poison the signs of progress with killer cynicism? In which case, what is the point of campaigns? It is a question, a hard question for anti-racists, human rights activists and feminists among others. in Western societies there is an indisputable and irreversible evolution towards fairness. The struggle will probably go on until the world ends, because there are always setbacks and fightbacks from the forces of conservatism and new causes arise unexpectedly. But it is manipulative and deceitful (daft, too) to insist that nothing at all has changed for the better.

Feminism, more than any other activism, has elbowed in with impressive strength. One reason young women no longer wear the badge is that they have inherited a world with more possibilities than ever before. This is proof of success, not failure, of the women's movement. The argument for women's rights has been won, and now it is time to critique some original demands and the dangerous absurdities that were allowed to dominate feminist discourse for too long.

Angela Dworkin was a messiah of some of these dangerous absurdities. Her premature death has more or less buried this truth with her unhappiness and incapacitated body. She was an absolute heroine for exposing and damning the nasty, evil traders of hard-core pornography and sexual sadism. But she was violent in her own right, violent with words, in her merciless condemnation of heterosexual love, desires and the fulfilment it brings. She believed in capital punishment, too, and said the killing of rapists was right and deserved. Israel, she pronounced, could use whatever weapons that were thought necessary because of the legacy of the Holocaust. She made claims in her own life about male brutality which were not credible and were a sign of her own insane paranoia.

Convoluted arguments are now produced by her loyalists who insist that her extremism was either a) a gross misrepresentation or b) necessary and all in a good cause. They wonder who will now take up her torch. No one, I hope.

I am not for a second claiming that women have now got it all and are running the West in Jimmy Choo stilettos. There is way to go. In public life, society and in the home women are still not as equal and powerful and safe as they have the right to be. But it is a travesty to claim that our lives are as bad as they were a hundred, fifty, twenty, even ten years ago. Compared with two-thirds of the world, we are vastly better off, more vocal and yes, more in control. The facts round the world are shocking. Twelve thousand women are killed by their partners in Russia every year. Rape within families and as a weapon is becoming commonplace in theatres of war. Girl babies are drowned, aborted, suffocated, starved in so many countries.

Rape and domestic violence is a feature of British society too, but we have powerful, unbeatable champions like Harriet Harman making strong laws to transform attitudes and behaviour. Equality in the home and in the workplace is growing steadily, if not as fast as we would wish. Equal pay is an issue, as are working conditions and hours. Our Scandinavian sisters are perhaps to be envied on this.

Future changes lie within the paradigm of relationships and co-operation between men and women, not in sex wars. The dynamic Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, promoted this great shift of focus. (She has just announced her resignation - it will be a great loss.)

I work from home. My husband goes out every morning into London, spending hours fighting his way through our miserable transport system, comes home around seven in the evening. I cannot demand an equal input into the housework and our daughter's care - although there are days when I hear myself whingeing about his and then feel ashamed.

There is a new man, a new father in a growing number of families. He must get thoroughly discouraged by the stream of complaints and calculations which set out to "prove" that women are still slaves. Think of him instead as a life companion, best friend and loving father who is doing what he can to redress the imbalance within the rigid expectations of our competitive society. If he vanishes, you soon find out just what his contributions were and then it is too late.

Political parties are, as ever, out of touch. They try to woo women by promising policies based on old-fashioned gender equality and fail to rouse interest. For millions of women voters, the war, the environment, health care and justice matter more than these "female" goodies and enticements. This too is good news - that British women, instead of self-obsessing, are looking outwards and holistically at what would make a better world. And like the women of Harby, they realise t`hat although fish don't need bicycles, women do need good men.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

Comments