I pulled the handbrake and leapt out of the car. Grabbing a plastic bag, I desperately started to scoop 160 miles worth of Costa cups and terribly naughty, sugar-based snack wrappers out of sight before InsideMan’s Dan Bell found me at our meeting point in Portsmouth. I had travelled on only a few hours sleep and by the end of the journey had accumulated a bag full of insomniac fuel wrappers.
“Hey Chris, good journey?” Busted.
“Hi Dan, yep, thanks, yourself?” I asked, throwing another coffee cup out of sight. I offered him a leftover doughnut.
We were meeting in Portsmouth to film a short clip for InsideMan’s promotional video, seeking funding support for their new book, to which I am a contributor amongst other writers such as Martin Daubney, of Telegraph Men and former editor of Loaded; Guardian regular Ally Fogg and so many more. Our plan was to find a nice spot where I could endure a small interview on camera. Dan would take any usable clips, all I had to do was answer some questions honestly…while casually tensing every possible muscle for maximum “casual buffness”.
Despite retakes around the horrendously loud and invasive coffee machine in our chosen restaurant spot, it was going okay. Occasionally I would blurt out a sentence that caused Dan to silently “double thumbs up” from behind the camera. Who doesn’t like that? Then, he veered from questions I had quietly expected such as why I write on men’s issues and gender equality or what my experiences of being a male victim of domestic violence were like.
“What’s great about being a man?”
I didn’t actually see the bucket of ice water that I felt he had just thrown over me…but I was left silent and shocked. Why didn’t I have a ready and articulate answer for this one? I like being a man! Why do I like being a man? I mumbled some completely unusable footage -something about fatherhood, camaraderie…being able to be silly in a pub…I don’t know.
Everything that came into my mind had an immediate, opposing argument stand against it. I love being a parent, but what I know of male parenting is to stand aside while everyone smiles at the pregnant partner while telling me they hope I’m doing my bit around the house while she’s making a baby. What I know of fatherhood is to be ignored at medical or educational meetings, considered a secondary carer by law and culture, having diminished rights but equal financial pressure upon divorce. If we’re going to divide parenthood into gender roles, my personal experience and research evidences fatherhood as a secondary parental position, from pregnancy to post-divorce Christmas Day arrangements. Sure, I am more likely to morph into a growling, tickle-monster and throw my children about as they giggle and tumble until they’re nauseous, but is that a particularly ‘male’ way to be a parent? Dads are known for rough and tumble, but is that a fatherhood perk? Or are men and women simply different enough that men are more likely to do it? I questioned myself and hesitated as I spoke. I know what’s great about being a parent, but as for being a male parent, I could only identify drawbacks and many frustrations. So, I couldn’t say fatherhood.
Dan’s silent, inanimate, digital camera seemed to roar like a vintage reel to reel, capturing every desperate second as my mind scrabbled to find a suitable answer to the question. Dating? I’ll be honest, I have a healthy, full and interesting sex life but, these days, I’m not one for relationships. Surely, dating is where I could identify the “grrrr”, the victorious and powerful roar of that male, king of the jungle beast, prowling the clubs and establishing the dominance of penis power I keep hearing about. Whether in packs or as lone wolves, we style our manes and strut into the bar, the ladies turn, they dance around us like in the music videos and movies; we’re all rap stars and buff, action movie protagonists just enjoying another female populated visit to the dance floor…and soon we’ll be having slow-motion, breath-halting, lip-biting sex…because that’s how a man finishes a night out. That’s what’s great about being a man! Isn’t it? Guaranteed.
Or not. Actually, men have to amp each other up before they walk over and try to speak to the pretty woman, because it’s a nerve-wracking task to go and show interest and risk rejection in front of your mates and whoever else is watching. And we know the fine line we have to tread: interested but not desperate, complimentary but without cliche and typical compliments that you’d use on any girl; funny and witty but not offensive….oh, and relax! OH, and bring your wallet. You’re buying the drinks if you get that far. In fact, even if you buy a drink, she may thank you and leave. If rejection at the bar and in public becomes too tough or expensive that men retreat to dating websites, we can be greeted with such open statements as:
“I like a man to be a man and also to be chivalrous and open doors for me and the like. I like beards and tattoos and muscles. Must be taller than me and not a shorty. I won’t message first, if you like me then you know what to do, but put some effort in, if you just say “hi”, I’ll simply delete. First date? Surprise me. I like to be wined and dined.”
