Real men are not back, they are only getting older


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Category: Relationships Date: 10 Dec 98

‘I have met a few real men in recent times. None of them are under 50. The under 50s are often boring’


 ‘I feel sorry for them. Because women are confusing. We not only want it all in terms of our work ...we also want it all in men’


“MEN ARE BACK” ended the ad where the young woman tenderly shaved a beautiful male face. No they’re not, I thought. They are going out of style. This may be a blow to the feminist in me who believes in equality but I long for the days when men were men.


I’m not talking about the rakes, drunkards, womanisers, batterers, sweet-talkers who exist in every age, in every country throughout the world, but real men. I know they exist because I’ve met them. They are older now and have always held irresistible appeal for me. My husband is never threatened because he says the only men attracted to me are anything from 50 to 90 years old. What I don’t tell him is that I too find them thrilling, always have. But I’ll come back to them.


We secretly snigger at our bra-burning sisters of the feminist movement as we stride to work as lawyers, doctors, management consultants, personal assistants, secretaries, consultants and business women. In the evenings as we slip into our high heels and outline our mouths with lipstick we wonder what all the fuss was about. We are natural managers we say to ourselves, as we fire off an e-mail relating to work while feeding baby on our laps, and keeping one eye on the soup.


We stare aghast at women who remember a time when women couldn’t vote, or go to university or qualify for scholarships, or become doctors, lawyers and CEOs. We can’t believe that there was a time when we were relegated to the home to keep our place as cleaners and breeders and babysitters with no brains. But there was such a time. And thanks to all the women, who were too busy fighting for women’s rights to care about how their hairstyle affected men, we can now have it all.


A few months back, early one evening in London, the phone rang while Anna, a TV producer friend, was treating herself to a particularly decadent and feminine bath. She was lying in a hot tub, in the light of two flickering scented candles, covered in frothy bubbles, her hair coiling down in tendrils around her neck, a glass of wine in hand. I turned down the Vivaldi and mouthed,  “It’s the BBC!”


She had been waiting for that call. Her voice was transformed. She sounded like a dragon in a double-powered suit. The candles were nothing to the fire emanating from her mouth. She was talking budgets, shooting schedules in Paris, Prague and Portugal. She was talking crew and anchor and assistants. She returned a laugh, heartily, like a man, impersonal, which said you must be joking, rather than I am just an ingratiating little woman who lives to please. She was charming but formidable. Forty-five minutes later as the bath water cooled, and the candles burnt down, she got her way. She conceded a little on the budget but retained full executive producer rights over the programme. She emerged from her bath laughing saying, “Did you hear me? He had no idea I was in a bath and being such a girlie!”


Now back to my original point. Many women in their thirties like Anna have a blurry but nevertheless powerful memory of a strong male figure. The father/uncle/grandfather who was the quintessential patriarch. He was charismatic, he was dashing, he took charge, he sorted out the bills, he was strong and handsome, he had a hearty laugh, he brooked no contradictions, and he was wise.


He was religious, he was well educated, he was cultured, he knew how to entertain, he overindulged with whisky but did it with style, he adored his daughters, he was a disciplinarian and when he was indulgent the whole world shone. He read poetry. And sometimes he even played the piano.


He may also have been a chauvinist and stubborn, autocratic and authoritarian. Some of them were positively tyrannical, but girls and boys, that was a man. He took care of women and children and old people. He used his superior strength to be protector of the weak. He took up all his burdens and did his duty by his fellowman and God. He was, in the end, honorable.


Now that the modern woman no longer needs to fight these various battles, we have decided we want it both ways. Like Anna we like scented candles, and full executive rights for our own show. We want respect in the courts and boardrooms and offices and romance in the bedrooms. We want our own savings invested wisely for a rainy day and we want to choose what to wear and where to go but we also want to be taken care of. We want men to open doors for us and be our protectors. We want to dress up in tight strappy dresses and high heels, which impair our free movement, and act helpless for a while.


Since we have taken charge of our lives we like to fantasise about being the decorative little woman when we are relaxing. I know it’s perverse, and it will be used against us whenever we fight for equal rights and opportunities (because women still have a  long way to go) but it’s true.


I have met a few real men in recent times. None of them are under 50. The under-50s are often boring because they are so confused. They understand the wisdom of letting the woman take charge, but ask them a question and they look fearfully at their wives and say, “Ask the wife.” They are confused. Younger men are simply not needed the way real men used to be. Their women sort everything out, even their weddings. They just need to show up, and not too hung up to say, “I do”.


I feel sorry for them. Because women are confusing. We not only want it all in terms of our work and children and relationships and independence, we also want it all in man. We want them to be good old-fashioned providers and liberated ‘90s men in one package, and whatever they do we’re not satisfied.


If he is happy with our independence we say that’s because he doesn’t want to take care of us. If he cooks and washes and takes care of the children we say he is dependable but mean boring and fantasise about rough and ready types like James Bond. They are rough and ready, we say they are crude, selfish, insensitive and think with their groins. If they are ambitious and driven, we say they never have time for the house. If they always have time for us and the children, we complain he is not ambitious enough. If they are sensitive, we call them wimps. If he loves his mother, we call him mama’s boy and if he neglects her, we call him unkind. He just can’t win. If he is a provider we say he is trying to control us, and if we share responsibilities, we say he’s taking advantage of us.


These are some of the issues ‘90s men and women have to deal with. Nothing is cut and dried. Nobody has a fixed role anymore and although this has allowed both men and women to free themselves from the shackles of stereotypes and explore their full human talent and potential, it has also created a great deal of confusion between us.


We talk and talk but we don’t listen to one another and we don’t understand one another. That’s why, every now and then, women long for the days men were real men.


And men, tired out with another discussion about “the relationship” and endless analysis, often find comfort in an old fashioned woman, one who won’t make too many demands on him or compete with him. She won’t challenge him in any way (intellectual or financial,) is a good cook, believes in making herself pretty for her man, and certainly does not believe in equal rights and opportunity since she is happy being the decoration on his arm. Dream on men. These women don’t exist.  (Well, maybe some do but they’re just pretending so they can cream his wallet.) And dream on women. Real men are not back, they are just getting older.


Where’s love in all of this. We can talk about that another time.


Next week I want to give some examples of real men. If readers have an ideal man or woman in mind, please e-mail me with a short paragraph on them.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur