Spare me and my fellow men from the new orthodoxy: female good, male bad

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The Independent Online
I HAD that Fay Weldon in the back of my studio the other day (I present a books programme for Channel 4), and she was saying that she was worried for men. Not so much for the old dinosaurs, who still think (wrongly) that they rule the earth, but the younger ones, who are not having a very good time. Not only have they lost - like Britain after Suez (my analogy) - a series of old, traditional roles, but their fumbling attempts to find new ones are mocked. Indeed, their very maleness is the subject of continual derision. They are subjected to what she calls "hatespeak".

Anyway, the next morning reading my copy of The Independent, I turned first - as ever - to the article by my talented colleague Suzanne Moore, dealing with the revelations of Paul Johnson's adultery. Suzanne was not surprised that the florid Thatcherite enjoyed illicit spanking, and she went on, wearily, "the repertoire of male sexual behaviour is so limited, I could almost feel sorry for them".

Hold on, I thought, does she mean me? Not personally, but everything on the planet with whiskers and vesicles? And if being spanked by a mistress is a sign of a limited repertoire, what represents a multifarious one? Oh please, let it not be the old feminist "cover me in chocolate" one again.

And was this polite "hatespeak"? What, I wondered, would have been made of an article in which a male writer had casually remarked that "women are not, by nature, innovators and one must simply accept the fact"? And yes, I do think that that is a roughly equivalent sentiment.

You see, what I think is being said by Suzanne (and not just by her) is essentially this: all men are wankers. They are wankers literally and - more important - metaphorically. There is something in men that tends to hopelessness, to perpetual adolescence, to retardation. That is presumably why thirtyish women search endlessly for the elusive Mr Right, because most men are so obviously Mr Wrong. It's why, in soap operas, the chaps are stunted, often violent, incapable of communication, or else - a new category this - vapid but pretty boymen (nice buns, shame about the brain).

Television measures how far (in Fay's words) men have become the "new women". Yesterday, on daytime TV, the Richard and Judy show invited viewers to ring and discuss the topic: "I married a corker, but now he's a porker." Accordingly, women, using their real names, phoned ITV with hilarious tales of their husbands' piggings. But imagine that the topic had been "I married a bimbo, now she's a beach-ball"? What man - if he wanted to live - would tell a TV presenter, live on air, how fat his wife had become? It is inconceivable, and not least because, as we know, men who overeat are greedy - while women who overeat are unhappy. And we also know whose fault that is.

Or take Viagra (I will). Can you picture a TV discussion concerning a new pill to increase women's often lamentably low libido, involving men talking about how the old gal had perked up since she started taking Clitalot? Once again, if a man's equipment fails he needs a tonic; if women aren't getting it up, then it's likely to be hubby's fault.

These double standards extend to questions like adultery. I am struck by the incongruity of women mocking men who have affairs, while themselves often callously plotting to carry off other women's blokes. Or of mistresses who tape their lovers for the Sunday newspapers and then complain about his "betrayal" of his own wife.

But this is the coming orthodoxy: female good, male bad. Even before Diana died editors and producers were chasing female values, female readers, viewers and listeners at all costs. And in chucking out the old male vices of deference and pomposity, they have set about destroying some of the virtues as well. So it's goodbye to earnest suits discussing European Monetary Union on TV, and hello to yet another edition of Vanessa and "My dad ran off with my boyfriend".

An excellent version of the orthodoxy was penned by Allison Pearson in yesterday's Evening Standard. Writing re poor old Paul, she said, "My generation [ie modern women] believes in serial monogamy. Previous generations [ie men] believed in multiple hypocrisy. We believe in truth in relationships, no matter how destructive. They believed in lies, no matter how corrupting. And which is better for the health of society?"

This is a good question. I'm not at all sure that some hypocrisy (and families staying together) isn't better for kids and grown-ups then serial monogamy with its endless divorces and remarriages. And I feel some ambivalence about "truth", too. What, after all, constitutes truth in something as complex as a relationship? Does truth allow you to make love when you do not feel like it, simply for the sake of your partner? Or must you be honest and refuse? Either of the polarities offered by Pearson seem to me to make for bad marriages and unhappy men.

Oh well, says a husky primeval voice in my ear, who cares? Men still run things, give or take a country or two. Let the gals have their fun. As long as we sell papers or programmes, or garner votes, what, me worry? Who gave Suzanne her column in the first place? Joan of Arc?

The husky voice is wrong. There is a gender revolution going on, and it is 90 per cent positive. The communication and social skills that girls possess (possibly innately) are now required; the concentrated, autistic or physical attributes of men are less in demand. The future is female, so we are - even if we stop abusing men - in danger of raising generations of young males who are sullen, demotivated, lacking in self- esteem, but still strong and brimming over with testosterone.

I have no desire to regress. I have always enjoyed the company of women more than that of men and I celebrate the emergence of a new cohort of intelligent and confident young women. I would hate to go back to the days when female potential was stifled, subordinated to the power of men who were never their equals. But I am now becoming burned up with a desire to progress, to move the debate on. To talk about what we are going to do to help boys in school; about how their mothers and fathers should haul them off the soccer pitch and make them do their homework; about how they might benefit more from parents being around during the day and what we're going to do about it.

And let us, for God's sake, find something in male sexuality to enjoy. After all, even women prefer a stiff willy to a perpetually soft one. Or so I am told.

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