Why is the man in my office who wears shorts mocked for it?

11653362_978250142193349_1852221431_nI’d noticed the shorts. Of course I’d noticed the shorts. We were all in a big meeting, and there they were, failing to cover my colleague’s pale white legs, making his sandals even more obvious. Every other man around him wore trousers. They kept their legs to themselves. Even though it was one of the hottest days of the year, and we were all sweltering. I was doubly surprised: firstly, a colleague was wearing seconds, and secondly, it was Ted, who had always seemed to me to be quite traditional.

“Did you see Ted’s summer attire?” our colleague David scoffed, when he and I were alone in the lift. I knew that he wasn’t really gunning for Ted; it was just light mockery. It’s a form of friendly fire that people dismiss as “banter”.

“Oh, erm…? Oh, the shorts and sandals,” I said, playing dumb initially, to indicate that I hadn’t really thought about Ted’s clothing.

Then I paused. I thought for a split second, and then decided to plunge in and say something. “It’s so hot,” I said. “You’ve gotta do something.”

If I’d had more time to think about my reply, or to write it and redraft it, I’d have said something better. Something like: “On a day like today, Ted’s the smartest man in the room.” Or: “He’s an example to us all: sensible, practical, and unconcerned about gossip in the lift.” Or even: “Yeah, what’s your problem, David?”

In any case, David seemed to be quieted by my response. He must have detected that I didn’t want to engage in the banter. You might say that I won, but I don’t feel like I did. I was still wearing trousers, and I knew then that I would still wear them the next day too.

When I started working with the colleagues I have now, I noticed that the men were fairly uniform in what they wear. They were not as uniform as everyone wearing a grey or navy suit—effectively an actual uniform. But most of them wear a casual shirt and comfortable trousers, such as jeans or chinos. The colours and patterns are subtle. There are no Hawaiian carnivals or African prints.

I was very conscious of this when I started, and although I hate the idea of having to fit in, I made decisions that I wouldn’t have made in my old job. I decided against wearing certain T-shirts or, if I did wear them, I’d made sure it was on a day when I’d keep my plain jumper on over the top. More recently, nearly a year into my job I’m feeling more comfortable at work, and I believe people are aware of what I’m able to do—so I’ve been relaxing my own dress code. What does that mean? It means I’ll now wear a T-shirt without a jumper or shirt over the top. It means I’ll leave my shoes under my desk and walk around in socks.

Of course, the kind of lift-located mockery Ted is enduring is nothing compared to the harassment that women have endured for centuries. And the annoyance I feel when I scan my wardrobe and decide what to wear, and what it means, is tiny compared to what women have to go through. But still, it’s real.

I’m still not as brave as Ted. I wear shorts all the time in the summer outside of work. But the combination of shorts and the trainers or sandals I’d wear them with might be all too much for people like David. I can’t be arsed with that kind of crap.

Ted’s my hero. Maybe one day I’ll be like him.

How’s your love life? (Ahem, I mean your sex life)

It’s lovely when a person asks how you’re feeling. They’re interested. They’re checking up on you. They’re ready to help if you need it. But there’s one question I find hard to hear: “How’s your love life?”

I usually fudge an answer. I’m polite about it. Rarely am I honest when I reply. But this is a blog, and I can be honest here. So here’s my uncensored response to that question:

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A letter to Kevin because he’s worried about his body

This post was first published on May I Love My Body.

Dear little Kevin,

Take a breath. It’s OK. You’re OK. It’s just puppy fat.

I know you’re confused and disappointed. What you see when you look down isn’t what you’d choose. You’d choose what the other boys have. Flat stomachs and torsos. You might not want pecs or a six pack, but you definitely don’t want flabby boy-breasts. You don’t want a round belly. You’d be happier if your stomach was smooth all the way down, like you’ve seen on the other boys when you all change for your swimming lesson. What James Halton from the other class has is perfect. You wonder why you can’t have the same.

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In trying to be a man, I missed out on so many friendships

When kids are growing up, they see the difference between boys and girls, men and women. In films and video games, men do the most things—the fighting, the wise-cracking, the hunting, the problem solving. Women generally earn less money, don’t have as many important jobs, and do much of the housework and caring for the kids. So girls and boys pick up the fact that there’s a feeling, usually unspoken, that men have more power than women.

This means that being a girl is worse than being a boy—that’s how kids see it. For a boy, being seen to be a girl is really scary because it means he’d be giving up the chance to be on the more powerful side. I know that some boys support Grimsby Town, but generally why would any little boy want to be on the crap side in life?

