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?

Advertising: Volvo, Pot Noodle and the surprises of masculinity

“The fourth blade shaves you closer still. The fifth blade does your VAT return.”

This Mitchell & Webb sketch still cracks me up. It’s a parody of those adverts for razors that are marketed at men. With each new model, the manufacturers invent superlatives for their advertising, whether to do with extra blades or just how smooth your face will be when you seek the reward of a woman’s touch. Then there’s the bigger story to do with razor advertising of course: men’s razors are tough and named after weapons, while women’s are curvy and pink.

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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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Zayn Malik: does a crush only move in one direction?

Zayn MalikI know he’s the mysterious one, and maybe that’s the point. I don’t know much more about him. But I know I love him. It’s a ridiculous teenage crush, of course. I could never get a boy like Zayn. For so many reasons. But I can’t help loving him.

When he announced he was leaving One Direction I was over the moon. I don’t listen to their music—I can’t even name a song—so the reason I was happy was because the spotlight shifted to Zayn. The other hapless morons in his band were pushed into the shadows while the world speculated on the mysterious one’s reasons. Was he going solo? Was he choosing to settle down? Had he fallen out with the other lads? Who knew? Six months on, do we have any answers at all?

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Am I supposed to coordinate my beard and head hair lengths?

Beard man by ythedarkdays on Flickr

For my day job I spend a lot of time in Shoreditch, east London. Shoreditch is the capital of the hipster culture. It is the epicentre of beard. Shoreditch is to beard what Cornwall is to pasties.

I don’t really have a beard. I have a face with hair that is just as old as the last time I shaved. I mean, I don’t cultivate a beard. I just use clippers to cut the hair every 10 days or so. After day 9 or 10 it gets scratchy and I have to start the growth process again. It’s just a part of my body that grows and then gets cut and then grows again. If I have a beard then Tony Blair has morality: sometimes there and sometimes not. Continue reading