I’m getting jolly worried about this End of Men theme that’s kicking around at the moment. Well you would be if you were a man, wouldn’t you? We’re at one of those troubling tectonic-plate-shifting moments where we seem to be at the end of lots of things. Only a few months ago we saw the end of HMV in Richmond.
But anyway, people keep talking about this book The End of Men, by Hanna Rosin. A lot of them refer to it as “that book”, which is terribly confusing because I thought “that book” was Fifty Shades of Grey and that men were absolutely essential, if only to tie a reef knot.
I’m particularly worried by such apocalyptic talk because, earlier this year, I read one of those end-of-women reports in which a well-respected thinker pursued the woman-can’t-have-it-all theory, which inevitably means having to choose between motherhood or high-achieving careers. What is worrying is that if men are no longer needed in employment and women start opting out of the workforce, then who exactly is going to do all the work? Women could abandon motherhood instead, but then we’ll be at the end of children. I’m no anthropologist, but something tells me that’s not a long-term proposition.
Like many of these social tracts with well-organised publicity machines, there is the kernel of an idea. Put crudely, it posits that the demise of manual, muscle jobs and the growth of gender-neutral, service-oriented work are forcing men out of the workplace, stripping them of their protector/provider status and thereby emasculating them. This is most keenly felt in traditional industrial communities. There is clearly something to this and also to the corollary that men are going to have to accept what were traditionally regarded as female roles. In my house, these include not knowing how to set the TiVo box and refusing to read the manual for electrical devices. Strictly speaking, the author is not so much predicting the end of men as the end of a particular type of macho man. Yet, strangely, I don’t feel overly threatened by this.
There are two reasons. First, in my house at least, there’ll always be a role for a protector – if only to defend it against spiders, especially very small ones whose threat is almost incomprehensible to the untrained eye. But second, it’s because the whole macho man thing never really worked for me. Beer gives me a headache, I suffer from a psychological ailment commonly known as cowardice and the only six-pack I’ll ever have is a family carton of Müllerlight yoghurt. But perhaps I’m ahead of the evolutionary curve. I am a post-men man. I’m also not convinced that my wife is actually ready to become a post-man woman. We post-man men may face criticism about loading dishwashers, but I’ve never noticed her agitating for the right to fix the toilet, take out the rubbish or assemble anything from Ikea. These are the kind of macho, pre-end-of-man tasks that post-man woman will have to take on. So remember ladies; it’s not just the end of manly men, it’s the end of girly girls. But I do worry that these emasculated men will prowl the streets looking to feel better by beating up Müllerlight men, who are enjoying a new world in which they engage with their families.
Still, I guess we can also expect all kinds of other changes in this new world – not least in testosterone-fuelled TV shows that we post-man men already know are a little bit behind the times. I’ve a hunch that Top Gear, for example, is not optimised to a female audience. Match of the Day might offer us post-man men more rounded commentaries: “And that’s a fantastic pass by Abbey Clancy’s husband, but an even better tackle by Cheryl Cole’s ex. He’s raised his game since he started seeing that blonde from Strictly.”
Or perhaps this is just another one of those books with a snappy “end of” title and oversold contents like The End of History or the fish classic, The End of the Line. It’s just a bit pat. This isn’t the end of men; it’s just the end of a certain type of man and probably not even that.
I’d weep for them, but they’d think I was showing off.