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Getting better the Gillette way

The New Statesman needed something on the furore over Gillette’s latest advert. They came to me because, in the words of the commissioning editor, I’m  “really funny”. Make up your own mind if she’s right. This is the unedited version featuring some coarse (but funny) language that was cut from the published version.

So it looks like I’m going to have to shave for the first time in a decade.

Not because I’m inspired by the new Gillette advert urging men to be the best they can be. But because if all the men’s rights activists, misogynists and sillies like Piers Morgan follow through on their threat to boycott Gillette anyone sporting facial fuzz may immediately mark themselves out as a member of that gang. The gang that remarkably seem to be saying that men shouldn’t be the best they can be.

Oh well apparently beards aren’t cool anymore anyway.

According to the ad being a dick isn’t cool anymore either. That message has proved too much for some men who will fight for the right to be a dick, and are demonstrating that with their reaction to Gillette’s short film.

The advert, titled We Believe, was created by the director Kim Gehrig who was behind the brilliant This Girl Can campaign for Sport England that encouraged nearly 3 million more women to get more active. One hopes her next step will be to combine the two in a film that shows women punching sexists and running away from Piers Morgan.

It plays on Gillette’s legendary slogan ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ and instead asks ‘Is this the best a man can get?’ as men look moodily in the mirror accompanied by news reports of sexual assault, clips of sexist comedy and outrageously cheesy sections in which boys bully each other and scuffle.

The answer coming back loud and clear from the meninists is: “Yes, yes, fighting, cat-calling and barbecuing is basically all we’ve got.”

It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious.

Just last week the American Psychological Association (APA) defined traditional masculinity as “A particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” and found that it is a bad thing leading to negative outcomes such as suicide, addiction, violence and early death.

To be clear, the APA wasn’t talking about masculinity per se, rather the strict definition of it that places a straitjacket on males basically from birth.

I know how young it starts, I co-wrote a book about it. The Gender Agenda started out as a project driven by feminism, to record the unfair limits put on my daughter because of her sex. It ended with the realisation that my son is also constricted by expectations placed upon him by the random accident of his chromosomes.

This led me to the same places the Gillette advert goes – role models, popular media and societal expectations that write off bad behaviour with the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ while controlling the female sex with the words ‘there’s a good girl’.

Weirdly the same men who hoist the Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) banner and march forth for the worthy aims of reducing male suicide and improving male mental health don’t like being told a huge part of the solution is rethinking masculinity – ie it’s up to them to do something about it. Unsurprisingly it’s other people who need to change their behaviour. Women mainly. Particularly feminists who don’t think about men and boys enough when they are campaigning for women. It’s almost as if the MRAs are actually old school misogynists using serious issues as cover for a campaign that seeks to control women by telling them what they should be thinking and doing instead of that silly feminism.

And it’s women who suffer from toxic masculinity. The two women a week who die due to domestic abuse, the many more who must live with domestic violence. The girls who don’t speak up in class because teachers unwittingly ask boys for answers. The pupils who actually do worse in their exams when they see an advert conveying negative stereotypes about women on their way to school.

But it’s men who have the power to make it better. That’s not fair. But as long as the balance of power favours men – and it does whether your metric is number of MPs or number of business board members or average salary – then it’s up to men to make it better.

The Gillette ad hones in on that message. (Further reading on the same theme can be found in my latest book Dads Don’t Babysit).

Unfortunately Gillette will now go bust because of their apparent mis-step, in the same way as Lynx did when they turned their back on their traditional advertising approach that saw nearly naked women clamour for spotty youths that smelled of ‘Africa’ (whatever the smell of Africa is – elephant poo? subjugation by the west based on deep seated racism?) in favour of something more thoughtful. The ‘is it OK for guys..’ campaign looked at what teenage boys really do on the internet – look for support and affirmation rather than just looking at porn.

And who remembers Nike? They were big in sports stuff before also piling into politics with their Colin Kaepernick campaign that saw the alt right burn their shoes.

Weirdly the same right wing voices who insist newspapers are above democratic oversight because they answer to a higher and more urgent master – the market, if folk don’t like what they print they won’t sell goes the mantra – are triggered by an ad campaign that surely stands or falls by the same standard. If people are outraged by the idea that men – yes, all men – could be better then they won’t buy Gillette razors and we’ll have our answer as to whether this is really is the best that men can get.

But perhaps what the meninists are really upset about is the knowledge that won’t happen.

Gillette just played them for tons of free publicity.

And ultimately Proctor and Gamble, owners of the Gillette brand are gigantic capitalists like Nike and Unilever who own Lynx.

They aren’t really bothered about values and attitudes, they are only interested in one thing – the bottom line.

And there’s more cash to be made from men who buy into feminism and want to be better fathers than there is from daft dinosaurs who fear a future in which men and women benefit from true equality.

Men’s attitudes and masculinity itself are changing to be more flexible, more healthy, more satisfying.

The reaction to the Gillette ad shows we’re a long way from achieving the best a man can get, but the very existence of the campaign proves men are getting better.

 

 

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

How I wound up David Cameron (balloon on a stick edit)

This was orginally published on Total Politics. But edited slightly for reasons of space. Here’s the full unexpurgated version!:

In years to come this whole Brexit palaver will be taught in Bubbleology 101 – the study of Westminster by Westminster to the exclusion of all else.

George Osborne was the prick that burst the bubble for me.

One of his infamous, and invariably expensive, Budget quips made it very plain to me that neither he nor David Cameron had been paying attention during the Scottish independence referendum. The pair were too indolent to carry out any post-match analysis on that particular vote and too arrogant to listen to anyone who had.

It’s that attitude that has put us where we are now with MPs scared to walk to work and the general public phoning in to the Jeremy Vine show claiming they’ve some sort of Brexit induced anxiety disorder (I didn’t stick around for the item on gout but that’s probably got something to do with Brexit too as people drink to forget what’s going on in Westminster).

Few will remember the joke that accompanied the 2015 budget announcement of £1 million to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Even fewer will remember those commemorations so that was money well spent. But it was made to entertain the Cameroon acolytes at the expense of the greater good. And that illustrates why we find ourselves four years later on the verge of crashing out of the EU.

Back then Osborne jibed: “The battle of Agincourt is, of course, celebrated by Shakespeare as a victory secured by a ‘band of brothers’. It is also when a strong leader defeated an ill-judged alliance between the champion of a united Europe and a renegade force of Scottish nationalists.”

He should’ve spent the £1 million on more of those ‘Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket’ billboards.

For Agincourt was an English victory while Osborne was the UK’s chancellor. The ‘joke’ was essentially ‘Ha ha ha, some English killed some Scots and although I’ve been telling you for five years there’s no money I do have money to celebrate that,’ with the added implication that the English had beaten the Scots again in September 2014.

It seemed to set up Tory England against Scotland where 45% of the population had just voted for independence. By implication nearly half of Scots were ‘renegades’ in Osborne’s eyes.

It seemed poorly judged to my ears as someone who had covered the independence referendum six months previously and who knew the wounds of that contest – which was both glorious and grisly, democratic and divisive – had not yet healed.

And as someone of mixed parentage (one English, one Scottish) I was very aware that the Scots don’t take kindly to any Englishman lauding it over them no matter how far back in history the slight might go. And they are particularly ill disposed towards posh boy Eton Tories.

It also seemed unlikely to win over Scots voters to the Tory cause at a time when the party had just one MP.

It was as politically unintelligent as it was comedically unfunny.

It was a throwaway line little remarked on at the time.

But events would prove my political antennae correct. And how.

The following day I had an audience with the then PM David Cameron and I put it to him that the joke signalled the Tories had given up on trying to win any seats in Scotland.

His face went a little redder than usual, he put his hands behind his head and leaned right back, “Do you really think that?” he thundered. “Do you really think that?”

I replied that since he’d visited Scotland quite a bit before, during and after the referendum he ought to know that jokes about it aren’t terribly well received.

He said he thought the Scots could take a joke. Six weeks later the Scots returned 56 SNP MPs and the sole Scottish Tory hung on after a recount.

