Caitlin Moran – What About Men?
“Moran’s Rule Number One: the patriarchy is screwing over men just as hard as It’s screwing over women”.
This quote is on the back of Caitlin Moran’s (CM) new book – What About Men? – it’s powerful and it’s true. Patriarchal structures are about power and control: including political, social, media / communication and economic control. It often pits one thing against another as if they are diametrically opposed and never the twain shall meet – it thrives on discord and leverages the gaps to create division.
Religion, the sexes, socio-economics, race, hemispheres, sports-clubs, sports-wear, brands, weight…the list goes on. If there’s money or power in US v THEM, the patriarchy, via its henchmen politics and capitalism, is there stoking the division and often winning from it.
As CM herself says, she’s firmly “Team Tits” and has spent the best part of three decades writing about women and girls, music, society and media from a feminist perspective and I’ve bought and listened to nearly all of her output – including anthology of her news columns in The Times and signed copies of her books. Her More Than A Woman book is on my recommended reading list for sexism and misogyny.
In More Than A Woman she talks about her younger brother sitting at her ‘feminist table, with his feet rammed into her feminist slippers eating her feminist cheese on toast’ and complaining about that he thought ‘feminism has gone too far’…and her being shocked but then reflecting on whether he had a point.
She was confronted by the ‘what about the men’ question each time she talked about her books in public at book readings etc and in a session with her teenage daughter’s friends about equality, she was shocked by the boys all saying that it was so hard being a boy, treading the fine-line between being friends with girls and being a girl’s boyfriend, their confusion over social expectations and acceptability and saying / doing the right things. Moran found this fascinating and after a pensive fag break, she decided to do something about it…What About Men? was born.
What CM has attempted to do is good, noble even, but I’m left feeling a bit short-changed. Although she talks knowledgably about the influence of MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists, who seem like a group of angry men fighting custody battles with their ex-wives but who almost universally seem to want revenge for previous harms and who are really using what the UN calls the pseudo-science of Parental Alienation to wrest control of their children), the ‘manosphere’ and influencers like the currently-charged Andrew Tate and other ‘lifestyle gurus’, Moran does seem to have been taken-in by the pleas of the young men she speaks to who do seem to have swallowed this narrative of perceived male-victimhood and were all parroting it to her.
As a start-point, this wasn’t filling me with confidence.
She also states early in the book that maybe boys have suffered *comparatively* at the hands of girls’ success academically at school, in STEM and in other areas and then states that she feels boys and men who are straight and white feel like they are underperforming and under scrutiny and under pressure. (Something Jordan B. Peterson constantly talks about) There are statistics for all of this but any glances at educational statistics will still show that although boys underperform girls in all Attainment 8 score areas, white boys and girls still out perform black Caribbean, some mixed ethnicities and children of Gypsy/Roma heritage. This isn’t a competition but it’s a cry for accuracy and nuance.
Much of the ‘white working class left behind’ narrative was born from the right wing of British and American politics and leveraged heavily in the Brexit referendum and Trump election campaigns in 2016 finding commonality in the ‘great replacement theory’ which suggests white ‘patriots’ increase their birth rate accordingly. Historical insights on this have been analysed here in the UCL repository.
There’s a gap in the book in conveying this background impact of divisive and racialised politics on the underpinning hypothesis she takes here.
It feels a bit like CM’s been taken in by a number of unhelpful actors in the manosphere and although she seems aware of them, there doesn’t seem to have been any thought to do a broader search for meaning or context.
It feels like references are missing.
It feels a bit glib.
It feels a bit anecdotal.
It feels quite middle-class.
There is some humour but more of the ‘recognizing stereotypes’ chuckles rather than the laughs I’ve experienced before in her observational writing.
She talks compellingly about the way clothes are somewhat restricted in the male wardrobe, although suits and T-shirts get solid press; she gives us some great role models – Rashford, Mortimer and Whitehouse, Attenborough but seems to struggle for more; reasonably solid insights into friendships and men’s frequent ability to recite facts not recount feelings; good stuff on fatherhood, illness and men’s inability to take responsibility for their health and good sections on bodies, genitals, p0rn use and ageing.
I really struggled with the section on ‘bantz’ / banter and male chat, I honestly found it quite cringey, there were some insights into the Manosphere and although they were generally critical, there are more – many more – players in the manosphere that Peterson and Tate, a gulf missing around the connection between ‘relationship gurus’ and fitness gurus as well as Podcast Bros who all talk about what is wrong with women (in every area of life and relationships and how MEN SHOULD BE if they want to be THE ALPHA. There’s so much that parents COULD HAVE learned if this was covered better. Arguably much of it’s been covered in Men Who Hate Women by Laura Bates but I feel Moran could have tapped into the spirit of this more as her audience will be much larger and more mainstream than Bates’ BRILLIANT book (see reading list recommendations above).
