Hugo Rifkind is a 40-year-old award-winning Scottish journalist, the son of Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative politician. A man you’d hope would be able to write an insightful article about gender politics in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. His article (below) appeared in yesterday’s Times. His absolution of women for any involvement in Hollywood’s casting couch culture, his utter lack of compassion for men – even suicidal men – and his blind acceptance of feminist patriarchy theory, are little short of depressing. The piece would be better placed in The Guardian than The Times. The emphases are ours.
It has not been a good year for men. Bloody men. Disgusting men. With their grabbing and groping and dubious excuse that it was a tablecloth. With their harassment and obscene befouling of innocent pot-plants. You know what, for me, was the low point for men? The absolute nadir? It didn’t cause much of a stir in Britain because we’ve never heard of him but in America the downfall of the NBC television host Matt Lauer was up there with that of Harvey Weinstein. Among the accusations made against him, one in The New York Times suggested that he had a secret button under his desk which he used, when making his sexy, sexy moves, to remotely lock his office door.
That’s . . . that’s . . . what even is that? Creepy, obviously. Terrifying, probably. Also, it is shaming. It makes me as a man feel ashamed. And that is where, for the purposes of this column, things get interesting. Because why should it? I’m not Matt Lauer. More to the point, while I’ve no particular interest in anatomising my sexuality in The Times, the whole “locking a frightened woman in a room” kink isn’t one I’m into. Nor, definitely, is the Weinstein plant-pot thing. Nor, even, the alleged tablecloth thing. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, am I wildly unusual in this regard. Not that I’d necessarily know.
One unspoken fact about heterosexual men is that we don’t really talk about sex that much. At least, not real-world sex. Not actual stuff that we have done or would like to do. That whole Donald Trump thing? The whole “grab them by the pussy” stuff? Real men don’t talk like this. Lately, I’ve got the strong impression that many women think we do; that we all sit around in pubs being rapey or at least complicit versions of Samantha in Sex And The City. Not so. Never so. In a way, maybe that’s the whole problem.
Still, that all-pervading sense of guilt is there. If you are a man, and this has all been about men, then inevitably it is also about you. In the wider scheme of things, so what? If women are on the cusp of escaping millennia of violently oppressive patriarchy, [J4MB: How can women escape something they haven’t experienced?] and the major cost of that is an inconsequential sense of frankly whiny defensiveness from the likes of me, then break out the tiny violins. It’s hardly the major issue.
The actor Matt Damon fell foul of this last week when he suggested, in the middle of lots of otherwise sensible stuff that nobody cared about, that it was a shame nobody was talking about the way that the vast majority of men, even in Hollywood, were quite nice. As if the mild disquiet of these quite nice men was a cost not worth paying to expose the nasty ones, or the systemic abuse, exploitation and even rape that they inflicted upon the industry in which he works.
For Damon, and indeed for me, the degradation of male self-image is actually pretty inconsequential. Is that true for everybody? Perhaps not, because for some men that image is already fairly heavily degraded.
Hidden behind the curtain of powerful men still ruling the world, other men are failing fast. They are failing in school as boys and falling out of work as men. [J4MB: Rifkind shows no curiosity as to why these things are happening.] One recent study from Princeton suggested that over a fifth of twentysomething American men are removed from the labour force altogether and spend their time playing computer games. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for British men aged between 20 and 49. To be male, increasingly, is a strong signifier for being a mess.
The manner of our mess does not always elicit sympathy. Nor, frankly, should it. A fortnight ago, like everybody else, I read Cat Person, that short story by Kristen Roupenian that ran in The New Yorker. In précis, it’s about a girl, Margot, who meets a guy, Robert. She’s young and beautiful, he’s old and gross. They have sex, she regrets it, he turns nasty, that’s about it. It caused a stir and deserved to, because it utterly caught the zeitgeist. Although it didn’t just catch the zeitgeist about women. It also caught it about men.
For a few days, Cat Person seemed to fill half the internet with comment and response, most of it wholly and reasonably pro-Margot. Here and there, the odd defensive male went Team Robert, but even they were mainly concerned with Margot’s motivations, rather than his. The idea that he was an ogre, a gross, disgusting thing, to be navigated or avoided altogether, was pretty much a given. And indeed, he was. Also fat, hairy, weird, smug, unappealing, friendless, gauche. Porn-obsessed. Friendless. Destined to die alone.
These men exist. You know what they do, at three times the rate of their female peers? They kill themselves. Also, they kill other people.
“I am going to die friendless, girlfriendless and a virgin.” So wrote Christopher Harper-Mercer, a British-born 26-year-old American who killed nine people, then himself, at a community college in Oregon in 2015. He sounds quite Robert. Indeed, all mass-shooters sound quite Robert. They are, in many respects, the extreme incarnation of the self-loathing male.
It strikes me that, even if for reasons that are wholly good, our society is giving men ever more reasons to loathe themselves and fewer not to.
It also strikes me that we are having an utterly vital conversation but still only having half of it. And I wonder in the long run whether that’s going to be okay. [J4MB: Can someone kindly translate these two sentences into plain English?]
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