Image by Sam Taylor
My ideal man would have Freddie Flintoff’s height, David Beckham’s style, Damon Albarn’s face, Jay-Z’s swagger, Channing Tatum’s muscles, Gore Vidal’s wit, Sean Connery’s voice, Prince Harry’s ginger pubes, Jamie Oliver’s skills, James Dean’s charisma, Barack Obama’s success, Jon Snow’s socks and Jonah Falcon’s cock. He’d be a little bit taller, and a baller, and I’d have a phone and he would call me. He’d massage my neck after my long day of wasting time on the internet, ask me how I feel and then fuck me like James Bond doing some bad Russian bitch before leave me laying there like a used condom, limp, lifeless and oozing his thick, virile man cream. He’d be strong, sensitive, rich, caring and know exactly where he’s going while retaining a delightful spontaneity that never annoys me.
Sir, is this you?
Let’s face it: It’s not you and being a guy can suck. A couple of years ago I was with some gal pals and we were talking about sex over cocktails. It was kind of like Sex and the City except we’re in our twenties and there were black people there. One girl was telling us she was ready to revive her slut days after breaking up with her boyfriend: “I’m ready for a man, a woman, whatever. Bring it on.” Another jumps in with: “I’ve not shagged a girl for ages. It’s fun, but recently I just want a dick inside me, you know?” And so on. It was all super casual and no big deal for them, as straight girls, to be talking about sex with other women. No one cared.
Guys, you got shafted. When was the last time you saw a man kill another man on television? And when was the last time you saw a man kiss another man on television? Other than anger at the world and revulsion towards other guys' dicks, men are taught to pretend their emotions don't exist – you know, kind of like the complete opposite of what you’re supposed to do for good mental health. Rage. Violence. Self-harm. We teach men to hate and they do. Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of death for young women. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young men. So what are we going to do about all these angry and lost young guys?
Feminism is fabulous but we really need to start looking at gender pressure and inequality as a whole. Social gender roles have traditionally benefited heterosexual men – but talking about men’s rights doesn’t mean you can't support women’s rights. Respect is infinite and everyone deserves some. How many men have had their lives ruined by British courts that won’t allow them to see their own children? How many have died because they were too ashamed to tell their doctors they were in pain? And how many women are in unsatisfying relationships with douchebags who are so fucked up they don’t know even know how to communicate with their loved ones?
PR guru Ben Jackson feels like men are caught between two ideas of masculinity at the moment: “On the one hand, expectations around being a guy in the UK have changed, so it's OK to be a feminist or go Dutch on a date or wear Paisley. On the other hand, it's not changed much at all. If you don't like football you're still basically unable to have a conversation with a male stranger.”
Football, of course, is up there with those other staples of lad culture – binge drinking and treating people like shit. Young journalist Jacob Fritz hates how boys pressure each other to be homophobic and use bullying as a male bonding technique: “I can think back to literally about a week ago standing in a nightclub, seeing two lads necking, and next to them a group of outraged and disgusted guys, around my age, jeering and throwing drinks.” The pressure to be a dickhead doesn’t stop there, though: “There’s an open encouragement to both objectify and harass women. I’ve been guilty of this plenty of times, where a combination of excessive Vodka Red Bulls and excessive peer pressure leads to behaviour that I can’t say I’m particularly proud of.” So why go along with it? “Lad culture is very black and white. You either are one or you're not, and exclusion from that can be a kiss goodbye to any social life.”
Most of the guys I spoke to before writing this article seem seriously paranoid that they’ll become outcasts if they put just one big manly foot wrong. They feel that they're meant to have great careers even though they’re supposed to be out drinking all the time. They feel like they’re supposed to be clever, to know all the answers, even though they’re supposed to be mindless porn addicts. They feel like they’re supposed to marry a girl and buy a house while wondering why the onus is on them in our supposedly equal society. As one guy who emailed me puts it: “Just flick through GQ, Esquire et al and every page practically screams, ‘Earn more money, you cunt.’"
They feel confused. They worry about their appearance but they also worry about worrying about it too much: “I find it hard to keep up with the latest trends and hypes, while at the same time attempting to retain my masculinity,” says 16-year-old Tom Pickle. “Anything seen as slightly sensitive or 'girly' – such as the expression of emotions or needing someone to talk to about my dying relatives – can be seen as a 'gay' thing.” That fear of doing anything "girly" is nothing more than traditional sexism – the sort that sees women, and femininity in particular, as inferior. Women could do without this shit and so could men.
And while lads don’t want to be seen as girly by other lads, they also don’t want to be seen as laddish by girls. As 22-year-old Alex McBride told me: “You think a girl is attractive and she's reading a book you like. You want to ask for her number, but you read an article on feminism last week that carefully explained that said girl is not there for your gratification or to be bothered if you want her number. So you remain lonely wondering how you can ever meet anyone outside your friendship group without first approaching them based on their appearance. And then you worry whether this outlook is immature and pernickety.” Can’t win, can you mate?
Maybe Alex should start wearing some of Spike’s clothes. Spike started dressing more femininely when he was 16 and apart from “all the standard shit I got off other boys and teachers” he had some disappointing reactions from girls, too: “Girls I didn’t even know started buddying up to me and asking me to go shopping with them. Asking me really gross invasive questions about my sex life.” Spike was bullied so badly he had to move schools – yet his headmaster blamed him for “bringing it on himself”. He also had a macho gay friend who “didn't like being around in public with me because I made him look gay”.
Do we do this with girls who wear masculine clothes – girls who borrow their boyfriends’ hoodies, for example? Why do we make such a fuss over what boys can and can’t do? And why are lads so obsessed with what other people think about their sexuality? “Even now, at 35, my bisexuality is completely secret,” says Edward. “I'd be more comfortable coming out as gay than I would as bisexual.” How many Edwards are there reading this? How many men are too scared to be themselves? And who are they scared of? Their so-called mates? What's the big fucking deal?
Poor men. They really, really seem to care what people, particularly other guys, think about them. And that’s super sad. Me and my ladies might have a good cry about it later and then do a group frigging session to cheer ourselves up. We’re allowed to do stuff like that. Boys, you’ll probably just have to man up or something. Sorry, no emotions for you. Have a football instead.
Previously – I Do Drugs Because Doing Drugs Is Fun