A thoughtful PR sent me a release this morning titled Can This Video Game Teach Men to be Less Creepy when Flirting?
There’s ‘gameplay’ footage here. It’s both amusing and horrifying in equal measure. I struggle to believe anyone will actually but the game. I’m not entirely sure it’s not a hoax. But if it’s real anyone who thinks the best way to find a partner is to sit at home playing a computer game about finding a partner will learn the key to success is not to grab a lady’s behind and instead say ‘that’s interesting’ in a droning voice. Certainly the fella behind it who styles himself a ‘controversial pick up artist’ is at best lacking self-awareness (sitting on double bed with two mute ladies who’ve forgotten to put their clothes one while apparently trying to teach men to respect women? Really??) and at worst a very silly man. I’m not inclined to give him or his Super Seducer game any further publicity.
But it set me thinking about something else I heard recently that feeds into the same theme. That sense of entitlement among men. And how it can be challenged.
And it started with Steve Wright.
As so often, when on the horns of a dilemma or struggling with a really big and complex issue Steve Wright sorts it out.
The afternoon host on Radio 2 also known as DJ Sillyboy read out one of his fatuous factoids the other day and things somehow made sense.
The ‘fact’ (usually something made up by a PR and bagging said ‘account executive’ an extra bag of gack for getting it read out on Radio 2) concerned love at first sight. The claim that 40% of men said they’d fallen in love at first sight, the figure for women was 28%.
Wrighty – who we can assume is a massive feminist due to the fact he’s the only presenter on Radio 2 that play Dua Lipa’s number one New Rules, and he plays it like every day – left the factoid hanging at that.
But somehow that silly sum, whether true or not, goes to the heart of the current debate around sexual harassment.
Men are more likely to claim to have fallen in love at first sight. Because it’s easier for men to fall in love at first sight.
Because men have entitlement.
They don’t have to worry about stuff like emotion, empathy, relationship building and such like, they just look at a woman and decide they’d like to have her.
No-one, thankfully, seems to be claiming such behaviour is innate. Or at least anyone that is can be safely dismissed as a big daft.
So when does it begin?
Almost from birth. How do I know this? Because I wrote a book about it.
The Gender Agenda, authored along with my partner, was published last summer. In it we documented every tiny difference we noticed in the way our son and daughter were treated by friends, family, society, and ourselves.
Gram by stereotypical gram it added up to a huge weight pushing children into certain gendered straitjackets.
The girls side marked by pink and passivity. The boys’ behaviour boisterous and confident – entitled, in other words.
But you don’t have to take our word for it.
The excellent pop science show No More Boys and Girls that aired on the BBC over the summer showed boys lack of vocabulary to describe their emotions and the inevitable result that they turn to violence when they can’t express themselves. Girls, routinely but not deliberately passed over when it came to answer questions in class lacked confidence. A lifetime without Lego meant most lacked the spatial awareness skills that appeared to come ‘naturally’ to their male counterparts.
But with regard to the current moves to take on sexism the vital difference is that boys are raised to look down on girls, and girls are expected to live with that.
Whilst girls can ‘trade up’ and take on traditionally male roles with relatively little comment – playing football, embracing engineering, punching their siblings – the same is not true for boys. They are trained to dismiss all that is pink, to have disdain for caring professions.
In the home kids see a clear division of labour between their parents. Research has found in every country in the world women still do much more domestic work then men, and that kids that see their mothers doing more household tasks and their fathers doing less take that as the natural way of things and repeat the pattern in their grown-up lives. When a mother is haring about doing mundane jobs like making packed lunches, ensuring there’s enough clean school uniform and hoovering she’s taking on a full time management job as well as any paid employment. It’s called the mental load, this now famous cartoon explains it perfectly. But the broader lesson is that society/men – so often they are the same thing – looks down on these tasks and, vitally, thinks it’s OK for women to do them most of the time but not men.
And a society that does not value women as much as men will always end in mistreatment, abuse, not taking women seriously when they raise issues, basically where we are now.
In the wake of Weinstein and the wandering hands scandals at Westminster women are now being listened to in a way they haven’t before. Which is obviously a good thing.
But to stop such behaviour, to prevent it happening all over again – because it will as long as the sexes remain unequal – we need to look at the very start of kids lives.
Love at first sight can provide a solution, the emotion a parent feels upon seeing their baby for the first time. And the drive to make the best possible future for them.
Treat children fairly and equally rather then shunting them into gender stereotyped silos and the belief, implicit or explicit, that one gender is better than the other and therefore entitled to more.
And adults need to model the alternative, share the domestic work and the mental load, women’s work – a phrase widely used as an insult despite feminist attempts to reclaim it – needs to become everyone’s work.
There’ll still be power imbalances, people will mistreat each other but we can work to prevent it becoming so binary and gendered.
We need new rules.