Who knitted Jeremy Corbyn’s jumper?

My first full-time job was for a company that organised arms trade fairs. I didn’t know this when I applied to work for them. My own job was in a completely different division, editing school books. I only found out about the arms trade part when some protestors came round the office distributing flyers. Obviously I resigned on the spot (only kidding. I stayed, paying my rent with tainted money, finally leaving two years before the company stopped hosting the fairs due to pressure from shareholders and staff).

I was reminded of this earlier today, when I tweeted an article about female Labour MPs calling on Jeremy Corbyn to tackle what they describe as “an extremely worrying trend of escalating abuse and hostility.” Shortly afterwards I received this response:

Can we all remember that @RuthSmeeth used to work for @Nestle. The company that killed African babies in the 80s.

Smeeth is one of the letter’s signatories. Presumably we are supposed to think “why, we cannot possibly take it seriously when such an impure, immoral person is calling out pure, righteous Jeremy Corbyn!” Never mind that Smeeth is one of 44 women expressing fear and asking for support. Never mind that one female Labour MP was assassinated just over a month ago. Never mind all that. Smeeth’s a baddie, Jeremy’s a goodie. She is tainted, Jeremy is pure.

Perhaps Corbyn’s more thuggish supporters would be fully committed to tackling misogyny if only those complaining about it were a bit more trustworthy. It’s always the way, isn’t it? You never know when a woman’s got ulterior motives. What if Smeeth only signed the letter because she knows Corbyn’s opposed to killing African babies and she wants to get her revenge? What if all these bloody unreasonable women simply want to make Jezza look bad because he’s nice and they’re mean? Honestly, I wouldn’t trust them if I were you. Which is, of course, somewhat convenient. The left never, ever has to tackle misogyny because it’s something that only ever happens to women and women are, as we all know, less pure than men (menstrual blood, original sin and all that). Continue reading


International Men’s Day: So what is a man, anyway?

It’s International Men’s Day! A day upon which we recognise that not only does masculinity make life crap for women and girls – it tends to fuck things up for men and boys too! What a swizz! Best get busy dismantling the whole damn edifice.

Only joking. Of course, nobody’s really going to challenge male supremacy on behalf of men. What kind of madcap idea would that be? God forbid. Let’s just keep on polishing the same old turd. It can’t make things any worse, right?

We know the facts: men are by far the most likely to commit violent crime and the victims are themselves most likely to be men. We know that men are more likely than women to commit suicide. We know that there’s plenty to do with being a man that is, quite frankly, a bit shit. But when it comes to achieving gender equality, who do we focus on changing? Women. Because, despite the obvious opportunities for self-analysis and change, it seems the dominant class isn’t the problem; it’s the subjugated class for letting themselves be so, well, subjugated. Continue reading

When a man tells me how to do feminism

Dear Antony Loewenstein

I would like to congratulate you on being brave. So, so brave for writing a piece in the Guardian on why feminists are doing it all wrong. It’s especially brave given what an awful, entitled, sexist piece it is. Still don’t worry. I doubt very much that too many rape threats, accusations of bigotry and no-platformings will be coming your way.

It’s nice that you realise “men have a stake in gender equality”:

… from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium.

Do you know what would also have been nice? Also acknowledging that men like you have a stake – a pretty enormous one – in gender inequality, from benefiting from unfair pay, all the way to getting away with rape and murder. Still, never mind. It’s not like it’s your job to point these things out. That’s for the feminists, especially the “western ones,” who are currently too busy having “debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism” (yeah, that’s totally how all the shelters and rape crisis centres are being maintained). Continue reading

On women, empathy and (sometimes) not giving a toss

Years ago I happened to read the mansplainer wankscience classic that is Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference (cover quote: “Women will want to talk about it … men will sit silent and brood over its details”). It was every bit as rubbish as my feminine intuition had told me it would be, apart from the appendices, which featured some cool multiple choice quizzes (a bit like the ones Cosmo used to do in the 80s). According to these, I have a high SQ (Systemizing Quotient) and a low EQ (Empathy Quotient), or, to put it in everyday sexism terms, a male brain! Get me!

