It’s tough being a man.
Like my female readers (who are no doubt scoffing and/or laughing their arses off at this point), I don’t hear this from men very often.
I hear women, on the other hand, complaining about their lot all the time. All the time. You can’t get through a daily newspaper, a night in front of the TV or a day in the office without hearing the full litany of disadvantages and unfairnesses women endure.
As a result, women have my heartfelt sympathy. Genuinely. Women are the bedrock and sine qua non of civilised society, and without their superhuman efforts we’d all fall apart in minutes. I believe them – wholeheartedly – when they tell me how tough their lives are. I see the evidence every day. And even if I didn’t see it, I’d be reminded of it: women’s voluble conversations on the matter see to that.
Of men’s view of the world, I hear little or nothing. Men fill the airwaves with their views on sex, sport and politics (of the non-gender variety). They dominate the humorous discourse of popular culture.
But of their ‘real’, private thoughts on their lives – their priorities, their place in the world, their loves, wants, needs, desires, hopes, fears – they are almost entirely silent.
I find this frankly weird, and disconcerting. I’m a man with plenty of views on the matter. I can’t believe I’m alone. Yet I have never had a meaningful, sincere conversation with another man on this topic. I wouldn’t dare. None of us would. The ‘omerta’ of silence between men is strictly enforced. In conversation with men, anything goes – except anything important and meaningful.
Suicide: a men-only participation sport
If men have little to say, though, they have plenty to act out. You see it all around you in the darker side of male behaviour: anger, bitterness, withdrawal from family and friends, confrontational aggression, destructively competitive behaviour, violent criminality, heavy drinking and drug use, infidelity, despair.
All of which I find troubling, intellectually. If men’s lives are so much easier and better than women’s, how come men are so over-represented in prisons, addiction programmes and institutions for the homeless? How come suicide is an almost exclusively male sport?
I’m not sure men feel as fortunate as they clearly should.
Take work/life balance, for example. This is a phrase that holds no meaning for most men, whose ‘balance’ is work/work. ‘Life’ isn’t an option, never has been. Earning money is the only meaningful contribution men can make. Hence their work – the only thing they’ve got and can ever have – becomes so hideously important and emblematic for them. I don’t think most men want it that way. But that’s how it is, and always will be.
More money = less happiness
Women counter that men make more money, which is true. But here’s the thing (and it’s a thing anyone sane over 30, of either gender, eventually figures out): Money means nothing. It brings comfort, not happiness. None of the things that matter a damn in life can be bought – or sold. If money is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.
Perhaps most depressing for men is the tragic mirage of sexual satisfaction. To steal from Oscar Wilde, sex is ‘the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied’. Testosterone, in man-level doses, is the most dangerous and damaging drug of all. It puts sex, for men, at stage centre from the age of 13 until at least age 50. That’s almost 40 years of obsessional sex-seeking that delivers endless disappointment, disillusion, shame and misunderstanding. Not until late in life do most men escape the death-wish pain of their own sex drives… by which time, for many, it has damaged them and their nearest and dearest beyond repair.
I could go on, but I’d hate to infuriate my female readers more than I already have. And I know the men have already clicked the ‘back’ button. That’s what we do when things threaten to get too ‘real’.
Relax, guys: I’ll get back to gardening next post.