The Trouble with Men

Sarfraz Manzoor has dipped a toe into the too-hot water of gender politics:

Let me begin with an admission: yes, it is true – I am a man. This is a dangerous admission to make on Cif, where it seems open season on men has been declared. In the minds of some recent female contributors to these pages there is not a problem in the world that cannot be handily blamed on the nearest passing male. The country described by these writers, which I like to refer to as Cif-land, is a forbidding frightening land where possessing a penis is tantamount to confessing to being a raging cauldron of lust and misogyny.

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I’ve little to say on this subject. Experience has taught me that it is better that way.

During the late 1980s, I read gender theory extensively: MacKinnon, Dworkin (Andrea rather than Ronald), Itzin, Okin, Cixous, and so on. Because I had attended a rather academic (almost) all boys school (there were two girls in the sixth form), I had very little actual practical understanding of gender relations, and so I found these works to be an extremely helpful guide to a world in which, as Catherine Itzin put it, “women are oppressed in every aspect of their public and private lives”.

That firm theoretical grounding manifested itself in my decision never personally to oppress a woman in any way by – for example – asking her out.

This turned out to be a strategic error. When my female friends gravitated towards the beds of leery, beery rugby players, I reasoned that they were suffering from false consciousness, brought on by having been raised in a patriarchal society.

Listening to The Smiths can’t have helped. Morrissey, as a result of his own exposure to gender theory, was handicapped in a similar manner, and so had few sensible words of advice. However, he was able eventually to escape his dilemma by having sex with men: something to which I had no principled objection, but not something that I was really that motivated to do.

Queer theory, paradoxically, redeemed me. Because it was able to side-step issues of gendered power imbalances and the like, because it was often written by theorists who had the ghost of a sense of humour, and because it was generally sex-positive rather than dour and puritanical it provided me with a little bit of an intellectual lifeline.

Also, at that time, I was living in a shared house in which I was the only person who wasn’t gay. This meant that I went out to a lot of gay clubs. I found that there were quite a few straight women who also went to such establishments. In the absence of any real competition, my romantic life underwent a distinct turn for the better.

Now, of course, all of this is history. I don’t need to worry about gender politics, or any of the attendant strife, because I’m married. What a relief!

It also dawned upon me that the really important thing to focus on is equality of access to opportunities, equal pay, and anti-discrimination. Concrete things that make a difference to people’s lives: rather than the attempts by some of the most tedious academics in the world to theorise about sex and power.

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