Those 50 new MPs ought to have turned up for their first day at work with a banner reading “Mac-Ha ha ha”.

It’s not that Cameron didn’t understand post-referendum politics. He didn’t care. As far as he was concerned he won, purred at the Queen and started doing evel – English Votes for English Laws.

If he’d paid attention or had better advisors (Craig Oliver would be in my face before I left the room after the above exchange hissing ‘Are you saying you can’t make jokes in Scotland, is that what you’re saying?’ A little less aggression and a little more listening and Rory Kinnear might’ve been the star of the recent Brexit drama on Channel 4) he would have seen the damage done to Scotland and Scottish politics.

Appalled at the division engendered by the EU referendum? In Scotland friends and family may have patched up relationships that buckled under the strain of the independence debate but many still avoid talking politics.

Isn’t it awful that Anna Soubry and Owen Jones are getting abuse? Jim Murphy had to suspend his campaigning tour of Scotland for his own safety in 2014 and the SNP – the ruling party – lampooned Scotland’s foremost political commentator David Torrance in one of their political ads contributing to his decision to quit journalism, and to leave Scotland. Can you imagine the Tories hiring an Owen Jones lookalike (any 14-year-old boy would do) for a PPB aimed squarely at taking the piss out of him?

Scottish politics is not about left and right but Yes and No. (Which is why Labour have been squeezed out of the national conversation, that and a succession of leaders that look like a de-evolution of political ability; on current trends a balloon on a stick will replace Richard Leonard some time in the next 12 months).

And still Westminster pays no heed. Commentators that talk of a single issue general election focussed on Brexit are way wide of the mark. Any general election in Scotland will still be characterised by a choice between unionist and nationalist candidates, Brexit will be a secondary consideration.

UK politics is now cleft along Leave and Remain lines and the example of Scotland shows that will remain so for the foreseeable future.

We are in an era of post-referendum politics characterised by poor quality and uncivil discourse, a shallow pool of political talent and a media that has muddled news, opinion and gossip.  And Scotland got there first.

The PM talks of moving on. Ain’t going to happen. No matter what happens on March 29.

 

 

 

 

New mums need new men

I wrote this after receiving a press release from the BBC about some research they’d done for the Emma Barnett show. But the story didn’t run as planned on the radio because Brexit blew up and took the news agenda with it.

This story, about women, about tens of thousands of British women feeling miserable has repeatedly been bumped in favour of Brexit, a story which from start to finish has been dominated by willy waving men. Says it all really.

 

‘Bundles of joy’ has never been an accurate description of babies.

New research has shown just how wrong it is.

A poll of mothers for the Emma Barnett Show on Radio FiveLive found over a quarter of them basically didn’t like maternity leave much.

Around 750,000 babies are born each year. Apply that to the research and even on a conservative reading you get upwards of 150,000 women feeling miserable, bewildered and inadequate.

That’s a mental health crisis by any standard. And yet those men’s rights activists who have driven male mental health up the political agenda are curiously quiet about this one. It’s almost as if they regard men’s mental health as more important than that of women. (To be clear, mental health need not be a zero sum game where focussing on one area automatically comes at a cost to another area).

And the polling shows that women are suffering. Around half of those surveyed by ComRes said they felt lonely while on maternity leave, one in five wished they’d gone back to work sooner, two in five missed being at work.

And inevitably women were asked about breastfeeding and most said they found it harder than anticipated.

Younger mums tended to find the whole motherhood shebang more of a shock that older ones.

Barnett, herself fresh back from maternity leave, said, “I have had some of the loveliest and most memorable times of my life during my maternity leave. But it’s still been bloody hard, and, at times, lonely.”

These figures are not surprising to anyone who has a child.

Birth and breastfeeding are too often portrayed as ‘natural’. Volcanoes are natural but that doesn’t mean they’re good. You wouldn’t want one in your house.

Looking after small children is often at best boring and at worst downright depressing.

That’s why society says it’s best done by women.