Naturally, I was rather pleased about this. I may be a feminist but I’m also pretty damn responsive to the sexism that surrounds me every minute of the day. “A male brain?” thought I. “That must mean I’m dead clever!” Of course, this joy was tempered by the fact that my low EQ must mean I’m pretty shit at being a woman. No wonder my partner called me “dead inside” for failing to cry at the end of Ice Age 2! But at least from that point onwards I’d know that it wasn’t my fault for having been debating the merits of US foreign policy with some right-wing tosser on CiF when I was meant to be following the trials of Manny the Mammoth; it was my male brain wot made me do it.

Continue reading

Letter To My “Little Men” On International Men’s Day

To My Sons

Today is International Men’s Day, a day upon which to celebrate all things manly. Being a mere woman / failed role model I’m not sure what all these things are (Top Gear? rewiring plugs?), so I’ve had to visit the International Men’s Day website in order to check.

There are, apparently, six pillars to International Men’s Day (how phallic is that?). These include promoting positive male role models, celebrating men’s positive contributions to society and improving gender relations.  All pretty woolly stuff which, if you squint a bit, actually sounds quite feminist (which is weird given the absence of women over the age of six in all the IMD stock photos). There’s also focussing on men’s health and well being (nice) and creating a better, safer world (which sounds ace, if not terribly male-specific). Finally there’s highlighting discrimination against men (that’s probably the most important one. Don’t ask me why. I just know it is). It’s quite a lot to cover in one day, isn’t it?

Continue reading

Girl power, loneliness and avoiding “the friendzone”

According to a piece in today’s Guardian, “the girl power generation are confused”. I’m not surprised. I’m confused, too, not least because I’d always assumed was part of said generation. Alas, it turns out I’m too old. Already 21 when Wannabe was released, I can’t be one of the “twentysomething women” who can claim to be “the most liberated and educated women ever”. So liberated, in fact, that they get to be defined by a 1990s girl band (the lack of a corresponding Boyzone generation can be taken as clear evidence that the pendulum has swung too far).

But wait! Said twentysomethings might be liberated and educated, but as you’ve already guessed, they’re still not happy! And not just because previous generations were awarded enigmatic letters such as X and Y whereas they got the sodding Spice Girls. Today’s young women are unhappy because too many people have written too many books telling them what to do. From The Rules to He’s Just Not That Into You, books have bombarded women with “contradictory messages” which leave them “in a bind, and without much help in figuring out what they actually want” (see, that’s what happens when you make the ladies literate): Continue reading

My partner: 100% ace

Looking through recent posts here (as one does, in a totally non-vain way), it has come to my attention that I am not painting my partner in the best possible light. Let’s look at the evidence:

  • a few weeks ago he’s away on a school trip as part of his training so I moan about how I’m the main carer and the main earner and it’s all rubbish and unfair
  • now it’s half term and I moan about how I’m not in fact the main carer and he is and everyone thinks he’s amazing just because he’s male
  • next I moan about how I want another baby but we don’t have enough money and hey, did I mention I’m not the one who doesn’t have a job?
  • for good measure, I throw in a post listing all the ways in which he meets the criteria for being a hyper-privileged public-school male, apart from the being rich bit.

Basically I am like Polly Filla in Private Eye, complaining about “useless Simon”. It’s just not good enough, not least because my partner is ace.

By way of recompense, here are just some of the ways in which he is totally brilliant. You will read this and be well jel (or possibly stop now because it’s all a bit personal and soppy):

