I think is must be difficult to be a man.
Once everything was very clear cut. Males were hunters and protectors, evolved to group together for the cause of the tribe. Sexuality was very simple and probably predatory, with the male instinct to impregnate as many fertile females as possible. I’m sure there were alpha and beta and possible omega males in the tribe and a fair bit of competitive jostling to be king of the cave.
My mother’s generation varied very little from those primal origins. Women were educated to a point but, most importantly, were schooled by older siblings and peers to find a mate, a provider, so they could give up work, have a family and ‘keep house’.
Sexuality was somehow shameful and secretive, but men were expected to ‘sow their wild oats’ whilst women were expected to be loyal and virtuous. Women could ‘look’ sexy, but better not ‘be’ sexy or they would risk being a social outcast. Men were certain in their breadwinner roles, socialized with other men, in mostly male environments and met women at traditional gathering places like dance-halls and parties. The sexes were a bit of a mystery to each other.
Then the sixties happened and everything changed in a few years, but missed my parents who retained their 1950’s mindset, even though they were young at the start of the “Summer of Love”.
Both sexes enjoyed a new freedom in terms of work, self expression and sex. Men could embrace their feminine energy and women their masculine energy, it must have felt very wild and exciting. But that freedom wasn’t everywhere. There were still people living in traditional roles and society was completely male dominant. Hence the growth of feminism.
My mother and father were somewhat bemused at how Women’s Rights were addressed in the media at the time. They adopted the caricature of the angry women burning bras and eschewing men, whilst wearing dungarees and plaiting their spouting bodily hair.
A lot of men took it very badly and found it threatening, but as long as their wives or girlfriends didn’t start being ‘radical’ they still assumed their dinner would be on the table when they got home from work and that they had a sex drive but ‘nice’ girls didn’t.
Growing up, I discovered that things were “unfair”. As a woman, I was supposed to ‘look nice’, be quiet and be adept at cooking, keeping house and doing the chores, just like Mother. I was angry about the way my younger brother could continue playing, while I and my female relatives were expected to “help get dinner ready” or “do the washing up” and it wasn’t cool for me to climb trees in my pretty dresses, I was supposed to play with dolls that looked like babies.
At around the age of 12, I became aware there was a different way. At an all girl’s school, we were encouraged to be academic and plan for the career of our choice. The women who taught us were strong, university educated and had impressive Doctorates. Some of them sowed the seeds of feminism. Some were, ‘shock horror’, devoted entirely to God (nuns) or lived with each other in covert lesbian relationships.
Still a virgin, I remember speaking at a heated debate about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, I subscribed to Spare Rib and I rejected all my mother’s propaganda that my sole aim in life was to marry a nice rich man and have children.
I felt the equal of any man and I noticed that my brother now had his own share of the household chores and was no longer deferred to. The masculine head of the household had been deposed as my remote and quiet father left. We were living in a crazy matriarchy, that was really a patriarchy, now.
At art college, my male peers appeared to be ‘enlightened’, where perhaps some of the male lecturers weren’t and I enjoyed being strong, independent and in charge of my sexuality. There were hints of old fashioned oppression, but my friends and I were strident about rooting it out and usually won. We did as we pleased, in that safe little bubble.
I came up against the Patriarchy later. Firstly, there was unwanted and scary sexual attention from men and secondly in the world of work, when I started a job as a journalist on a local paper. I was the only female and younger than the other writers by a decade or more. They would consistently make leery comments whenever I went out on a story with a male photographer or other colleague, it was always assumed that, sooner than later, one of them would ‘conquer’ me and we’d have an affair. Needless to say, I strictly kept my work and personal life separate.
Two things happened later, that brought this to a head. One was a policy at the NUTJ college, where I studied for a few months; where the male principal insisted that all women should wear skirts (it was Winter in Hastings and freezing) – which I refused to obey. I wore smart trouser suits and, pathetic though it seems now, this caused a furore, with me being carpeted by my editor, but I stuck to my guns and earned a reputation for being ‘difficult’.
The second was a staff Christmas lunch, where, as the only young woman present, things got a bit ribald with drink and some of the male journalists were going too far with the sexist comments about me and young women that were passing. I needed to get up my nerve with a few drinks, but when I had, I put my hand under the table and started stroking the thigh of the worst offender and watched him panic, with some amusement, as I moved my hand further up.
He soon ‘made his excuses and left’. It was a risky strategy, he may have enjoyed it and reciprocated, but somehow I knew, even then, that the biggest blusterers are also the most insecure and the bantering stopped after that. I don’t know if he told the others, but as he was a fat, unattractive, man in his fifties, they wouldn’t have believed him. Yes. I sexually abused a man and I should be ashamed!
I had more than my fair share of abuse in my early days in advertising, especially as a junior account handler. There were clients that assumed ‘client servicing’ included sex, I got good at ducking slobbery kisses and learned that even if a drunk male colleague slept overnight on my sofa, I’d be defending myself against rumours the next day. One rumour started because a male colleague and I were seen walking down the stairs to the stationery department one evening. By the time the rumour of my ‘office lover’ had reached me, it had blossomed into us being seen having sex in amongst the files and biros! I did trace it back and my colleague joined me in dressing down the (male) gossip in front of the agency.
My male friends tended to defer to women and were more ‘gender neutral’ than traditionally masculine. I carried on carving out my career, standing up for anything I thought sexist and unfair and having long term relationships with men around the same age, who wouldn’t dream of asking me to take on a ‘housewifely’ role or stand in the way of my ambition. I was always stronger than they, which consistently disappointed something in me.
By living my life independently, I ensured I kept my own bank account, managed my own money and bought my own property. None of the men I dated earned more than me, I don’t think they resented it, but because of that, there was always a difficult situation when it came to holidays and household budgeting. I didn’t want to be the breadwinner, to pay for everything, to give my boyfriends a better lifestyle than they would have ordinarily had, but that’s how it always ended up. I did end up resenting it after a while.
I didn’t generally date people from work, I avoided flirting with bosses or senior people, because I found it unprofessional. My boyfriends tended to be iconoclastic musicians, writers, artists, which are, unfortunately, usually broke and outside the corporate world I was being swallowed up by.
I dated a couple of wealthy guys, but they were wealthy as a result of family wealth, which breeds a certain kind of lackadaisical ennui. They didn’t HAVE to work, they didn’t NEED anything, it was all taken for granted, so although I had some flashy dates like being flown to Paris in a private plane or expensive weekends away; I was bored by their lack of fire and drive.
Later on, as I rose through the ranks and ended up running a profitable agency, I found that my male peers much preferred beta rather than alpha women. They didn’t want their partner to be an equal. The MD’s and CEO’s dated much younger receptionists, PA’s or those spoiled rich girls who pretend to work at ‘hobby’ jobs in PR and publishing, whilst looking to marry well, as soon as possible and take up a career as a wife and mother and, disturbingly often, being traded in for a younger, more vapid, creature later on.
I began to ask myself, should I dumb down, be more ‘girly’ or even earn less? However, this would somehow be a disservice to myself. I wasn’t interested in dating substantially older men, or men on their second divorce, being bled dry by their ex wives (see hobby jobs above).
It seemed to me that there was a generation of men and women still stuck in the 50’s and the men I knew were more feminist friendly, but just not very ‘manly’ or responsible for themselves. The women I knew were much more ‘together’.
Talking to younger generations today, makes me believe there are still issues around equality. Many young women are generally stronger, more self sufficient and overtly sexual than we were and many young men are threatened by this. I was speaking to my nephew and his friend (22) and they both said they found girls of their own age a ‘nightmare’ and quite ‘threatening’.
I am wondering whether I am a freak, or if other women and men feel a bit lost in our vaguely defined modern roles? If we look to the media, pre feminist roles are still prevalent, women are out to marry wealthier, high status men (the footballer phenomenon) or give up their careers to have ‘Hello’ featured families. Ninnies like Kate Middleton or Sam Cameron are in the same roles that Jackie Onassis or other vapid handmaidens through history have taken on. An accessory to their men.
What I want from a relationship shouldn’t be impossible. I’m earning half of what I used to and have realised that there’s more to life than work. I’m not some monstrous ball-breaker, but I offer and expect respect. I can be soft, dippy and silly as well as intelligent, passionate and outspoken. But I do like men to be men, not little boys looking for a mother substitute or a cougar to take them in hand sexually (!)
But what IS a man these days and what is a woman? Maybe, somehow, we need to move beyond this and accept that both sexes have a bit of both going on, that sexuality and, even gender behaviours, have become a bit blurred? I’d like a man to treat me as a person, that if I show my softer side, it doesn’t mean weakness or a need to be dominated and if I am strong, it doesn’t mean I want him to be emasculated. It’s a tricky one and something I have yet to achieve.
Is it ridiculously egotistical to want a man who appreciates me as I am?