There’s a good section on The Game by Neil Strauss the notorious book about pick-up artistry (Pick Up Artists – PUAs – who share their secrets to manipulating conversations which enable men to sleep with women) and his later book The Truth about the emptiness Strauss himself felt when his games were so successful he found himself living an empty, vapid and life abusing one woman’s trust after another. Eventually he finds love and realises the multiple errors of his ways – sadly millions of copies of The Game will have been read by men who will use the tactics.
She makes a good point about PUAs, the manosphere generally and influencers like Tate as well as MRAs: whereas women pass other women and girls their tips for safety and success, men pass on their anger and resentment. This is something I’ve seen online when men are involving themselves in discussions around domestic abuse and violence, especially the #NotAllMen crowd – they seem to want to say that ‘all women lie’ and their main focus seems to be on revenge, not peace, equality or happiness.
The above selection of male ‘influencers etc all seem to have one thing in common, the desire to blame feminism or women in general for all their issues – ‘feminism has gone too far’; ‘feminists hate men’; ‘Feminazis’ etc and although it’s mentioned in the book, Moran doesn’t give much insight into the history of these claims and how much the manosphere has mobilised behind these statements and weaponised feminism against women.
I think if we look at the original aims of feminism: ‘the political, social and economic equality of the sexes’ we can all agree that we’re not there yet…outline below:
- Politics: 2/3 men in Houses of Parliament and Lords on average.
- Social: Women do majority of housework in 92% households (UCL survey 2023); women don’t feel as safe as men anywhere (although men are also frightened of male violence)
- Economic: gender pay gap (top 250 Companies submit data to ONS) about 15-20% falling in most areas, rising in Executive and Professional spheres.
So still lots of work to do before we can feel that feminism has gone far enough, let alone too far.
Towards the end of the book, Moran admits she has ‘carefully avoided some topics I didn’t really know or care about: like sport, violence, computer games’ (and why men can recite reams of movie and tv dialogue).
This is a huge gap as far as I’m concerned. These places are where some of our most tribal male behaviours are rooted and seen, and where unhelpful masculinities are shown most ardently. These areas of boys’ and mens’ lives, especially sport and the use of – and to some extent, expectation and acceptance of – violence are where most of the breeding grounds of unhelpful, unethical, toxic or sour masculinities flourish.
I’m waiting for men on the internet / MRAs and other disciples of misogynistic influencers to start saying ‘EVEN Caitlin Moran says that feminism’s gone too far’ or that ‘Caitlin Moran says that feminism is bad for men and boys’. I hope they don’t, but expect that some will. I’m sure it’s not been her intention to write a book that could be weaponised against women and girls, but I do fear she has been a bit naive in thinking that it won’t be.
In short, feminism has changed the outcomes for young women and girls in some ways, girls are more confident and have a wider range of careers and sports open to them than they did 20 or 30 years ago BUT this hasn’t necessarily been at the expense of boys and men.
Boys and men have been consistently let down by traditional and dominance-based masculinities in a number of ways and WE as men need to change that – to become more open, to talk more and more meaningfully about the challenges we face, to strive more in the face of challenge and energise each other, our sons and other young men and boys to believe in themselves a bit more, stop competing with each other in traditionally masculine hierarchies and be more supportive of one another when things go wrong.
As the saying (almost) goes: more success for others doesn’t necessarily mean less success for you. People excel in different ways and at different times. All flowers don’t bloom at the same time.
What About Men? then, what do I think?
Useful for parents and for other adults to try and understand men and boys better.
A start point for opening discussions between men and other men, between men and boys and also between boys themselves.
Useful insights into many areas of the modern world and how it impacts on boys and men.
In my mind, not rigorous enough on statistics and a little glib at times.
PS: I’m currently reading Working With Boys by Andrew Hampton (Routledge) and it puts boys’ school hierarchies, peer and friendship groups under the microscope and may well help parents and teachers to ‘get’ boys more deeply and be able to help them with developing and maturing more gently, rather that sourly.
PPS: If you want to open discussions with boys and mixed groups about masculinities, online influencers and why feminism hasn’t yet gone too far, please get in touch and/or have a look at What Makes A Man? my workshop on this topic.
What Makes A Man.