  1. he is mega-intelligent. Although at primary school he took an IQ test and achieved a score of 84, indicating “dullness”. He then spent several years playing along with it because he liked the Fuzz-Buzz reading scheme, before pulling his finger out and getting a first from Cambridge, a PhD and teaching fellowships at several high-profile universities. He’s a right joker like that! (Actually, this might make him sound a bit of a knob. But he’s not. He just genuinely liked the Fuzz-Buzz characters.)
  2. in a single day he can: eat a full English breakfast, make flat-pack furniture, advise me not to get a particular dress because “the asymmetric cut isn’t for you”, commiserate with my dad over dead goldfish, bathe and put the kids to bed, give a fully referenced analysis of pre-industrial warfare and how it should have been represented in That One Film I Have Seen All Year… Basically, he is Renaissance Man (don’t actually know what Renaissance Man is. It’s not a film, is it? But anyhow, that’s him).
  3. he delivered our second son. I think I may have mentioned this once (or a million times) before on this blog. But did I also mention that as I went into labour he put on a chicken casserole? Fresh ingredients and everything. Then he delivered the baby and spent a bit of time bonding before nipping home to check on the cooking so that our other son and the babysitter could have a nice home-cooked tea.
  4. he knows everything that happened in the past, ever. At least, in comparison to how much I know, which is fuck all unless it’s related to the German Romantics. Sometimes, to be fair, this is annoying. One of the first films I saw with him was Gladiator. I was sat in the cinema between him, a historian, and his friend, a classicist.* Both of them kept guffawing knowingly for reasons I will never comprehend (some shit about historical accuracy and anachronisms). I mean, it’s Gladiator! Give Ridley Scott a break! At other times, though, his historical wisdom is just cool. For instance, at Baby Rhythm and Rhyme, the group were singing The Grand Old Duke of York when one mother wondered, idly, who said Duke might be. To which my partner replied “he’s thought to be the second son of King George the Third, who fought during the last military campaign where royalty commanded troops directly. It was during the Napoleonic Wars and …” etc. etc. Actually he did go on a bit. But it was good. Like that time he decided to explain to a one-year-old, quite literally, what that twinkling “little star” is. Wonder no more, kids.
  5. my parents mock him for being a useless over-educated historian. Then he fixes their telly, builds their chest of drawers, sorts out their internet connection and they don’t say a word. That’s not him being useful. That’s just him being “a man”. Only my dad can’t do any of this and he’s a man. But that’s my dad being “not technical”. Ooh, it all gets very complicated.
  6. he’s more of a feminist than I am. For instance, one of our most blazing rows ever was about the sex discrimination case raised by Libby in Neighbours. He was totally on the side of Libby whereas I was less sure. At one point I even stormed out of the house, speechless with outrage. On reflection I was the one in the wrong. Partner, I’m sorry. And you too, Libby. But not the actress Kym Valentine, who played Libby. That would be going too far.
  7. on Christmas Eve 2002 he picked up an old man wandering along the side of the road in his slippers. The man was freezing cold, couldn’t speak due to a tracheotomy and had set off from the hospital three miles away. Other drivers had ignored him but my partner took him back to his parents’ house, fully aware that this would make him look like a liberal bleeding-heart softy. Yet my partner being “weak” and not assuming that this was just “some drunk” may have been what saved this man’s life. Nevertheless, he also has time for random drunks (and not just me). Once my partner was on a train when another passenger threw up in the carriage. The other passengers were furious, but my partner talked to the man, found out that he’d just lost his job and got wasted and was worried about getting home. My partner sat and listened, and made sure he had money and knew where he was going next. My partner is just an incredibly kind, humane person, and he is kind to people even if it makes him seem foolish or wrong to others. He doesn’t judge people and I wish I could be more like that (instead he’s frequently trying to persuade me that my utopian society in which “the mean” – as defined by me – aren’t allowed to vote would be morally wrong. Although deep down, I still can’t quite see why).
  8. he’s good at general “partnery” things and being fit and stuff. None of which will be gone into in any detail.
  9. he puts up with me. To be honest, he has some kind of delusion regarding what I’m actually like. But it works to my advantage so I go along with it.
  10. he is dead funny. Incredibly witty and astute. Having said that, my favourite joke of his makes him despair. In 2003 he bought his dad a hat for Christmas. When writing the gift tag, he considered putting “Hatty Christmas!”, then changed his mind. But his subconscious thought better of it and he ended up writing it anyhow. I cannot explain why, but to me, this is the funniest thing ever. I’m laughing now just thinking about it. Hatty Christmas! He wrote “Hatty Christmas”! He is a man of great wisdom, and an expert in the art of punning and verbal wit, but no, for me, “Hatty Christmas” will always be his finest hour. He finds this immensely depressing. He’ll often come up with some marvellous bon mot, but I’ll forget to laugh, and then he’ll look at me and say, sadly, “I guess it’s no “Hatty Christmas”…” No, alas, it isn’t. But he came up with “Hatty Christmas!” once. That’s enough for me (actually, having finished that particular gift tag, he then thought “fuck it” and totally went for it with the puns. I particularly liked the tag for my mum, who’s called Pauline: “Tis the season to be Polly!”).