It’s no coincidence that women literally get the shit jobs – whether that’s changing nappies, cleaning the toilets in your office block or dealing with incontinent elderly relatives.

Society expects women to do the hard yards then tells them not to complain. My first book, The Gender Agenda, was inspired by a German project from a generation before which took the title ‘There’s a Good Girl’. The name is appropriate because, from the off, female children are encouraged to conform not complain.

The BBC press release is short on answers. The best they’ve got is a limp response from an NCT representative who tells women to go find a local toddler group to cheer themselves up.

There is one vital word missing from the research – men.

Men who can look at these figures and sacrifice female mental health in return for their own privilege.

The meninist movement has alighted on male mental health as a cloak under which to smuggle their frequently misogynist agenda.

They point to unpleasant and alarming figures that show dozens of men take their own lives each week.

But if they truly cared about male mental health they’d be rallying behind this latest research as a battering ram to getting men and women true equality – the sort of equality that leads to better mental health all round, the sort of equality that sees men take on the tasks traditionally dubbed ‘women’s work’ and recently rebadged as the ‘mental load’.

Women whose partners take on more domestic work enjoy better mental health. When researching my latest book, Dads Don’t Babysit, I spoke to Bridget Hargreave author of Fine, Not Fine, a book about post-natal depression and she explained that while it’s a complex condition support can be key. Having someone to help with the childcare in those difficult early days, knowing that even if you don’t take to maternity you’ll go back to work after a few months and your partner will take over could improve outcomes.

Men who do more parenting enjoy better mental health and a stronger relationship with their partner, their offspring and their friends.

Mental health, like parenting, is not straightforward there’s no silver bullet, no one size fits all manual for managing it. But in the vast majority of cases if men do more childcare everyone’s life is improved. (Even those that don’t have children because if men take more parental leave it frees up women to return to work sooner and boosts the economy to the tune of a few billion quid).

That’s why men need to campaign now for the measures that will close the paternity gap – the difference between what men want in terms of a work life balance and what they currently have.

The manifesto in Dads Don’t Babysit includes beefed up shared parental leave with an chunk of time reserved exclusively for dads, more paternity leave following a birth to improve bonding and relieve the pressure on mums, normalising flexible working for men and women to allow parents to fully engage with family life and challenging cultural stereotypes like Homer Simpson that embed the idea of the hapless and hopeless dad heaping more pressure on women to be the only competent parent.

Today’s papers will be dominated by high political Brexit drama whereas the welfare of millions of mothers will be overlooked.

That’s wrong.

This research ought to trigger a revolution among women who demand better, who expect more from their partners and among the men who can use this data to justify their desire to alter the work life balance away from work and towards a more fulfilling life fuelled by family.

We live in a world where men retain the balance of power, that’s why women are left to do so much domestic work alone and loneliness and disillusionment inevitably follow. But men have the power to change things.

It’s not women who find that maternity leave isn’t all it’s cracked up to be who should feel a failure. It’s the men who allow that situation to persist.

 

 

 

My dad and the meaning of life

A couple of weeks ago I wrote my dad’s eulogy. Last week I delivered it at his funeral.

It wasn’t a terribly hard piece to write, I knocked it out in about half an hour. But that’s largely because in his last days and weeks when I turned out the light and my brain decided to really go to work I’d manipulated and mulled over ideas. So when I came to write it down I knew what I wanted to say. It was, if I say so myself, a decent bit of writing.

Delivering it was less straightforward. But I had a job to do on a difficult day and I did it. (And, as is often the way in such tricky situations, an unexpected and not really appropriate to the occasion tune got stuck in my head with it’s refrain of “I’ve got work to do“. However, at least the Isley Brothers can put a tune together, annoyingly Daniel Bedingfield felt he needed to get in on the unwanted-playlist-in-my-head too).

I’m not going to post the entire eulogy here, it’s too personal for that. But there’s a couple of broader points it contains I think are worth sharing.

