By CAROL SANDLER
When we longed for the coming of what we once liked to call the New Man, don’t you sometimes think we should have been more careful what we wished for?
Back then, we thought we knew what we wanted. Moreover, what we thought we wanted didn’t sound unreasonable.
Put-upon women - run ragged by Neanderthal demands that we perform in the office, kitchen and bedroom - believed that if our partners could just be kicked up the backside of their latent sensitivity, they’d graduate from cavemen to soul-mates, and our lives would be that much easier for it.
A real man: Sean Bean, playing Sharpe, the rugged-looking soldier who bravely battled through the 19th century Napeleonic Wars
And so we taught them the merits of changing their socks and soaping their armpits.
Perhaps we bought them style magazines, the odd designer label and a dab of face goo, too, that we might enjoy a kiss without our faces being rubbed raw.
We forced them to learn one end of a nappy from another so that they might bask in the admiration of friends when they demonstrated their dexterity with a safety pin.
We patted them on the back for donning a pinny and cooking a four-course evening meal.
Especially if they’d shopped for it, too.
We preached to them the importance of equality, within and without the workplace. We harangued them for their “sexism”, real or imagined.
We praised them beyond measure if they managed to shed a public tear.
We belittled the essence of masculinity. Even when, on the face of it, we meant no harm.
We’ve even turned the tables so much that today it’s men, not women, who are often the objects of naked physical desire.
Take, for example, Germaine Greer, who this week told a gathering of 200 boys at Winchester College that she had rarely been in a room with so much masculine beauty.
As a rule, Dr Greer has no greater fan than myself.
Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with the student who put it to her that if a man of her 69 years had similarly addressed the “beauty” of young female students, there would have been outrage.
Critics would have said, correctly, that he was demeaning them by reducing them to the purely physical.
By the same token, I have always felt uneasy with the Diet Coke adverts, where women executives rush to drool over the flesh of a half-naked building site worker. Again, reducing him to an object of lust.
After all, it took us decades to stop building site workers doing the same to women.
Man’s man: Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles in Conan
You could call it turning the tables…but two wrongs don’t make a right.
And now, after all these years of our efforts to “retrain” men, up to and including ridiculing them, what have we really achieved?
We have achieved a generation of women who still earn, as a national average, only 70 per cent of men’s wages, and who still do five hours of housework to every measly hour’s contribution from the man of the house.
Yet we have also achieved a new generation of men who, worrying signs suggest, are turning into a bunch of sissies. So well done, ladies. Take a look at your handiwork now.
Appearance has become an obsession to men.
What we started when we gave them their first style magazine is now a massively profitable publishing industry.
Sales of male cosmetics are at an all-time high and women are being elbowed out of the queue for cosmetic surgery by lads desperate to have their chins tightened, their eye-bags removed or that vital breast reduction to get rid of their “man boobs”.
We begged them to weep; to show us their “feminine side”.
Now we’re awash with Paul Gascoigne moments, enhancing nothing more than the share value of Kleenex, as the slightest hint of pressure induces collapse into girly tears, leaving us to pick up the pieces of their problems as well as our own.
And worse is on the way.
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The latest casualty of our well-meaning efforts, research says, is a huge decline in male libido. It’s not that they can’t have sex (we’ve got Viagra for that). No, it’s that they won’t have sex. Not interested.
Can’t be bothered.
One Relate counsellor, Nina Bryant, says that when she started 18 years ago, it was rare for a man to admit to a lack of interest in sex. “Now,” she says, “it makes about a third of my case-load.”
We told men we wanted them gentle and undemanding - and they gave us what we asked for. Bit of an own goal, I’d call that.
I am not suggesting we return to a time of smelly thugs or undomesticated louts; nor that we encourage men to revert to domineering bullies.
Most women, sensibly, loathe the company of bullies.
But, then, they also loathe the company of men they can bully - because it brings out the worst in us.
If we can, we do, and then we end up loathing ourselves as well.
So, we are not attracted to the sissies, and, according to this new drop in male libido, the sissies aren’t much attracted to us either.
“I need a hero,” sang Bonnie Tyler.
“I’m holding out for a hero till the end of the night.
“He’s got to be strong, he’s got to be fast, and he’s got to be fresh from the fight.”
Re-release that record, I say.
Let’s hear it for testosterone.
Revive, celebrate and applaud the things that the best of men are best at doing - and which those of us who can remember them miss: courage, honour and daredevil escapade among them.
Because as long as there are dragons - and God knows, there still are - we don’t need some sensitive poet cowering in the corner. We need grown men slaying them.
And with a warm-up like that, the libido, I suspect, will take care of itself.
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