Anyhow, that is my partner. He is 100% ace. I would put all of this on the CVs he’s sending out, if it would help. But it probably won’t. Still, I have been adding “Hatty Christmas!” at the end of every covering letter. That wouldn’t be connected to the lack of interviews, would it?

PS Another thing: He never says “stop writing that sodding blog and talk to me!” Even though that is what he is thinking right now.

* Note to pedants: I’m not putting “an historian”. I don’t hold with it. But I did consider it, so ner.

Tolstoy: Great writer, useless birthing partner

Here is a quiz which gets to the heart of what it means to be human: when witnessing a fellow human being in intense physical pain, do you:

  1. try to support them, even if you can’t take the pain away?
  2. try to support them, and to inject them with hard drugs, if available?
  3. shrug, say “there’s not much I can do”, and leave, on the basis that frankly, this whole “pain” thing is making you uncomfortable and might make you look at the victim in a different way should you want to shag them later?
  4. go for Option 3, but also call the victim’s mum, just to show you’re not a complete bastard?

So, which did you pick? As you might have guessed, this is actually a stupid quiz. There isn’t a “right” answer. They’re all context-specific.

For instance, if you were an army corporal and your best buddy had had his arm blown off, you’d probably be there for him, at least until the enemies were too close at hand. If, on the other hand, you were an army corporal but your wife was in labour, you’d be justified in running a mile, even with no enemies at the gate. It’s all just a bit … uncomfortable.

Today’s Daily Mail  includes a piece arguing that for many couples, having the partner (or “husband”, as they so quaintly insist) present at the birth of a new baby is a Bad Idea. To put this point across, they don’t just use the examples of various couples who tried it once and didn’t like it. Oh, no, this is also what the experts recommend. For instance, here’s what one has to say:

The ideal birth environment involves no men […] The best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife. No doctor, no husband, nobody else.

Thus speaks Michel Odent. A childbirth expert who also happens to be a man and who therefore, by his own definition, cannot ever have witnessed an “ideal birth”. But hey, ladies, he just knows. Shouldn’t we all put our trust in him?

Of course, you might not be able to get a “silent, low-profile and experienced midwife”. Not to worry. Guess who the Mail recommends? Your mum! That’s right, your dear old ma! And to be fair, I’m not having a go at her. She’s probably ace and may well provide you with much-needed support. But whom you have as a birthing partner is a very personal choice. And personally I cannot think of anyone I’d like less than my mum. She wouldn’t faint or anything but do you know what she would do? She’d tut. That’s just what she does, all the sodding time. And in this situation, I wouldn’t know whether it was disapproval at labour for being painful, or at the midwife for not being good enough, or at me for being in labour in the first place. Or possibly all three. Tut, tut, tut. That’s what it would be like. And eventually I’d find myself begging for Michel Odent.

Naturally if a couple agree that it would be better for Daddy not to be present at the birth, that’s their choice. Or rather, I think it should be the choice of the person who’s going through labour, really. It’s the least she deserves. But I can’t help thinking that men such as Gordon Ramsey and those featured in the Daily Mail article, who publicly and loudly declare themselves unable to face seeing their partners give birth, are in no way making a declaration of weakness. On the contrary, it’s pure bloody-minded machismo. I’m so hard, I’m leaving my partner to cope with labour without me. I’m off to shout at some trainee chefs! Labour’s for girls!

I was once in the pub with some medical student friends, way back in 1999. There were five of us – two heterosexual couples and me. One of the couples were in the middle of rotations in obstetrics. Thus they were describing, in vivid detail, the miracle of giving birth, or to be more specific, the fact that some women shit themselves during the process. “I’d never be there to watch my wife give birth – the whole thing would disgust me”, announced the male half of the couple, smugly. And everyone nodded in agreement. Everyone except me. I tried to object as best I could, but I was hampered by the fact that a) I was the only one who hadn’t seen a person give birth (and potentially shit themselves, which was the main thing), and b) I was the only single person, i.e. I couldn’t even find a man, let alone one who’d be willing to stay with me after I’d shat myself in front of him. Well, fast-forward 13 years, and Couple Number 1 have split up. Couple Number 2 have four children, and the father was present at all of the births. As for me? Well, not only was my partner present at both our children’s births, he even delivered no. 2, on account of there not being anyone else around. For a while we pinned the birth notes to our kitchen cupboard, since we liked the fact that it said “Delivered by: Dad in the car park”. After a while, though, we took it down, as that page of the notes also contained other details. We’re an open household, but I don’t think people need to know about my vaginal tearing when I’m offering them a Rich Tea.