And most dating profiles just quote Marilyn Monroe and get it over with: “I’ll be morally reprehensible to you, but if you want the good of me, then you have to take the bad because I’m not changing”, (I paraphrased).
So, what’s great about being a man in dating? We make the nervous approach, we buy the drinks, we fund the date, we open the doors, we shake our tail feathers and display our colours and, even worse, women are comfortable enough to actually demand it? Even if we do get to the slow-motion, lip-biting sex…it’s on us to prove consent afterwards, just in case she has a change of heart. I couldn’t say dating.
The truth is, I was struggling because I did not want to seem like a typical writer on gender issues who would only see the negatives for myself and the positives for the opposing side. I desperately wanted to show some maturity and demonstrate to Dan and to all my readers that we can take, acknowledge and appreciate the good…and work to improve the bad. That’s why Dan asked the question! InsideMAN, with Dan Bell and Glenn Poole at the helm, is approaching the subject and position of ‘the male’ in a comprehensive, objective and positive manner. To celebrate the positives, to talk about and improve upon the negatives.
However, any positive that I considered was met with my internal dialogue reminding me of the prominent message in our media that “woman can do that too!”
I considered physical strength, but we’re told just how strong and capable women are….physical strength is not something that men can own and identify with, these days. It’s not exclusively male…unless there’s a moving van that needs emptying, or a burglar to be tackled. And our strength counts for nothing as the equal, but silenced, victims of domestic violence. What about sexual objectification and harassment? Okay, tough one with many layers, as on one side of this coin is the fact that men are sexually objectified by women in an overt manner, more than the feminist movement would concede to and in a way it would never deem appropriate for women to be treated. However, on the flip side, as the gender that has to shake our tail feathers and prove ourselves against our competitors, do women really think men aren’t pressured into getting to the gym, dressing with trend and sophistication in mind, styling with the latest “metrosexual” or “lumbarsexual” style, simply to be noticed? Or does everyone think that evolution recently increased beard growth in the human species to the point where we simply can’t shave enough and keep on top of it? And from personal experience, try being a male musician without being wolf-whistled, groped, danced upon or even kissed while performing. Perhaps, as a male, our biggest handicap with sexual objectification and harassment isn’t the frequency with which it occurs, although it occurs more than people will acknowledge, but it’s our powerlessness to do anything about it when it does happen, as we’re regarded as lucky, up for it…and, anyway, it’s just a joke. Right?
I could go on, but the truth is that we live in a culture that celebrates the female adoption and dominance of the positives associated with the typical male, but denies men the positives of the female world: equal parental rights and acknowledgement, equality in dating, sexual objectification and harassment awareness and so on.
But, I like being a man…more because I like being myself and not because I have privilege dangling between my legs. Being a man is not such a positive experience, when all is weighed and measured.
So, what’s great about being a man? As an advocate for equality for men and women, my personal opinion is that this question should be one that both sexes can answer, just as we should be able to acknowledge the positives of being a woman. Men and women in our society should be able to answer the question in celebration of diversity but, as it stands, we’re involved in a battle between the sexes where everyone is proving the privilege of the other. Unfortunately, we need books and articles that address men’s issues and put our position into context. Unfortunately, it becomes a question that needs answering in order to highlight the need for equality where men and boys are lacking. Unfortunately, acknowledgement of men’s diminished rights and the position of the ‘male’ in today’s society is lacking…and sorely needed. Fortunately, a collaboration of top writers on gender issues has come together, with InsideMan’s latest collaborative project; the goal being to increase awareness of the issues faced by men and boys in our society today and to highlight ways in which men suffer and face inequality.
If you would like to offer much needed contribution to the funding of this book, please do so here:
As for myself, I bid Dan farewell and drove home from the meeting, battling with that question for every mile of the journey, until my desperation and Costa coffee intake got the better of me. I found myself hastily pulling over to run into a field. I stood there, in the sun, up against the tree…and I realised…
“I can pee standing up”.