Why I applaud the books of men who tell it like it is

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The Independent Online
"MEN have become the new women". Wonderful. I read that in these very pages. Men are oppressed by "the coming orthodoxy: female good, male bad". If men have become the new women I better get some more of them. There is the ironing to be done, the kids to be put to bed and I'll have an extra one to run a hot bath for me when I stumble in from the pub having sexually harassed the barman.

David Aaronovitch is upset that female journalists such as myself have said nasty things about men. He was referring to the remarks I made about Paul Johnson. Did I suggest that "all men are wankers"? No. I will leave it for men to say that about themselves and what a good case they are making for such a gross generalisation.

Recently I have read a number of books by men about men and I have enjoyed them immensely. Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy is a novella about a man leaving his children and partner for his younger mistress. Howard Jacobson's No More Mister Nice Guy is about a man in a mid-life crisis ranting his way around Middle England and John Updike's Toward the End of Time has a man confronting the waning of his sexual power. All these books have been accused of misogyny, but I admire their brutal sexual honesty.

Kureishi's Intimacy has been controversial because it has been read as entirely autobiographical and therefore as a mean-spirited attack on the mother of his children. Yet apart from the fact that you cannot legislate the subjects that writers choose, Jay, the narrator of Intimacy, comes over as a pompous, selfish and deluded man. While critics have noted his bitchiness towards the woman he leaves - her crimes being that she is highly organised, reads cookbooks in bed, is getting older, thinks herself a feminist but is merely "bad-tempered", cries during a therapy session with a "fat, red, weeping face" - Kureishi is doing no more than document how it feels to fall out of love with someone.

His real subject, why men leave children, is surely immensely important and relevant. There is no point saying that "all men are bastards" if we do not know how it feels to kiss your children goodnight knowing that you will never live with them again. Is Kureishi a misogynist simply because he is describing how an individual man feels about an individual woman? I think not.

When Howard Jacobson and John Updike reduce their female characters to little more than a threatening, but desirable, range of body parts, and yet spend their lives in pursuit of these parts, is that misogyny? Or is it an insight into how some men feel? At the end of Updike's novel, Ben Turnball has become impotent and is wearing nappies but is still dreaming of the glory days when he could have three women in his lunch-hour. Frank Ritz, who fancies himself as Rabelaisian is driven to under-age prostitutes to satisfy himself but eventually returns home to the woman he has left.

Of course there may be sensitive flowers who do not want to believe that men behave this way and that, instead, they stay at home working through their relationships; but let us deal with the real world. What certain men seem so upset about is that a woman might assume that they are like other men.

Such men always reassure us with the information that they really do like women, so may I reassure you all that I really find all male company totally thrilling but that will not stop my sense of injustice at the way the world is run. If it is "hatespeak" to generalise about an entire gender I plead guilty, yet I find myself living in a world of "hatespeak" towards women. It is called common sense, or having a laugh, or in better circles, irony.

While I would agree with Aaronovitch that the future is female and we must worry about the sullen, disaffected male youth who are so lacking in self-esteem that they can only regress, I wonder what is to be done. For it seems as if there are two types of men in the world: middle-class ones with a nice line in self-deprecating humour and this other sad kind. Are these two types not related at all?

It is not women who are disowning the maladaptive dinosaurs in our midst; it is also other men who discuss them as if they were creatures from another planet. Is this merely a question of class and education? - because if it is then we could easily teach our boys to be nicer. Lottery money could be poured into institutions that promised to churn out men who don't mind doing child care.

Obviously it's not so easy to produce a more up-to-date and decent model of masculinity, so we have to look at what constitutes masculinity for men themselves. This is why I applaud the works of men who tell it like it is. Such work stands alongside other equally muddled but sweeter, more gentle versions of manhood of the Nick Hornby variety.

There is no new orthodoxy that women are good and men are bad. That is the old orthodoxy. That is why women are supposed to have a civilising effect on men. That is why women are left bringing up the babies, because they are so "good" they won't just walk out. That is why having it all means doing it all, because women find it difficult to be as "bad" as the men. That is why women do not make it to the top, because they just don't have the killer instinct.

No, I would prefer some honesty. We are all a mixture of good and bad; it's just that men's badness is socially sanctioned. Nice guys might be offended by this, but I'm sure they can always find some worn-out women to console them.

Howard Jacobson has Frank Ritz say at the end of his novel: "For two pins, if there were somewhere worth going, if there were some other war worth fighting, if this field of blood were not the most transfixingly interesting place on earth, he'd be gone." All is fair in love and war. In order to fight the good fight we may have to acknowledge that nice guys aren't as nice as they think they are and nice girls never got anywhere.