I don’t think fathers should be present at the birth of their children if both they and their partner believe it’s the wrong thing. However, there’s a difference between this and claims, reported in the Mail, that “seeing female biology in an entirely different light can destroy the intimacy between a man and a woman”. I mean, what the fuck? Isn’t it about time the sheer greatness of female biology gained proper recognition? Proper recognition which doesn’t include women having to forgo all future shags so as not to upset the general balance of things by making men feel a bit cringe? This is, surely, where we should be.  And if women feel that they’ve been seen “in what you might call an undignified state”, there is a real issue with our priorities and our understanding of what dignity really is.

Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina features a character called Levin, who is unable to look at his wife Kitty in the same way after she gives birth. According to the introductory notes in my Penguin translation, Tolstoy modelled Levin on himself. This (and the over-use of that rubbish quote from the start – you know the one – “Happy families are all alike blah blah blah”) has led me to think Tolstoy was a bit of a tosser. It’s the reason why I’ve never read War and Peace. Hey, you could use this reason, too!

PS If you’re wondering whether I shat myself when I gave birth well, I might have, the first time. There’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding what my partner may or may not have seen, so it’s not an incident I’m going to investigate any further.

Humour: The “acceptable” way to tell women they’re less intelligent than men

Where I work I’m lucky enough to sit near two people who are very, very funny. It’s hard to put into words quite what makes them so amusing, but they have a genuine knack of making me, all our colleagues and, above all, each other laugh. It’s all down to their relationship with each other, and the banter, and, every now and then, the songs. One will start singing, then the other will join in, and suddenly they’re parodying Beyoncé in a manner that’s both original and tremendously well observed. All this sounds potentially very annoying, but it isn’t because it’s relatively infrequent and extremely well done. If we worked for some trendy, fake-liberal company like Apple or Ben and Jerry’s, they’d be in line for some annual bonus for being all-round office merriment makers. Or at least they would be, if they were men.

Their type of humour – light, almost silly, but concise, and based on the bringing together and filtering-down of countless snippets of knowledge – does, I think, require a huge amount of intelligence to pull off. It’s a level of intelligence that some might not expect to find in two women in their twenties. And hence some colleagues, men in particular, seem to find it a little strange. They laugh – it’s impossible not to – but then always end on some patronising, belittling note: “Tch! You two! You’re worse than my kids!” As if to say well, sure, you’re funny, but you probably don’t even know why.

We have funny men in our department too (hell, we’re just comedy central). The difference is, they’re not quite as funny (as are none of the other women, either), but also, no one accuses them of being like children. After all, that would be stupid. The humour is self-conscious; they know they’re playing the fool. Not like those crazy females, who don’t really have a clue how or why they’ve struck comedy gold. In any case, comedy geniuses or not, these women keep their humour under wraps when it comes to a boardroom presentation. It’s probably just as well.

Today’s Observer features a piece by Dan Boffey called “Why women’s jokes fall flat in the boardroom“, covering some research completed by linguistics academic Dr Judith Baxter:

An analysis of the 600,000 words used during 14 meetings, seven led by a woman and seven by a man, found sharp differences between the use of humour by men and women in the boardroom – and how the jokes are received. Baxter discovered that the majority of male humour (80%) in business meetings takes the form of flippant, off-the-cuff witticisms or banter. About 90% of it receives an instant, positive response, usually as laughter.Yet most female humour during the course of a meeting is self-deprecatory (70%) and more often than not (at least 80%) is received in silence, according to Baxter.

I read this and it makes me feel instantly miserable. What a quick, direct and effective way to undermine women. Just don’t laugh at their jokes. It’s guaranteed to make a person feel crap. It doesn’t surprise me that female humour is therefore also more self-deprecatory. What do you expect if you’re already in a hostile environment? You’d hardly want to put yourself out on a limb.

