So. Last week. Suspicious that all our get up and go, had got up and gone, Claire and I decided to face the music and dance. Or, more specifically, Tango.
‘Lean on him,’ our expert instructor kept urging at the trial session.
Claire cautiously leaned. ‘Feel him move and you move, anticipate every step he takes, and take it backwards.’
And then, as I managed to trip over her foot and jab my chin in her eye, he sighed.
‘You must be the man, make the decisions, you control her every movement; whatever you do she must follow.’
But I’m just not that sort of man. I’m about as alpha as alfalfa, more bean salad than meat and potatoes. Claire on the other hand is as co-dependent as cobra. As a teenager she was severing the limbs off corpses and disembowelling the dead. As a highly trained doctor she doesn’t do leaning on, or following, or being walked through. And I, who spent my own student years writing essays about flower imagery in Victorian poesy, enjoy leading and making decisions in the same way I enjoy dysentery.
We felt as awkward as the AGM for the Jim’ll Fix It Fan Club. We’re simply not the dominant man throwing the weak compliant woman around; going through motions born in a profoundly patriarchal age in a country which has taken thirty years to catch up with us and elect their own Malvinas malevolent war-hungry female leader.
It takes two to tango – just not us two.
Should I feel ashamed at my unmanliness? Am I the Amtico flooring of our relationship? Laid right once, then easy to walk all over for the next twenty years? Or are we both standard bearers for a progressive cultural shift? Are we the future?
Anxiety about this is palpable. ‘NO MEN ALLOWED:’ fretted one Daily Mail headline last week, ‘London’s first exclusively women-only members’ club opens breaking centuries of tradition.’ Looking through the titles and subtitles of a host of recent books, women are now, apparently, The Richer Sex, and The Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Author Hanna Rosin even claims it is, The End of Men.
What they’ve noticed is more than the gradual rise of female power in the workplace but a significant jump created by the crash. At the beginning of the 2007 recession, or ‘he-cession’, men suffered roughly 80% of job losses. Possibly this was because, men were being paid more on average than women doing the same jobs, it made sense for companies to keep the lower paid equivalents. It has meant that, statistically, women have fared better than men.
In 2010, ‘for the first time in history,’ says Rosin, ‘the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who continue to occupy around half of the nation’s jobs.’
Conversely cultures from the Middle East to China and Africa have had decades of testosterone fuelled male preference and selective birth control. Many view the West’s deference to women as effeminate. If things go on polarising, the next war between East and West could truly be a battle of the sexes. Still I know which side I’d rather be on. One thing we know is ‘feminine’ in no way means ‘weaker’: from Golda Meir to Mrs Thatcher and Malala Yousafzai, women won’t shy away from conflict.
‘Assuming a world run by women is more “tender”’ says Rosin, ‘seems… just a story we tell ourselves.’
Let’s bring it on. One journalist I know returned to Iraq after ten years. He stood with a friend praising how much women’s rights had improved. ‘When I was here last,’ he said, ‘women had to walk five paces behind the man, now I see they’re walking twenty paces in front.’
‘That’s not women’s rights,’ his friend replied, ‘it’s landmines.’
First published in
- Thirty Four Storeys, A Million Stories3 July, 2017 - 12:51 pm
In a world where deeper meaning is becoming increasingly fractured by social networking and wall to wall distraction, the need to impose a meaning on the Grenfell Tower tragedy has seemed irresistible.