Monday, June 04, 2007

Not why I quit reading women's magazines

I quit reading women's magazines a while back. Now, when I say that, I mean my curiosity about them died some time ago. Not, I hasten to add, that they were some sort of preferred reading material. No, just the young man's urge to figure out what made the opposite sex tick and perhaps some clues were to be found in the likes of Cosmo. But eventually all that same-old, same-old oozing neurosis and rampant narcissism just overcame the curiosity and I got bored.

Once in a while, however, I will look over the women's section of whatever newspaper happens to cross my awareness, just for the hell of it, usually looking for something, er, different. Today, it is the Manchester Guardian Sunday edition, otherwise known as the Observer. And what do I find here? It is an article written by a man.

About men.

In the women's section.


How can I not read this? Alright, Mr. William Leith you want me to "Look at the state we're in", let's see what you think that state is.

But first of all, a question: what the hell is "concealer"? No. Wait. Scratch that. There's enough context for me to work out that I really don't care, because I am not, and never will be a "metrosexual" (you can just see the sneer on my lip, can't you?) The most I'm ever going to slap on my face is soap or shaving cream. People have long since stopped giving me aftershave for Christmas. What this horse's ass calls "blemishes" real men shamelessly call character. Oh, this is going to be fun.

It turns out that "concealer" is a metaphor for male denial. Apparently we don't want to take the blame for our sins. What sins? All of them: "We are hard-wired to be aggressive, competitive, crazy for status and sex. And this, we are beginning to see, is the mindset that is causing all the problems in the world."

Oh dear god, not this again. Every problem in the world is some man's fault, eh? And by extension, all men, so let's all engage in an orgy of guilty self-loathing in the women's section of the Observer, shall we?
"It's only just dawning on us that something is wrong; it's only just dawning on us that it's our fault. But the thing is - we are men, and one of the crucial things about men is that, when we have a problem, we don't want to talk about it. So if you look at men, and have an inkling that there might be something troubling us, things are actually much worse than you think."
And we go directly from how everything bad is our fault to how we don't want to talk about it, because men don't talk. Left off, of course, is the small saving grace of this defective line of logic, that men like to fix things, that would be too much in our favor. Sigh.

It's one cliche after another for a while: unlike women, our emotions are closed off, we can't admit we cry, "success" is our raison d'etre, we have fragile egos, we can't admit it when we're depressed, we get drunk instead, we brood, and when (not if) we finally crack we inevitably go postal.

Stereotype, anyone?

Listen, buddy, men don't talk/complain/cry when they're unhappy because no-one wants to hear it, not other men, nor women. Men don't have the luxury of being approved victims in our society, they tough it out because, almost always, they have to.

Mr. Leith treats us to an anecdote about meeting his friends in the pub, how they're all hale-fellow-well-met until, in an intimate one-on-one with one of them, it turns out things are not so hunky dory after all - injuries, job-loss, breakups, breakdowns, alcoholism, over work, back problems.

But we don't ask for help. Why not? Because we "don't have victim status". You have to have "victim status" to ask for help?

The feminist authority, Susan Faludi, is cited for her claim that "space was pretty much a dud" for that pioneering male spirit: "no-one there to learn from or fight". Yup, that's it guys, your urge to have a look what's out there is really just a search for an adult role model or a fight.

Is this is bogus because men are strong, he wondered? We must be strong to take the bashing that we do in popular culture, he claims to have thought, before realizing that all that mockery might mask something rather different from a challenge to be met. He was more concerned with man's ability to brush off punishment without complaint than with the idea of derision as a frontal attack, rather more akin to the fight for which we're supposed to be hungry. The result? Our own greatest weakness is our inability to ask for help. Is this true? Is that the only way to do things? Must we be recognized victims to be worthy of respect? 'Bit of a Catch 22, that...

But before we think too hard about that, let's quickly jump into our identities. We're "sperm factories" and "sperm-shooting machines".

That's it?


Oh good grief.

Before you can yell "strawman!", Leith tells us that this remaining shred of our worth is being undermined by modern science. A woman friend of his wants to breed out what she thinks is maleness - "killer genes", "shagger genes". For pity's sake, if that's all maleness is about, then what the hell, go for it, but someone please remind the cow that there's a reason eugenics has a bad rap.

A male friend blames "the alpha-male types" and, by extension, because he could never admit that he isn't an alpha-male himself, nor anyone he knows, then it must be all men's fault. I wonder if he even knows what "alpha-male" means, or why he thinks an alpha-female might be any less culpable, in her own way?

Passing through a massive over-simplification of Baron-Cohen's thesis that there are two types of brain (no not those that think there are two types of brain and those that don't, but they might as well be) we come to the inevitable: the world would be better if it were "run by females - or at least in a female way".

Oh, puh-lease. Baron-Cohen systematizes male and female brains with the claim that The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.' and 'The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for [systematizing].' It's right there on the first page of his book "The Essential Difference", shortly followed by the reassurance that being male doesn't necessarily require that you have a male brain and likewise for females, which rather brings into question his choice of nomenclature as he claims not to be trying to reinforce stereotypes.

And so what, anyway? Men are, on average, 5 IQ points smarter than women. (It's a fact, ma'am.) Does that mean that I should assume that of a man and woman standing in front of me, the man is smarter than the woman? If you think so, then you have no idea of the difference between probability and actual experience.

A few wild, flying leaps to conclusions later and we find that the world's ills are all men's fault, and only men's fault.

Worse, you thought being a hunter was a good thing for your great-to-the-nth-granddaddy the caveman? Think again, apparently it was all so much chest-puffing and the real work was done by women after all.
"Why did women put up with this unfair situation? Why didn't they snuff out the problem in those early days, before it got too big? Because natural selection had put them at a disadvantage. Human beings thrived because of the combination of our big brains and our ability to walk upright, hands-free. The downside to this is sexual inequality: children are born with large skulls and underdeveloped bodies; they need a lot of looking after. And why do mothers - rather than fathers - look after children? Because they know, for sure, that the child is theirs. The father does not; it makes slightly more sense, if he wants to pass on his genes, to kill bison, do a lot of posing, and impregnate as many women as he can."
Oh yeah, sure, it was really that simple, that's all there was to it, and now we've been found out, we men should just put our heads between our legs and kiss our sorry backsides goodbye. There's so much wrong with that paragraph, from Leith's, uh, selective idea of natural selection to massive reductionism of the gender differences of child care, that I'm not even going to begin to take it apart.

Listen chum,I'd be really pissed off if it weren't so obvious that you are posing for the girls by writing a long, sniveling, ludicrously over-simplistic article, back-handedly dissing men under the guise of how we, the poor sobs, have failed ourselves. It's published in the Observer women's section, fer chrissakes.

What are you doing? Going for "victim status" via the back door? Poor, passive-aggressive little weenie. As it is, I just want to laugh at you. Let us know if it gets you laid, won't you...?


Anonymous said...

The Observer's Woman section is always good for a laugh - (and here's another gem, which I commented on myself a few months ago).

You'd never believe that Leith was once considered - by The Guardian, for what it's worth - the poster boy of binge living, would you?

All those drugs obviously rendered him incapable of producing anything better than this kind of paint-by-numbers dross - no worse than most of what you'll find elsewhere in The Guardian/Observer these days, though, which is why I ceased buying either paper several years ago.

Anonymous said...

I quit reading women's magazines years ago for the exact same reason...and I'm a woman. I empathize with you on many levels since my ex has custody of our son and I find myself being compared to "deadbeat dads", even though I'm a woman and I pay my child support religiously. Some think I'm a terrible mother because I only see my son every other weekend, as if that were my choice. I fought for more time until I ran out money, but people don't want to hear that part. I don't think I'm a bad person for realizing my son would be much happier living on a farm with his father, who was financially secure, than living with me in a cramped apartment on welfare. My ex is a good man, and a wonderful father, but a terrible husband. Men-bashing pisses me off. Sorry for the rant; got started and couldn't stop...

Unknown said...

What's this alternate dimention where women are less concerned about status than men are? I'd like to live there.

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