The Times

September 5 1999

Stop feeling sorry for us, Giles Coren advises feminists. Men are not to be written off as the second sex yet

Men in crisis? That's how we like it

Giles Coren
The Sunday Times

This is all very embarrassing. Imagine getting involved in a bar brawl only to have a woman step in and try to protect you. Imagine being pushed from the path of a speeding horse by a woman giving up her life to save yours. Imagine being rescued by a dame in shining armour.

Unthinkable, I know. But, in a reversal of fortune destined to make trouser-wearers the world over cringe with shame, feminists have changed sides, and are now sticking up for men.

They are not, at this point, imploring us to march on parliament, stop wearing deodorant and burn our pants. They are waging, on our behalf, a war of words.

In a new book, Stiffed - The Betrayal of the Modern Man, American academic Susan Faludi, whose last effort, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, sounded a rallying cry for feminists, announces that women must now help to find a role for miserable males.

According to American publisher William Morrow: "Faludi finds that even in the world they supposedly own and run, men are at the mercy of cultural forces that disfigure their lives and destroy their chance at happiness. As traditional masculinity continues to collapse, the once-valued male attributes of craft, loyalty, and social utility are no longer honoured, much less rewarded."

Craft? Loyalty? Social utility? So the fact that we are able to build model aeroplanes, stick with the same football team through thick and thin, and get spiders out of the bath is no longer "honoured" by women. First of all, it never was (except when the spider was really big and hairy) and, second, if it isn't, we don't really care.

The worst thing a woman can do in any situation is pretend to be concerned. That creates a situation that wasn't even there in the first place. Like when women say "Calm down" and "Don't get hysterical" in the middle of an argument during which you were behaving perfectly reasonably.

"More and more," Faludi has written in Newsweek, which is serialising her book, "the American community fails to offer its post-war sons and grandsons what it used to offer all men: a chance to ground their manhood on utility, dedication and loyalty, whether as a GI serving a nation and caring for his fellow grunts, or as a civilian plying a craft essential to his society." You see, they just want to call us "grunts" and stick us in the army so they can have fun making blackout curtains and seducing foreign soldiers again.

It is not just American feminists who are sticking up for blokes. Rosalind Coward, the British author of Sacred Cows and former thorn in the scrotum of most men, has a new position.

"After 20 years of fighting hard for women's rights," she declared recently, "it dawned on me that I felt more concerned about what was happening to boys and men. Boys are doing significantly less well at school than girls. The old roles are gone and my son and his peers are thrashing around in a new world in which they feel demoralised, the second sex."

The second sex? But men don't count sexes. That's what women do. Men are too busy working, fighting and raping for such frivolities.

"Modern woman," claims Coward, "has an inbuilt moral superiority from which men are excluded: she works, has her family, does everything in the home. By contrast, men are depicted as useless, redundant prats who can't even manage to do the washing up." By whom?

It is that first line: "Woman has an inbuilt moral superiority", that is crucial. This disingenuous sympathy is only a cunningly veiled declaration of victory. As Sunday Times columnist Melanie Phillips has been good enough to point out: "Masculinity has been talked up into a crisis in order to deconstruct it. Even some men, too chivalrous to tell women that they are talking rubbish, subscribe to this."

Not me. Listen to this rubbish, from Coward: "What bothers me is the contempt with which feminists treat men," she says, and then goes on to offer Nick Hornby's About a Boy as evidence that men are "transforming themselves, becoming emotionally in touch".

Not so. Nick Hornby is pretending that men have changed, in order to sell books. Men do not buy books. So if you are going to make a million pounds from your novel it has to be about the kind of man women like - unthreatening, quiet, ideally gay.

Hornby's High Fidelity and Fever Pitch appear to relate the life stories of two men obsessed, respectively, with pop music and football. In truth, both are about big hairy wusses who can't get girlfriends.

The facts speak for themselves. Men are five times more likely than women to commit suicide. This is because we still have control of our own destinies in a way of which women can only dream.

Young men are five times more likely to get in trouble with the law - but that is because men are naturally adventurous and strain to test the boundaries of their social context - they don't just stay home and moon over magazine pictures of David Beckham.

And men are 60 times more likely to end up in prison. Good. Look at The Shawshank Redemption, Escape From Alcatraz, Porridge. Life is much more interesting for a bit of "bird", and also a much better test of will than the fluffy world outside.

Women get better healthcare than men, it is said. Well, that is only because they are hypochondriacs and go to the doctor just because they are feeling a bit sad. And girls are doing much better at school. Of course they are - where do they think the expression "girlie swot" comes from? It isn't a good thing.

Another post-feminist truism insists that the body fascism instilled by the portrayal of women's bodies now applies as much to men. Sylvester Stallone falls for this, telling Faludi, "The guy with the 18-inch arms is, for the Nineties, the woman with the triple-E cup."

Balls. As it were. The skinny body, large breasts, muscled stomach, round-bottom female ideal is one that is neither healthy nor natural. It cannot be attained without surgery. The male ideal, in contrast, involves only being fit and strong, which a man should be anyway.

The feminist Angela Phillips argues, in her book The Trouble With Boys, that a generation of feckless men is being created by a feminist-dominated status quo.

"If he has heard there are no good men in the world, then how can he become a good man?" she quite reasonably asks. And she goes on: "It is pretty hard these days to conjure up an image of a teenage boy who isn't either breaking into a car, abducting a child, robbing a granny, or sitting hunched over a games console."

Women may see men like this, but it is a perceptual problem for women, not a real problem for men. Last week's case of the 14-year-old boy and the 12-year-old girl having a child - and the wider issue of child pregnancy - has led to both sexes being perceived as victims. They're not. He is fulfilling the historical objective of all post-pubescent males, which is to get laid. She is failing to do her bit, which is to stop him.

That is women in crisis, not men.

Copyright 1999, Times Newspapers Ltd.