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Leave men alone

The woke elites might soon regret their culture war on masculinity.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Books Feminism Identity Politics UK

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Men, I have bad news: Caitlin Moran is coming for us. She comes not to man-bash, not to holler: ‘All men are rapists!’ It’s worse than that. She feels sorry for us. ‘I’m violently opposed to the branches of feminism that are permanently angry with men’, she writes at the very start of her very bad book. Instead she pities us. She frets over our toxic stoicism, our inability to be vulnerable, our unwillingness to be open about our fat bodies and small cocks. She wants to save us from all the ‘rules’ about ‘what a man should be’. From all that ‘swagger’ and ‘the stiff upper lip’. By the end I found myself pining for some good ol’ angry feminism. Give me Andrea Dworkin’s anti-fella fury over this matrician tripe any day of the week.

What About Men? is, I’m going to be blunt, rubbish. I knew it would be from the very first page where Moran says that ‘when it comes to the vag-based problems, I have the bantz’. Imagine using the word bantz unironically in 2023. What she means is that she’s done all the vagina stuff. She’s completed feminism. She’s known as ‘the Woman Woman’, she says, in an arrogant timbre that puts to shame those cocksure blokes who stalk her nightmares. She wrote the bestselling pop-feminist tome, How To Be a Woman (2011), which contained such gems of wisdom as ‘don’t shave your vagina’ because it’s better to have a ‘big, hairy minge’, a ‘lovely furry moof’, ‘a marmoset sitting in [your] lap’, than a bald cooch. (Emmeline Pankhurst, I’m so sorry.) So now, naturally, she’s turning her attention to men. She’s discovered there is ‘a lot to say’ about ‘men in the 21st-century’. Lucky us.

What she says about us is almost too daft for words. You realise by about page 22 that she’s never met a bloke from outside the media-luvvie, ageing rock-chick, ‘Glasto’-loving circle she famously inhabits. (I almost died of second-hand embarrassment when she said in How To Be a Woman that she lives an edgy existence, ‘like it’s 1969 all over again and my entire life is made of cheesecloth, sitars and hash’. Maam, you write a celebrity column for hundreds of thousands of pounds for The Times.)

Even her cultural references in What About Men? are off, as befits a woman who is essentially a square person’s idea of a cool person. She laments that young men are in ‘the grip of a fad’ for super-skinny jeans. Jeans so tight they look ‘sprayed-on’. Jeans so tight that the poor lad’s balls end up ‘crushed against the crotch seam, in vivid detail’. Really? It’s not 2006. Bloc Party aren’t in the charts. I’m no follower of fashion but even I know most young men haven’t been wearing bollock-squashing jeans for a few years now. My nephews wear baggy jeans, à la Madchester. Pretty much the only time you see unyielding denim these days is on the portly thigh of a mid-life-crisis middle-class dad. The kind of men, dare I say it, that Ms Moran mixes with.

Her commentary on t-shirts is a dead giveaway, too. The only fashion flare the tragic male sex is allowed to enjoy is the tee, she says. Especially past the age of 40. You’ll see fortysomething fellas in ‘band t-shirts, slogan t-shirts, t-shirts with swearing on’, she says. Will you? Where? Again, only in the knowingly dishevelled privileged set Moran exists in. Every man in his forties I know always manages to put a shirt on. So desperate are emotionally repressed men to express themselves, says Moran, that some even buy t-shirts ‘from the back pages of Viz’ that say things like ‘Breast Inspector’ or ‘Fart Loading: Please Wait’. Not once in my life have I seen a man in a Viz tee. The problem here isn’t men – it’s Moran’s man-friends. She could have saved herself the trouble of this entire book by befriending some normal blokes.

That Moran’s pool of men is shallow is clear from the fact that all the men she talks to for the book seem to be as steeped as she is in chattering-class orthodoxy. She includes a transcript of long chats with male acquaintances and, honestly, reading it feels like being stuck in a lift with craft-beer wankers who do IT for the Guardian. At one point she informs her readers that her male friends are mostly ‘middle-aged, middle-class dads who know about wine, recycle, have views on thoughtful novels’ and would probably ‘cry if they saw a dog struggling with a slight limp’. Writing a book about men from the perspective of men like that is like writing a book about women from the perspective of Princess Anne.

Nonetheless, these men give Moran what I think she craves – proof of her thesis that ‘the patriarchy is screwing men as hard as it’s screwing women’ (her italics). In insisting that men be stoic, big-chested, alpha beasts, ‘the patriarchy’ conditions the male sex to be gruff and unfeeling and violent, apparently. Moran’s male interlocutors weepily bemoan the ‘random violence’ of the school playground where a ‘big guy’ would run up to you and smash his fist ‘into your thighs or arm’. Boys who were ‘weird’ or ‘nerdy’ would get it in the neck, we’re told. Is it cruel of me to say, ‘Get over it’? Surely these fortysomething media men in skinny jeans and Pixies t-shirts should have moved on by now from that time a real-life Dennis the Menace gave them a dead leg.

Men are being conditioned, says Moran, by language, peer pressure and Hollywood, which, according to one of her interviewees, dictates that blokes ‘are only worthy if they have money, muscles and Megan Fox’. This suggests her circle is as out of touch with film culture as it is with fashion culture. Most men in modern films are hapless pricks and poor old Megan Fox has been consigned to action B-movies watched only by 50-year-olds nostalgic for the glory days of Schwarzenegger. Moran is especially worried about the ‘verbal development in a boy-child’, the way infant males are bombarded with linguistic cues that tempt them towards ‘alpha-ness’. Her obsession with language gives rise to one of the maddest chapters of a book I have ever read.

