What About Men?
Journalist and comedian Caitlin Moran wrote her bestselling How to Be a Woman in 2011 and has since been facing, and by her own admission, ignoring the question posed by many of her (usually female) audience, “But What About Men?” Only in 2019, when her teenage daughters were faced with, and are themselves asking that question does she decide to deploy her famous wit and wisdom to find an answer. The current book is the result. Her many female fans will no doubt be delighted, and she may extend her hold over a male audience to whom this is largely directed.
She begins her research within easy reach with a group of middle-class, middle-aged, white men; Pete (her husband), James, David, Alex, Stephen, etc., asking them how it was to be a boy (she realizes that she and other Mothers of Daughters are quite ignorant on this score), and how it now is to be a man.
She isolates a number of problems for treatment in subsequent chapters; how men talk to each other . . . or rather don’t; “BlokeChat and Banter Lite remains . . . a way for any man to talk to any other man happily and harmoniously for as long as men need to be with each other”; while avoiding anything intimate, BlokeChat typically circles around sport or politics in a noncommittal way.
Other chapters follow on what men wear (the enviable triumph of The Suit which has no true female equivalent); why men never talk about their penises, but love their balls (Moran claims that she and her female friends and relatives talk constantly and fondly about their vulvas); male attitudes to sex and pornography; and their mastery of undemanding and supportive male friendships, which could of course be linked to their never communicating anything serious, though this link is not made explicitly.
Other sections are devoted to how men talk to women, neglect their health, and deal with midlife and ageing. As Moran says much later in the book “I have followed all the roads I found intriguing, or had something to say about, and have carefully avoided all the topics I don’t really know or care about: like sport, violence, computer games, or why it is that all men can quote huge reams of TV and movie dialogue, particularly The Godfather.”
Overall, she confirms to her satisfaction that men are still imprisoned by the various well-worn clichés of masculinity that she describes, and that perhaps because they are the “default human,” the norm, there are very few “advice books” for men, though women have “stacks of them.” There is consequently no Men’s section in the usual bookshop. No one writes about or talks about the difficulties of being a man, though there are men (Jordan B. Peterson, Andrew Tate are mentioned) who write books addressed to men, telling them that women are a very bad thing and should be ill-used whenever possible.
Looking for role models to which men could aspire Moran uncovers on Google, the “Most Loved” men in the world; including Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Prince, David Attenborough etc “who were loved for being smart, hardworking, kind, joyful, sexy, funny, brave groundbreaking, world-changing, patient, stoic, relaxed and confident.” Also it could be added that the Much Loved Men exhibit a lot more “diversity” than her original informants.
With a very few exceptions (the transvestite, potter Grayson Perry earns a mention) Moran appears to listen to and address a very limited category of men: white, heterosexual, middle class, and mostly middle-aged. When she strays beyond her reference group, as when referring to the influences of nature versus nurture she seems to flounder and even contradict herself.
Many of her references though made ironically, seem very dated, such as the importance of the discussion on Posh Spice rejoining the Spice Girls; she could have noticed that many celebrity dads are busily vaunting their fatherhood and other soft skills, including Posh’s husband David Beckham.
The book is written in Moran’s racy and raunchy style beloved by her fans though there’s an occasional misstep; it’s unusual and incongruous given the general tenor of the book to have a joke featuring FGM, though she’s clearly not a supporter.
Moran concludes that it is easier to be a woman than a man now, because of feminism; unlike men, women—and this is the only real difference—have a philosophy that questions gender (and increasingly and divisively, many other social divides that Moran does not reflect on in her book: sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, race, class, age, religion, and more).
Moran’s publication tends to see women and men as two largely undifferentiated blocks, concerned only with binary differences that many societies seem to be in the process of transcending.
However, and based on the many things that she acknowledges that men do well, (placatingly she lists, loyalty, bravery, hardworking, “a general sense of mucking in”) she can easily envisage a successful men’s movement and proposes some building blocks they can start with.
What About Men? is a breezy read but with few new insights and will no doubt find itself in the Women’s Section of the bookstores. The real proof of this pudding will come from the response of the men who have the fortune or persistence to find and eat it.