Is today’s world harder for blokes than women?

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The British feminist Caitlin Moran has a new book out, What About Men, in which she proposes a radical idea: in today’s world, it may be tougher to be a man than a woman. Moran lines up some big issues about the patriarchy and its impact on men’s mental and physical health, and also discusses the ruinous confusion, among some men, between power and empowerment.

It’s great stuff – but among the big issues, there may be other ways in which it’s tougher to be a man. Let me count them.

It’s hard out here for a man, having to pretend to like sports.Credit: iStock

The clothes are boring. Where are the colours? Where are the capes and jumpsuits? Where, oh where, are the pirate shirts? To be a man is to be handed a pair of grey/blue pants, and a somewhat lighter-coloured shirt. You can add a tie if you are up yourself. Peak boredom is reached with the black-tie function in which the women parade like exotic birds, each with their own distinctive plumage, while the men are dressed as a drab backdrop against which the women can sparkle. Just be careful, ladies, who you take home at the end of the night: dressed as they are, it’s almost impossible to pick the difference.

You must pretend an interest in sport. Plenty of women love their sport but, for them, it’s not compulsory. Meanwhile, I’m standing amid a jovial group of chaps at a BBQ, cradling a beer, as they talk of Nathan Cleary, Cameron Munster and James Tedesco, while I patiently wait for some hint as to what sport they might be discussing. I’m pretty sure it’s golf.

You’re supposed to know how a car works. Women, I know, find it frustrating when they visit the mechanic or the car yard, and are treated like idiots who know nothing. “Don’t worry, little lady, I’ll fix it up, that’s assuming your husband isn’t available to discuss the matter.” Awful! There is, however, an opposite problem: the man who genuinely knows nothing but is treated as if he does. “Mate, your blurgin pipe is clogged at the point where it meets the manifold,” says my mechanic. “Ah, yes,” I’ll reply, “I suspected as much.” Meanwhile, from the merry sparkle in his eye, I know that he knows that I know nothing, and where’s the dignity in that?

Caitlin Moran’s What About Men.Credit: Penguin

Any failure to visit the doctor is seen as an act of macho delusion. It’s true that some men don’t look after their health. It’s also true that women are, in general, more attentive to such matters. All the same, there are circumstances in which a “wait and see” attitude is justified by the evidence. This, however, does not go down well. Sometimes the women in your life say it out loud: “What is it with you men? Just make a booking with the doctor. You really are a very sad individual.” Other times they just flash you a look of pity. In extreme circumstances they send a merry missive letter to New Idea’s “Mere Male” column. The only time an Australian male is totally safe from censure is when inside an MRI machine.

Shaving. Sure, some women make a commitment to hair removal, but I don’t imagine they have to do it every single day. The only other option for the modern male is to grow a beard, and who wants that?

You are expected to know about plumbing. Have you looked inside a toilet cistern? It looks like the board game Mouse Trap – full of levers which push on other levers, which in turn cause plugs to lift up or down in ways that are quite inexplicable. It’s also full of parts with faintly disconcerting names, such as “ballcock”. And so, perhaps, you are forced to declare the task is beyond you. This is when you are greeted with that most demoralising of phrases: “No problem, we’ll get a man in.” The adjective “real” is not placed before the noun “man”, but it certainly hovers there.

People think it’s weird if you cry. Australian men, it seems to me, are emotionally open. We’ll cry watching Kenny. Bob Hawke was almost constantly in tears. There are supporters of the Wests Tigers who haven’t had a dry eye since 2011. Put on a good wedding and every man in the room will be sobbing halfway through the vows. There are Telstra advertisements that make me tear-up (although I do draw the line at bank ads.) So why do we keep insisting that men don’t cry? The Aussie ones do.

You’re forced to deal with rats. As soon as the scratching noise is heard to the pantry or the shed, the cry goes up. Is there anyone here with a Y-chromosome? For me, the main “Y” is why me? I’m freaked out by them, too. Show me where I signed up to this deal? Was there an asterisk next to the annotation “male” on my birth certificate saying, “Will be perpetually required, on request, to murder vermin?”

We die younger. Who knows why? It’s probably to avoid further battles with vermin.

So, here’s to the chaps. A little sympathy wouldn’t go astray.

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