It’s called ‘The Conversations of Men’. We are invited to ‘climb on to the Banterbus, and take a journey to Banterbury, where I, the Archbishop of Banterbury, will take you through the Bible of Banter – The Banterbury Tales, if you will’. Word after cursed word, you feel your will to live drain away. Banter is used to force patriarchal expectations on to male babies, says Moran. When boys are born, their dads will say of their penises: ‘Well, he’s got nothing to be ashamed of.’ When male infants latch on to the breast, dad will say: ‘Ooooh – he’s a tit man, like [me]! He loves your knockers, babe!’ And when a boy child is potty-trained, he’s told: ‘Imagine your winkie is a little gun, mate… Pow! Pow!’ And so are boys brainwashed from the get-go, says our valiant chronicler, with alpha tendencies and phallic self-regard.

Only… this doesn’t happen, does it? What modern man watches his son being born and says ‘He has a big dick’? What 21st-century father observes the intimate miracle of breastfeeding and says, ‘He likes your tits too, darling’? Here, Moran is clearly imagining men from outside her circle. Not her male mates who appreciate wine, recycle and have opinions about novels, but those other men; the ones who use words like ‘knockers’, who obsess over dick size, who are keen to turn their newborn son into a ‘BANTER MACHINE’ (Moran’s capitals). It is unspoken, but there’s class judgement in all this. Boiled down, Moran is presenting men with high literary tastes and rock-band t-shirts as sensitive and interesting, while men who say ‘knockers’ and ‘cock’ are the problematic nurturers of the next generation of rough, bantering blokes. I’ve never been more convinced that middle-class feminism is more concerned with chastising working-class men than it is with liberating womankind from the remnants of misogynist bigotry.

Who underpays women? Who conspires to oust them from the labour market if they have ‘too many kids’? Who sacks them if they say sex is real? Who banishes them from social media for saying men aren’t women? It isn’t the loudmouth dad who comments on the size of his newborn’s penis. It isn’t the young father who admires his wife’s breasts even as she’s breastfeeding. It’s the boss class. It’s the painfully politically correct media elite. It is, if I may say, the cultural types and businesspeople who clink glasses with Ms Moran as they award her Columnist of the Year. Obsessing over teenage male banter in an era when women who stand up for women’s sex-based rights are being called cunts and whores every day strikes me not only as surreal, but also as a staggering neglect of the core duty of the journalist to speak about what really exists.

Strikingly, the trans ideology is not covered in this book, even though its ‘banter’ is far more threatening than anything that falls from the mouth of a witless 13-year-old in a playground. Call me a cynic, but it isn’t hard to work out why. Moran doesn’t want to jeopardise her standing in the eyes of the right-thinking elites. She doesn’t want to suffer the fate of JK Rowling, that heroine of reason, who’s been damned – and also celebrated – for her defence of the scientific and social truth of womanhood. How much easier it is to bash boys who sext girls and google Andrew Tate than it is to confront the full-grown men in dresses who tell women who disagree with them to suck their cocks. Ms Moran, that’s the sexism, bigotry and patriarchal fanaticism you’re looking for.

In a sense, Moran’s solution to the man problem is not that different to the trans ideologues’ solution. She wants to ‘feminise’ men. Not a literal castration, but a metaphorical one. She laments that men are never ‘able to cry or admit vulnerability’. She can’t believe that where women are always talking about their vulvas and other bits – are they? – even naked men in a locker room won’t talk to each other about their cocks (and we never will). Men should be more open, says Moran, less beholden to that ‘heartbreaking stoicism’ that encourages them to put their feelings in a box. This is social re-engineering dressed up as a fun, radical treatise; another expression of that 21st-century elitist desire to tame men and our apparently unwieldy inner urges.

Why won’t they leave us alone? I find the chattering-class crusade against ‘toxic masculinity’ deeply unsettling. Not to be too blokeish about it, but it is masculinity that keeps society safe. It is muscular, mostly working-class men who make society work; who empty Caitlin Moran’s trash, police the street she lives on, ensure a foreign army never crosses the borders of her nation. As Camille Paglia once said: ‘The women’s movement is rooted in the belief that we don’t even need men. All it will take is one natural disaster to prove how wrong that is. Then, the only thing holding this culture together will be masculine men of the working class.’

We have a wonderful opportunity right now for cross-sex solidarity. Men should absolutely stand with women whose privacy and dignity is being violated by trans agitators, and women should stand with men who want their own spaces too, in which to roughhouse with their male children, strengthen themselves, become gentlemen, become confident. Both sexes should confront the social-engineering authoritarianism of both the trans ideology and anti-men elitism. Men aren’t talking about their penises, Caitlin, because they’re busy fighting fires, digging for oil, mending roads, fixing the plumbing and safeguarding society so that people like you can sit back and write fact-life fluff about their lives. The irony is too much: it is their masculinity that sustains the social conditions in which you can moan about their masculinity. You’re welcome.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

What About Men?, by Caitlin Moran, is published by Ebury Presss. Order it here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Books Feminism Identity Politics UK

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