My dad worked for the Clydesdale Bank for 35 years including stints in the Victoria branch and the St James branch in London. Last week I found myself in the B Lounge, all that is left of the Clydesdale Bank in London. It looks like a branch of Top Shop from the outside (which is an OK look, if it actually was a Top Shop). Inside there are iPads and phones stuck to desks and a coffee counter in the corner. Maybe that’s what people want from a bank these days. I’ve yet to meet anyone who advocates banks need coffee bars rather than say, more staff in the branch over lunch hour. But this bit of the eulogy speaks to the issue at hand:

For Dad the numbers he conjured with in the bank were not the most important thing. He was an old school banker, and recent history has showed us that is the best sort of banker.

He knew that those pounds and pence represented people – who wanted to buy their first home, save to start a family, or begin a business. In a place like Dollar he knew almost everyone and he didn’t just take that responsibility seriously because of that, he enjoyed helping people. He wasn’t in it to boost the bank’s profits, he was in it to be useful to his fellow humans. 

And because he was interested in people it is not really as surprising as it may at first appear that he found a second career later in life as a writer, columnist, journalist of sorts. 

I leave that last point there because too often journalists like myself regard ourselves as ‘wordsmiths’ in direct opposition to ‘number crunchers’. In fact we’re all people and the best of both do it to improve other people’s lives.

I haven’t been to enough funerals to know what makes a good eulogy. That’s down to age or luck or most likely a combination of the two. But as well as a sort of potted biography and covering what he meant to us as a family I feel it ought to speak to some bigger lesson about what it means to be human. That’s a big and pretentious goal. I didn’t set out to solve the human condition. But I ended with what I feel is a valuable lesson.

It’s an episode from his time in hospital that I want to end with. That I think sums him up.

A couple of weeks ago I went to visit him in hospital. I had to return home to London later that day so I knew that when I said goodbye, most likely it really would be goodbye

I told him that if he had anything to tell me then that was the time to do it.

He looked at me with rheumy eyes and cracked lips and said…

“I fell in the River Thames once!

It was 1968. I was drunk.

I got back out again”

And I left the room sad and upset but with a smile on my face.

And that goes to the core of a man. What better lesson in life to pass on than to find the funny in even the darkest moments. It’s a tactic we’ve all had recourse to in recent days. As a family we are sad. But because of dad we are still laughing.

A bit more levity would not go amiss in our troubled times. A bit more perspective.

My brothers would no doubt have written something completely different. Focusing on other aspects of dads life and personality. But the task fell to me. I think putting people first, keeping perspective and maintaining a sense of humour are key to what makes a good life.

After the service lots of people congratulated me and commended the eulogy. But the one that’s stuck with me is the woman who told me she couldn’t hear it and didn’t understand why people were laughing. She was only one among literally dozens of positive comments and the failure was undoubtedly with her hearing rather than my delivery. And yet hers is the feedback I remember. It’s annoying but somehow it spoke to my themes: you only achieve perspective and humour by being confronted with failure, setbacks, negativity as well as praise and success. And being niggled by the negative is surely a very human reaction.

I’ll aim to post more regularly here in future and the content may be more personal. I suspect I may return to the themes I’ve ruminated on here today – humour, perspective, finding what we have in common, and shit banks.

 

 

I done a book. Again.

Dads Don’t Babysit is out now. Please buy it. I only get a few pence per copy so that’s not why I want it to be a bestseller.

It’s because if it sells well I’ll be famous and my ego will be pleased. ONLY JOKING.

Actually it’s because it’s an important message, and therefore, I think, an important book.

The subtitle is ‘Towards Equal Parenting’ and that really is what it’s all about.

Currently women invariably do most parenting in any domestic set up. Men are usually the breadwinners and, to a greater or lesser extent, the second or back up parent.

That’s not how it is for everyone and its not how I want it to be but that’s the world as it is. However, equally is importantly it’s not the world as people want it to be.

Most men want to do more parenting. Most men and women think parenting should be shared equally but for various reasons it’s not happening.

‘So what?’ you may say. What folk do in their own homes is up to them. It’s not for anyone else to tell people how to order their lives.

True.

Except everyone is telling people how to order their lives. Sometimes explicitly. More often in lots of little subtle ways.

