It is a man’s world…
But if you arrived here having Googled “being a man” or “perfect man” you’re probably already in the doo doo bro….or, dude….or mate….or whatever the down-with-the-kids reference du jour might be.
Men are, in general, having a bit of an identity crisis. Masculinity is under threat. Apparently it takes more than the ability to arm wrestle, grow a beard (shucks), and being able to assemble flat pack furniture (shucks).
That said, I have just returned from getting my silver fox locks cut in a “traditional” barbershop in Dorking, Surrey, where the air was a heady mix of talc, hair gel, testosterone and banter. And the sweet smell of someone vaping….
I looked down the line and noticed that all five of us in the chairs were hirsute , bearded. Two were having a shave. With a straight-edged cut-throat razor. Like real men. And this was despite an age range from early twenties to much, much older than myself….
We clients were referred all referred to as “boss” by the all-male barbers. And conversations were about football, the weather, work, and someone’s new car. It was a very male experience. Somewhat safe. Somehow comforting. Somewhat harking back to a world when men were men…..confused only by the moisturiser, texture gum and the occasional man bag. It was like it was back at in the day. Back in the old cave. Back on Mars….
For sure men still hold most of the political top jobs today, with notable exceptions such as kitten-heeled Theresa May and last year’s ‘Time’ magazine’ “Person of the Year”, Angela Merkel, both often judged more on their clothes rather than their policies. Which is probably no bad thing for them…..
But even poor old Hillary Clinton could not shatter the political glass ceiling in the USA even when faced with the American equivalent of Alf Garnett on drugs in a Klu Klux Klan cape and a badly-fitting ginger wig.
It is also still the case that less than ten percent of UK CEOs in our top 100 FTSE companies are female, while the gender pay gap continues to hover in the range of twenty percent.
And yet we hear that girls consistently outperform boys at school, at least up to GCSE level. And that suicide remains the main cause of death amongst men under the age of forty five….
It seems that the brave new world is a little confusing, surprising, and terrifying to the non-female of the species….
And, so many people seem to be asking “what does it mean to be a man today?” Indeed, somewhat ironically, this was the topic of Radio 5 Live’s “Women’s Hour” yesterday. And, this weekend sees the third Southbank Centre conference on “Being A Man”.
We must conclude that it isn’t easy being a modern man. Our roles have changed dramatically and quickly and continue to do so. In just two generations the clearly defined differences between the sexes have blurred. Society has changed. Many would say for the better. But not without consequences and complications.
And I haven’t yet found the YouTube video or the iPhone app that tells us how to adapt and make the change….
And the change is rapid. Two generations rapid. My grandmothers worked in service, managed their homes, and raised their children. My grandfathers both fought in World Wars, did manual work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, often quite literally, providing fruit and vegetables from the veg patch in the garden or from the allotment. The roles were clear, distinct, yet complimentary.
Yes my own mom worked but she always made sure that she was around when we kids were small, even working the night shift in a factory while we slept. She cooked the food, did the washing and the ironing. Dad also worked hard and would make himself a sandwich and even do the vacuuming. And yet the roles were still fairly clear, fairly distinct, and complimentary.
The roles may be changing, merging, becoming more equal but not all us men are emotionally equipped to appreciate the change. To feel it.
I grew up being told by teachers and peers to “man up”; that “real men don’t cry”. I was sold on the virtue of the stiff upper lip. I was told to walk on the curb-side when walking with a lady. When I phone “home” as I do every Sunday my dad immediately passes the phone to my mom. It is as if it is mom’s role to enquire about what is going on in the family. If dad does talk on the phone it is normally to exchange information rather than emotion, with chats about football, DIY, or asking directions. Like the men in the barber shop.
Some would argue that men have suffered somewhat in the battle of the sexes. We have sometimes been blamed for the woes of the world. Blamed for the wars. Blamed for the banking crisis. Blamed for the grooming; for the abuse. Blamed for being stuck emotionally in the world of our fathers and grandfathers. But I’m not sure it is true that we are being blamed; or to blame. We just feel blamed….as we continue to wallow in the dark corners of our man caves and our garden sheds.
And for sure we still have to man up. Recognise that a SatNav can’t fix all of the communication problems in a relationship. Take responsibility. I have lived on Mars and taken refuge in my cave far too often….
But it is hard in a world that expects the modern man to be Casanova in the bedroom, Marco Pierre White in the kitchen, with the insight of Freud, and the wisdom of Solomon, the dress sense of David Beckham, and partial to a bossa nova on Strictly Come Dancing.
We are expected to be intellectual, entrepreneurial, entertaining, empathetic, body-aware metrosexuals, lovers, and heroic beard-sporting dads who cry in public and rush home from the office to spend time with the children before walking the dog, cooking dinner for the family, and settling down with a glass of red and a box set of Game of Thrones.
Well I have a beard. I do cry at sad films. I love my wife to bits. She is my best friend. I cook a mean hot pot and Sunday roast. I watch University Challenge and Question Time and enjoy a glass or three of red while watching “Sex and Sandles” . But, I am very much a work in progress. I am slowly emerging from my cave. But, and apologies to all my MAMIL friends, I shall not be donning the Lycra shorts any day soon….
But did I tell you that Brooklyn Beckham once mistook me for his dad?….
Entry filed under: middleman.