Some research into why women are less likely than men to ask for pay rises has suggested that this may, in part, be based on the fact that if they did behave in the same manner as their male counterparts, they would be perceived in a far more negative way and actually undermine their own progress. It’s no good telling a woman to be more like a man; act more like a man when you’re still expected to be a woman, and you’ll piss people off all the more. This is why Baxter’s own advice, based on her research, seems to me to shy away from what’s really required:

What should senior women do about it? They should learn to develop the running gag or light, teasing banter with male and female colleagues at appropriate moments such as the beginning and ends of meetings, passing in the corridor, or while making a cup of tea.

Doesn’t this seem a little, well, patronising? Do women really need to learn the “right” type of humour? Or do we need to learn to respect women enough to appreciate their jokes?

Because I think humour is linked to intellect (one of the many, many reasons why Frankie Boyle isn’t funny), whenever people suggest women “just aren’t” as funny as men, I think it’s a way of saying that actually, deep down, they just aren’t as clever. It’s the new, acceptable way of doing it. They might outperform boys at school, they might be outnumbering men on degree courses, but hey, they just don’t make us laugh. It’s not their fault. It’s just the way they are. Hence we piss ourselves at Russell Brand but smile politely at all the crap “token women” who appear on panel shows. It doesn’t bother us that if these women were saying the same things as the men, we still wouldn’t find it as funny. Oh, it’s in the delivery, we’ll airily say. What part of “the delivery” do we mean? The part that comes with anything being said by someone with a higher-pitched voice? Or the part that comes with us assuming that whatever the subtext of a joke could have been, it probably isn’t there after all, because a woman’s unlikely to get it?

It’s hard to argue seriously about discrimination in humour. You can hardly order someone to find something funny, on the basis that it would be bigoted not to. Furthermore (furthermore! look how serious I’m being!) you can’t objectively measure how funny the telling of a joke is; you can only judge from the response, which can be clouded by all sorts of prejudice. Certainly, from what I see in daily life, women are every bit as funny as men because they’re every bit as clever and capable of making crazy associations, and of puncturing delusions, and of twisting language, and of basically using their minds for fun and to entertain others. We find them less funny only when being so would give them a kind of power.

Funny, that.

BTW, in case you’re wondering whether I’m ever funny in the workplace, no, I’m not. I sometimes make the odd stab at it, but I’m so tired and over-caffeinated people can’t tell whether I’m serious or not, so they end up getting a little bit scared. I do, however, have a good reputation in my workplace for being hilarious on Facebook. I have actually heard colleagues recommend that others “befriend” me, not because I’d be a good friend, but because my Facebook statuses are apparently a laugh a minute. I’m like the Mr Kipling of Facebook: uploads too many boring pictures of her children and won’t add any fish to your virtual aquarium, but she does make exceedingly witty observations about her crap life. It’s reached a point where I can’t take the pressure. What if I lose my touch? I won’t just let myself down, I’ll let down women in my workplace and dampen the “being funny” torch we seek to hold aloft. See, I bet men don’t have similar worries. No wonder they’re laughing.

The Second Sexism: A posting hat-trick

I have never ranted about the same thing three times in one day. Okay, that’s not true; I’ve just never done it on a blog before (and each blog post tends to be the outcome of a million in-my-head rants, so perhaps you could call the posts “concentrated” rants. A bit like smoothies. How many should one have in a day?). Anyhow, I am STILL fuming about the sodding Second Sexism book discussed in the Observer. So here goes:

I am now starting to wonder what the actual intent and effect of the coverage given to these books could be. Is it to encourage harmony between the “two” sexes? To permit women to see the error of their feminist ways? Or could it be that most people will ignore it, feminists like me will be pissed off, but a small minority of men will use it to feed the growing resentment they feel against women, women they blame for whatever their lot is in life? Which of these do you think it could be?

I’m wondering, too, if it could feed the most extreme type of resentment, the type that leads you to gouge a woman’s eyes out and imprison her for 12 hours without calling for help, while you dwell on your own fate and what she “made you do”? Obviously I’m referring to what happened to Tina Nash. Do you think this has nothing to do with a wider cultural trend towards believing that if men suffer, women must therefore have the upper hand? A belief that if men lash out, it’s in part because they’re oppressed and manipulated by the women in their life? Of course, it has been universally decreed that Tina Nash’s ex was “a monster”. But what about Raoul Moatt? Ched Evans? These men have, for some, become folk heroes, brought down by evil slags. I don’t see a huge leap between this type of thinking and the assertions made by men’s rights activists and writers. Men suffer, therefore men are victims of women, or at least of a system that apparently favours women over men.

This morning I was listening to The Killers while getting dressed. The album Sawdust features a cover of the Kenny Rogers classic “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, the lyrics of which are from the perspective of a Vietnam War vet who’s been seriously injured and is now confined to his home awaiting death (so, trauma-wise, it’s way beyond being piqued at a Jo Brand joke). His woman, Ruby, wants to get dressed up and “take [her] love to town”. This seriously pisses off our ‘Nam vet, as you’d expect. So much so that, by the end of the song, he tells us “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”. Nice. But trauma does that to a person. The trouble is, the trauma isn’t all Ruby’s fault.

“It wasn’t me who started this whole crazy Asian war” sings Kenny/Brandon Flowers, plaintively. True. But it wasn’t Ruby, either. Nor was it Mrs Eisenhower (or maybe it was. You know what Lady Macbeths we all are “behind the scenes”). But anyhow, the world is shit, and there’s Ruby painting her lips and rolling her tinted hair like none of it matters. Stupid bitch. Wouldn’t you want to kill her? Not the people who sent you to war, not the politicians, not the generals, but her. The stupid bitch with her lipstick and curls who’s leavin’ now cos you just heard her slammin’ out the door (after a day that may or may not have been spent emptying bedpans and being shouted at. We don’t know. Anyhow, she’s a stupid tart and deserves to die).

We attack those closest to us, because they’re there. I don’t even dislike this song; I actually find the lyrics quite beautiful in the way they depict someone who’s totally trapped, aware of what he can see and hear but unable to play an active role in the world any longer. But one thing I do think it shows is how broader male suffering gets set against a perceived absence of suffering in women – because we’re silly, because we’re frivolous, because we’re too busy putting on makeup to think – and creates the sense that women are the privileged ones. And, perhaps, that women deserve to suffer, even violently.

I can’t help thinking books such as The Second Sexism, or at least the reporting of them, stir up these feelings of resentment. I can’t see whom it helps. By contrast, I don’t think it’s at all difficult to see whom it might hurt.

There’s a reason why they’re called “jokes”

Well, I’m back, still posting about that sodding Observer article regarding men’s rights. But there was one thing I forgot to mention and I think it deserves a post all of its own (not just by way of recompense for having been forgotten; but issue, please forgive me).

Anyhow, it’s this bit:

Men are also increasingly the butt of jokes. In a recent article for Grazia magazine, one male writer took exception to comedian Jo Brand claiming that her favourite man was “a dead one” and an advertisement for oven cleaner with the tagline: “So easy, even a man can do it.”

Sigh. Do we really need to explain? One of these is Jo Brand parodying the stereotype of what a feminist is, and the other is a parody of a genuine advert for Oven Pride, except that originally it was “even a woman can do it” and it was meant seriously. Got that? Jesus, men, this has fuck all to do with what anyone thinks of you!

But so what if it did? If we do make jokes about men that we wouldn’t make about women, what does it actually mean about who holds the advantage? Ladies and gentlemen, I refer you to Marcelle D’Argy Smith, former editor of Cosmopolitan. I wouldn’t normally refer you to her, but she made a brilliant point about this on BBC Breakfast a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was essentially that these jokes are like Tom and Jerry cartoons. Tom and Jerry are only funny (okay, not funny, but mildly diverting) because we know that in real life the cat would win. Just as we know that in real life it’s girls who are presumed better off dead and girls who get killed just for being girls, hence leaving some countries with a massive gender imbalance, of the sort we’ve not seen in the other direction since the end of World War Two. There’s nothing funny in stating the truth.

I refer you also to my partner, who made the same point in a different way, back when there was all the hoo-ha about David and Goliath’s rubbish “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them” T-shirts. My partner merely muttered “nice to see everyone can get het up about these T-shirts, but not rape victims having real rocks thrown at them on the basis that they’re adulteresses and deserve to die”. So it’s probably just as well we don’t have T-shirts saying “Girls are stupid, throw rocks at them”. Chances are too many people would follow the suggestion.