For example women are entitled to six weeks maternity leave paid at 90% of their salary and up to 12 months away from work to care for their baby in total. Men get two weeks. Then they can share that 12 months allowance if their partner is happy to transfer some of her leave to him. The message is loud and clear that a mother is more important in her baby’s life and that parental leave belongs to the mum because she ought to be the one using it.

The number of men my co-author and I spoke to who said they’d gone to their boss to discuss flexible working after becoming a dad and the response was an initial ‘oh’ at best and ‘that’s not a good idea for your career’ at worst. Signals that a man doing something about his work life balance is weird. (Flexible working is one of the very few areas where men are actually discriminated against, women tend to get their applications accepted far more easily because they are expected to want to fit their work around their family commitments.)

But men think about their work life balance. Most say they want more time with their families, many – particularly millennials – are willing to sacrifice higher pay in return for a more flexible work life.

Then there’s the dodgy science that claims there are pink brains and blue brains and suggests men are just not made to do childcare. Even though the experience of most men that actually throw themselves into family life is the opposite. And the science doesn’t stack up anyway.

And where are the caring, competent role model fathers? On TV kids get the message early on from Peppa Pig that Daddy Pig is a buffoon who can’t even do the washing. They might graduate to The Simpsons where Homer cares more for beer than his offspring or carry on to Broadchurch where the stay at home dad character is flagged up as weird by his penchant for killing people.

Overcoming the weight of public expectation about the role of a father is tough. But not impossible.

This book came about because Dave Freed sent a message to the @GenderDiary Twitter account. That’s the account my partner Ros and I set up seven years ago to record the different ways our son and daughter were treated. It ultimately led to The Gender Agenda book last year.

And that message not only showed that actually the internet is great for bringing people together but it also pointed to the solution to how we bridge the ‘paternity gap’ – the difference between what men say they want and the set up we currently have.

Making contact and talking is the first and simplest step. If you’ve taken shared parental leave and enjoyed it (as Dave did, and we’ve yet to hear from anyone who regretted it) then tell your friends and workmates. Reach out through social media to those who feel the same and your voice is amplified.

When you go to the pub, as I have done, and hear men engaging in banter that denigrates childcare challenge it. Instead talk about the joys of having children, for there are many. If it wasn’t great nobody would do it!

When a friend recently told me he was going to become a father one of the first things I said to him was ‘are you going to take shared parental leave?’ (Doing this was an idea put forward by Jo Swinson in her own book and in conversation with myself during research for Dads Don’t Babysit). He said he hadn’t really thought about it. Next time I saw him he said he’s doing two months of shared parental leave. That’s not equality but just doing that share with benefit his child’s development, his own mental health and his wife’s pay packet. The parenting hat-trick as we call it in the book.

It’s all in the 300-odd pages of Dad’s Don’t Babysit. Plus there’s Serena Williams, Michael Gove, hormones, heroes and reference to a man pissing a melon.

I think it’s an idea whose time has come. The more people that buy the book the more we can get things done and we really can make the world a better place.

Why men must fail

It’s been a couple of weeks but I figured I’d post here the speech I delivered recently at the New Statesman debate at the Cambridge Literary Festival. The motion was ‘For more women to succeed more men must fail’ and I was speaking for the motion. (That’s NS deputy editor Helen Lewis in the chair in the pic). Here’s what I said:

“There is something richly ironic about a group of feminists – in which I include myself of course – having a debate. There is surely nothing more typical of toxic masculinity than a debate, a format invented by men because they couldn’t just sit about talking about stuff SOMEONE HAS TO WIN. Personally, I’ll only consider myself to have won this debate if you all abstain at the end and choose to mull the issues more deeply rather than vote.

However, we’re here and I’d like to look at two areas in particular that I know well, that sit at either end of the scale that runs between the public and domestic sphere and which I think demonstrate clearly that more men must fail if women are to succeed

Firstly, in the public sphere there is one place where it is quite clear cut that men must fail for women to succeed – the House of Commons.

There are only 650 seats, the vast majority represented by men.

This event is one of very many taking place across the country to mark 100 years since some women won the right to vote. Many suffragettes and suffragists – don’t forget the suffragists, factions and disagreements within the movement are nothing new – thought winning the vote would inevitably lead to further improvements and maybe even equality.

Now the former is undoubtedly true. The lot of British women has improved since suffrage was achieved. And that demonstrates why we need more women in parliament, because if women are present women’s needs will be considered. This isn’t just some airy fairy need to consider women’s issues, it’s life and death. While we had a female education secretary she drove a policy of compulsory and comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education. When Justine Greening was replaced by Damian Hinds one of his first moves was to go soft on SRE, confirming that parents will be allowed to take their kids out of classes if they wish. This despite a Women and Equalities Committee report that reported quality SRE ‘HAS THE POTENTIAL TO MAKE THE SINGLE BIGGEST IMPACT ON ALL FORMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN THIS COUNTRY’

But we can only have more women in parliament if there are fewer men. There are only so many seats. For women to succeed in winning places in our law making body more men will have to fail to get elected.

The fact that equal suffrage has not brought about equal representation speaks to my second point which I’ll come on to shortly.

But it is rooted in the fact that we don’t actually want a parliament that is representative. If that was so we would want murderers and stupid people sitting as MPs. I would suggest that we want is a parliament that represents the best of us.

And still today women are not seen as the best of us.

We are trained from a very young age to look down on women, we create a female sphere to disdain it.

This is my second point, men must redefine what it means to fail because for too many men failure actually means being like a woman.

Big boys don’t cry – why? Because to show emotion is to be like a woman

‘Woman’s work’ is a derogatory term – because women’s work is low status and consequently low paid.

For a man to be termed a big girl’s blouse is generally regarded as an insult. The insult is not in being described as an item of clothing, it’s in being like a woman’s item of clothing.

When I was looking at the internet instead of writing this speech the other day I came across the latest writings by godawful Brexiteer shitehawk Dan Hannan in which he described critics of his offhand attitude towards the Irish border question as shrill. Men, who physically have deeper voices are not shrill. The implication is that his opponents are rubbish because they are like women.

It is all around us.

And it starts very young. One of the surprises that my partner and I learned from the Gender Diary project that documented the different ways boys and girls are treated and which culminated in The Gender Agenda book last year was the constant reinforcement girls and boys get that one gender is better than the other.

That to be ‘like a girl’ is to be inferior. Seared into my memory is the scene in a toy shop when a young boy of maybe 7 was playing with the lovely dolls houses on display at the back of the shop only for his father to emerge from the front of the shop and loudly proclaim: “Caught you! Playing with the DOLLS HOUSES”. The shame on the boy’s face as he mumbled ‘no’ and ran off was as heartbreaking as it was infuriating.

It’s no excuse but it’s no wonder when they are told practically from birth that women are inferior, when they see their mothers shouldering the mental load of household tasks while their father does something more important out of the home – and that remains the norm, there is not a country in the world where men do more domestic work than women – why are we surprised that men regard it as inferior, to be avoided, failure.

I don’t think men need to fail because I don’t regard what I do – juggling childcare with freelance work, enjoying spending time with my children because it feels like the most natural thing in the world while my partner does what comes naturally to her – pursuing an impressive and fulfilling career, knowing who needs a pack lunch when and making sure each kid has enough clean shirts for school, stuff that so many women regard as normal – I don’t regard that as failing at all.

Men need to rethink what it means to fail. To throw off the narrow definition of masculine success. In my new book, Dad’s Don’t Babysit, I look at how we can make that happen. Because when it does, when man do their fair share around the home women will be free to succeed in whatever way they choose.

Ladies and gentlemen, by the standards men set I’ve failed. I wish those standards would alter but until they do more men must fail just like I have. And just like me I know millions of them would enjoy better health – mental and physical – and happiness.

For more women to succeed it’s not just that more men must fail, they must embrace failure.”

 

 

 

 

Sexual harassment: a silly man and DJ Sillyboy

A thoughtful PR sent me a release this morning titled Can This Video Game Teach Men to be Less Creepy when Flirting?

Bloody hell.

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.