Boys really want to have power, so until they can get some real power through having a job or having money, they court it in games. Boys play with guns and magic, worship superheroes, and pretend to do jobs that come with power, like builders or footballers. When I was a boy, I wasn’t too interested in these things. I don’t know why (please analyse me in the comments), but I wasn’t that keen on pretending. I preferred just to read. I just wanted ideas and the chance to peek into other people’s lives—so books were my closest friends. Continue reading

Being A Man at the Southbank Centre—full programme now live

This year’s Being A Man festival is going ahead 27-29 November. And it looks like a stonker. I’m chairing a panel debate on male characters in film, TV and video games. It’s called Mad Men, X Men and Grand Theft Auto, and it’s on the Saturday at 1230.

I’ll blog about plans in more detail soon—and I have loads of other half-imagined blog posts to write too (sorry I’ve been absent)—but in the meantime here’s the full Being A Man programme 2015.

Here’s what I’ve said about the festival previously.

Dads can have it all, as long as they make a pile of cash to bequeath

The Swiss bank UBS has come up with a fascinating and anti-social method of attracting more clients. Targeted at busy dads, the UBS ‘good father’ ad campaign says that a successful career and fatherhood don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

USB ad: Cash in hand
USB ad: Cash in hand

The print ad features a photo of a smart, sexy bloke with a fancy watch and a look of oh-god-am-I-doing-the-right-thing? You might think his anguish is about the deal he’s about to sign, over that expensive office table in that expensive, 32nd-storey office with the wrap-round glass windows. But really, when you read the text, you realise NO! He’s worried that he’s not a GOOD FATHER!

Oh crap! The pain, the worry, the anguish, the horror. Seriously, it’s a perfectly good question. Do I spend too much time at work? he wonders. That’s what the ad text says. There’s no thought bubble, but you know it’s coming from his elite-university-educated mind. And you can’t help but feel sorry for him, can you? There he is thinking that all he needed was his spangly watch, those polished shoes and the paper work that can only enrich him further—and then that thought appears. Can I have it all? he asks.

Well, yes mate, you can. Like women years ago, you can have it all. You can have the kids and the busy job. But you can’t have all of the all. You can’t have a fulfilled home life with the kids if you work until 9 every night. You can’t be at work for every breakfast meeting if you’ve got to do the school run.

But this is an ad, right? It has to offer a solution. Here’s what the bank proposes:

UBS ad: how to be a good dad
UBS ad: how to be a good dad

Yes, you read that right. Dads, you can have it all. You can work the busy job and have the successful career and even be a good dad. But the way you get to be a good dad is by, err, just making loads of money to hand down to your poor little love-deprived munchkins. They might grow up searching for guidance they were denied BUT—phewthankgod—they’ll have some cash instead. And cash can buy decent guidance, of course: drugs, therapy, spiritual crap, a gap yarrr in Injaa, maybe even an elite education.

Just as dads are increasingly waking up to the fact that their jobs bring them material wealth but keep them away from their kids, the bank is saying, Don’t panic! You can have it all!

This is a charming benevolent faction of capitalism that is the direct descendent of that which years ago told women that they could still enjoy motherhood while having successful careers. That sentiment was originally hailed by many feminists as a symbol of women’s liberation. (For many women it no doubt was.)

Women should of course be free to have careers and children—with the necessary requirements in law that employers must keep women’s jobs open for them when they take a break to have a baby. But gradually most people have come to realise that although it is increasingly possible—as it should be—to have it all, in fact having it all can lead to a rather crappy existence. The demands of a busy job can drag women away from their kids, or the demands of busy kids can drag mums away from the work they love. With everyone demanding something of a woman, I don’t know how she copes.

Now, as UBS knows, men are feeling the drag of competing demands. And the bank has come up with a solution that makes use of the services it provides. In order to squeeze this solution into some kind of logical sense, with regards to the financial services the bank offers, UBS has to say: you can be a good father if you maximise your wealth so that you have some money to give your kids.

I take this as an implicit assumption that No, you can’t have it all. If ‘all’ means having a loving family life and a successful job, then no you can’t have it. But if you think you can get a loving family life through material means, then yes, you can convince yourself that you’re having it all.

When your son turns up in a few years’ time when you’re retired and the two of you get drunk together and there are awkward silences like always and then he finally comes out and says he never connected with you because you weren’t there, won’t all those numbers on the bank balance look like zeros?

Men: how and where we can touch each other

men touching - Flyboys via Neil Crosby via FlickrI’m not talking about sex. No homo, as the cool lads say when they touch each other for any reason other than a punch. No homo, a guy says to assure his mate that even though he’s touched his mate’s face or arm or knee, it doesn’t mean he wants to touch his willy too. As ever there are ways that men are allowed to touch each other and ways that they definitely aren’t. If you want to keep your masculinity in tact, you’re allowed to touch another guy by punching him in the face—your knuckles pushing into his cheekbones—or by shaking his hand to say hello or to seal a deal.

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