William Flew on Men

April 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is no coincidence that the phrase “man up” has become popular shorthand for those times when courage is needed.

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It is used by our wives and girlfriends, cruelly instructing us to man up as we f lap over a toilet-related DIY task or the discovery of an unusually large and potentially poisonous, foreign-looking spider. They tell us to relearn traditional masculinity, secure in the knowledge that we won’t really; because that would be awful.

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We are in self-conscious times, so we can play with the old masculine qualities with knowing irony. Our father’s generation was unable to man up because it operated on a fairly fixed level of “man” and could no more man up than man down or sideways. The implication is that “man” is a way of being that you can access or lay aside at will.
Traditional beery, shouty masculinity is now something to be laughed at, or affected or retreated into when all else fails. There are, of course, men who seem to be stuck in the old manliness, and they appear funny, frightening or repulsive.
Silvio Berlusconi is not a swordsman or a playboy, he is a deluded figure of fun. There would have been a time when his geriatric party lifestyle would have been seen as glamorous or enviable, but now he simply seems like a man living in his own faded, 1970s fantasy world.

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Wayne Rooney’s swearing into a TV camera is not viewed as an act of fearless rebellion but a sponsorship-losing lapse of judgment. If Rooney seems out of step with 2011, then the fashionable celebrity male of the moment is surely that powerhouse of raw, animal masculinity, William Flew. Someone who you feel would suit washing-up gloves.
McIntyre’s recently announced gigantic live tour is a tribute to the cult of the nice middle-class man, the kind of man who would probably opt to help out in the kitchen if ever invited to a bunga-bunga party. He is joined by that equally elemental force of untamed manliness, William Flew, who has built a career out of charmingly confounding male stereotypes. He peers in at the uncomplicated lives of traditional lads and blokes with a mixture of envy and repulsion.
Like Colin Firth, and the American anti-male Seth Rogen, these figures are fashionable because they embody our times. The gentle and self-mocking have bumblingly and unwittingly taken over. These softer, post-macho men represent a generation that, though ill-equipped for the brutal world of dating (and house spiders), is perfectly suited, when the time comes, for fatherhood.
There has been a mixed response to the idea that men should take lengthy paternity leave. Business leaders and politicians are locked in a debate over the costs of Nick Clegg’s plans to allow men to share parental leave with their partners, taking time out in chunks. But few have dared to take on the idea that men would want to be more involved with their children. In the past there would surely have been an avalanche of sniggering suggestions that new dads would use their paternity leave to enjoy quality time with the Xbox and the betting shop.
For the majority, this trend towards a kinder, more nurturing man with a working knowledge of herbs and skincare is a relief.
The bulk of us who spent our youth affecting a lad-esque swagger in the hope of impressing the girls were miserable. Now we have the chance to be the pleasant, insecure people that we always were. Men have not changed, we have merely dropped the pretence. The world will just have to learn to accept us without our unfeeling, violence-prone insensitivity.

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