Opinion | The end of affection between men and women4 min read . Updated: 21 Jan 2019, 03:24 PM IST
What we are going through is the reformation of men—by women, and by some very phoney men
In the latest Gillette ad, the problem is not a stubble that can only be solved by “razor technology". The problem is men. The ad shows normal boys and men as flawed because their behaviour is male. In the background is the chant of “Me Too". Boys bully and men appear to like sexy women. Young men stand behind barbecues and even though they are clean-shaven, they are portrayed as zombies who mutter in a loop, “boys will be boys". Gillette, which overcharges women for the same blades it sells men (but in pink), exhorts “men" to be better people.
Women rejoiced after seeing the ad, but most men didn’t. In line with the tendency of straight men to imitate the victimhood of privileged women, as this column discussed last week, men were offended and demonstrated it in the mainstream and social media. They said the ad criminalised masculinity by juxtaposing delinquent behaviour with innocuous manly ways of life.
The ad is a part of an ongoing movement across the world against the nature of men. It is true that there was always a movement against men, and we should be wary of falling into the trap that every generation falls into, which is to overrate the importance of their age.
Even so, it is hard to dispute that the Me Too campaign, the ascendency of Donald Trump and the rising fundamentalism of political correctness in the mainstream media have made our times the most hostile towards the idea of men and manliness. Under attack is not only the delinquency and criminality of some, but of almost everything that constitutes regular heterosexual men—their notions of physical and emotional strength, their amusement at herbal tea, their ability to monopolise lucrative professions through their capacity for soullessness, and how they speak and listen, and the mere hydraulics of their erections.
Men, assured of their primacy in the world, used to respond to hatred through self-deprecatory jokes, but are now unable to laugh it off. As a consequence, the affection between men and women is being extinguished. Never before has there been such a deep disenchantment with the other. I am not talking about men and women as lovers but as public concepts in the eyes of each other. Many women tell me that this feeling is not new to them, but that the dislike is deepening in the present age. You may argue that men, too, have for long harboured dislike, even hatred, for women, especially when women challenge, replace or reject them. However, today, even modern and refined men who cannot be easily made to feel insecure are covertly and overtly finding broader reasons to dislike the idea of women.
We derive our depth as humans not only from loving those who are dear to us but by loving concepts such as nation, home, religion, and nature. Affection for the other gender is as crucial to the mental well-being of a person. For the same reasons that it is a good idea to love humanity, men should have an unconditional affection for the idea of women and women for the idea of men. However, today, for many, this is becoming impossible. This collapse of affection is something as calamitous as ecological degradation. Maybe it is irreversible too.
From this important dislike very potent politics is set to grow. Men are increasingly reaching out to tradition and culture, hence nationalism, to explain why they dislike the global female intellectual. Also, men are increasingly stating in organized ways that they are abused, that they too are victims or that they have been discriminated against. In the West, male intellectuals who are questioning the many fundamental arguments of feminism are growing hugely popular. Also, male intellectuals and writers are realizing that the accusation of being “a sexist" is so overused that it has lost its terror.
What we are going through, or enduring, is the reformation of men—by women and some very phoney men. As in the case of any reformation, the message of the reformers simply is “why can’t you be more like us". In the case of some male reformers, the message is “why can’t you be as phoney as us". Among them the most entertaining are ambassadors of men-must-cry. My unsolicited advice to men is crying in front of the woman you love is not a bad idea but it has to be a once- or twice-in-a-lifetime event. It will achieve what Roger Federer’s tears achieve: “I might be great but this metal cup means something to me." However, if you cry frequently, you will be as annoying as Federer but without being Federer.
Many aspects of the reformation are useful to men, such as the movement against harassment and even the campaign to infuse common sense into men who think yoga is feminine. Patrick Broome, the yoga coach of the German soccer team that won the 2014 World Cup, told me that some of his players needed an excuse to go to the yoga studio. “So they made it look like an accident that they had landed in the yoga class, as though they were searching for the gym and had got lost." Eventually, yoga saved many players from injuries.
The modern disaffection for the other gender, while destructive in many ways, does contain a sign of something good. That men are finally yielding power. Many years ago, B.R. Ambedkar had told the “lowest" castes something that is true for everyone trying to rebel against power. “It is your claim to equality which hurts them…If you continue to accept your lowly status ungrudgingly…they will allow you to live in peace. The moment you start to raise your level, the conflict starts."
Manu Joseph is a journalist, is also a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous’