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Ridiculed and Abused,
the British Male is Fighting Back


Robert Taylor

The British male has been going through a bad patch in recent years. According to various stereotypes, he’s either a hapless wimp with the sex drive of a maggot, or an appallingly ill-mannered thug interested only in “birds” (women) and “getting s**t-faced” (having far too much to drink).

He comes under fire from all sides. TV commercials in Britain routinely portray him as clumsy, lazy, cheap and desperate, constantly being out-foxed and humiliated by smart, witty and talented women. Sociologists tell us how British women make better managers, have more emotional intelligence and stamina. And politicians tell us that we need more women in Parliament, the professions and the army. By implication, of course, this country needs fewer men.

His romantic abilities have also been critically analysed. Hollywood actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Heather Graham have accused Mr. Brit of lacking dating skills. Holly Valance, the Australian star, damned him with faint praise, saying: "Who knows? I'm sure if I spend a long time in England, I might like an English boy." A female Canadian journalist has written in the British press of her failure to ‘get laid’ during her entire two years in Britain. For this she blamed local men’s unmanly reticence. This became a running story in mid-summer and no doubt her phone is still ringing.

Once in the bedroom, the British male does indeed seem pretty inadequate. In a half-hearted ranking of European bedroom performance, we’re told that the average Brit struggles to keep things going for a quarter of an hour, whereas your Dutchman is still banging away after 25 minutes and his Italian and German brothers are panting along close behind.

Film makers see Mr. Brit as a soft target, and stick the knife in at every opportunity. The Brits are used to being the bad guys in the big pictures like Titanic and The Patriot while the hero is always the All-American boy. And even James Bond made his mark with the Scot Sean Connery and now an Irishman, Piers Brosnan -- there being, apparently, no English actors of suitable prowess.

Summer vacations provide no relief. On the beaches of Europe the Brit is often a laughing stock. While the Frenchman is out water skiing, the German surfing and the Italian skydiving, what’s the pale-skinned Brit doing? Paddling. Or getting hopelessly drunk and disgracing himself in a variety of ways, all of course reported with enthusiastic detail by the sadistic British tabloids.

To be fair, the British tabs will take a pot shot at just about anyone if it makes good copy. The male stereotypes are simple and memorable. Spaniards, Greeks and Italians are ‘greasy,’ Germans ‘arrogant,’ the French ‘small and smelly’ and the Americans (even 50 years after the term was first used) are still written off as “over-paid, over-sexed and over here!” But nobody gets quite the abuse that the home-grown man gets.

It’s not surprising that, faced with this unrelenting torrent of criticism and humiliation, the British male is now trying to find ways to explain himself, to get back on top. His methods have been varied and contrasting - some light-hearted, others deadly serious. I’ve picked out just a few.

Method ‘A’ - Demonstration of macho virility:

Former Prime Minister John Major fell into the ‘hapless wimp’ category in the
popular imagination. Nice, but grey; decent but boring - that just about summed him up. He was regularly characterised by cartoonists in the national press with his Y-front underwear worn outside his pants - a graphic and humiliating illustration of his Mr Bean-like tendencies.

But now we learn that just prior to becoming Prime Minister, Major conducted a steamy four-year affair with Edwina Curry, an infamous Tory Temptress and fellow Minister in the Government. The whole country has reacted with astonishment at this news. We’ve all had to reassess our opinion of Mr Major. I went from seeing him as a harmless nerd to a spirited stud in a day and a half.

Major isn’t the first top politician to surprise us in this way. The former President of the European Union and British Cabinet Minister, Roy Jenkins, has admitted (or failed to deny) that he had an affair with Jackie Kennedy in the 60s! Surprising enough as it is, but especially when you consider that Jenkins has a face like a scaly prune, a speech defect and an intellectual snobbery infuriating for its lack of shame. I guess he must have attributes that only Jackie saw.

Does all this demonstrate that the famed British stiff upper lip quivers with raw passion in private? Maybe the Englishman can keep going for half an hour or more, but is just too modest and secure to boast about it? Whatever, these recent revelations at least go some way to confounding some of Mr. Brit’s stated inadequacies.

Method ‘B’ - Getting angry and political:

The UK men’s movement first appeared in the early 90's, at about the same time as a similar organisation grew up in the States. At first it seemed like a joke. But gradually it has evolved, and is being taken ever more seriously. Organisations such as the men’s civil rights group ManKind and the campaigning group Families Need Fathers are putting the case for men in the fields of health, education and the family law courts. They say that men are as often the victims of discrimination as women, and have a need for representation just as much.

In fact, these organisations have a point. There are compelling and disturbing statistics illustrating the problems facing men and boys in the UK. British boys are now regularly out-performed by girls in school exams -- so much so, that some commentators believe the exam system to be skewed against them deliberately. The British male dies, on average, six years before the average female - suffering higher rates of cancer and heart disease in the process. Yet most government health promotion expenditure goes on campaigns aimed at women. Suicides among young men are seven times more frequent than those among young women. And of course if you walk on the streets of big cities you’ll be disturbed by the homeless - nearly always men.

Men’s groups believe that government policy has been aimed at making women’s lives better, while neglecting those of men, precisely because men have failed to stand together, politicise and lobby. Their recent work suggests that things are changing.

Method C - Leaving the country:

Men are now officially a minority in the UK. According to a recent census, there are two million more women than men in the country (30 million to 28 million), one reason being that young men are simply fleeing abroad. Often it’s the most talented and educated that go, leaving a higher proportion of untalented and uneducated behind. I myself have two male friends that have left the country in the last year. The weather is one reason, career progression another. But the fact that it is mostly young men that leave suggests an additional, and perhaps subtler context.

Method ‘D’: Revelling in and enjoying the criticism:

In the mid 90's there was a fabulously successful sitcom called “Men Behaving Badly,” whose basic storyline involved two 30-something men getting into all sorts of laddish scrapes, and their 30-something girlfriends’ exasperation at their failure to grow up. Amazingly, these two slobs (the guys, not the girls) almost became role models - the philosophy being that if you’re destined to be a slob, you might as well have fun doing so.

Living up to the lyrics of a song sung by the supporters of a London soccer club - “No one likes us, we don’t care” - the men of this type revel in their beer bellies and their failure to contribute meaningfully to society. For them, life is one big ‘laugh,’ and those who criticise them can ‘bog off.’

Will these responses collectively make a difference to the lot of the British male? Many men of my acquaintance are too busy to worry -- busy being decent, hard-working citizens, who care about their families and who are, generally speaking, a credit to their gender and society at large.

Others are beginning to appreciate the difficulties facing them. Being sacked from your job, losing your kids in divorce cases, or getting testicular cancer are things that tend to concentrate the mind. Some are beginning to realise that the game of life does not necessarily involve a level playing field.

For these, the knowledge that men are fighting back - albeit in fairly eccentric ways - is reassuring. It’s taken time of course. It’s taken time for the British man to understand the changes in society, and then to come up with a response. It’s as though Mr. Brit has taken account of all the criticism, looked at himself in the mirror, analysed his defects and finally said to himself, “Hey wait a minute! I’m not that bad …”

Now he only has to undo the stereotypes. This may take a while.

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