Reply to Nigel Planer

The following article by the author Nigel Planer appeared in the Radio Times 16-22 June 2001. Below, Jen Clarke responds.

VIEW: Nigel Planer examines the anti-male orthodoxy that has put men in crisis

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” went the old feminist proverb. It was the kind of slogan I would have found graffitied [sic] on the refectory wall when I was a student in the early seventies at the politically hyperactive Sussex University. Other favourites were “Men are the problem”, and “All penetration is
rape”. It was accepted by both genders that our mothers had been exploited by our fathers – not only were men the problem, but each individual man was personally to blame. A lot of this strange stereotyping still exists. Recently, when a firm of divorce solicitors cheekily advertised with the shout-lines “Ditch the bitch” to attract male clients, and “All men are bastards” for female clients, the only complaints and accusations of sexism came from women over the use of the word “bitch”. No one dared question the current orthodoxy that there is something intrinsically, irredeemably yucky about men. All men.

Trying to understand how this came about made me keen to be involved with Why People Hate: Men (Monday Radio 4). Believing, in my early twenties, that I was hopelessly flawed because of my gender made it hard to get girlfriends, for it would have been an act of testosterone-fuelled brutality to ring up and ask them for a date. If all men were bastards, it followed that I must be a bastard. The only way forward was to try to change. But how? And into what? There were no role models to emulate, and anyway, isn’t emulating role models just more typically hierarchical masculinist [sic] behaviour? So I tried instead somehow to become a man with the minimum amount of male traits. To fail to be a man was my best chance of success.

A whole generation of boys has been brought up since then – these are the ones doing worse than the girls at all levels of education. For the first time there are now more women than there are men qualifying as doctors and solicitors. The male suicide rate is higher than the female, men’s, life expectancy is lower than women’s and men are more likely to suffer from all the major diseases, with fewer resources spent on their health than on women’s. Men are now in crisis. So much so that Jane Fonda recently donated a substantial chunk of her millions towards a study of what are now called “men’s issues”. Some are saying that, since the seventies, the pendulum has swung castratingly [sic] far in the other direction.

On the other hand, this new generation also expects, and is expected, to be more involved with bringing up their children. There has been a massive demographic shift in the workplace, with numbers of men in work declining, while numbers of women have increased. Many of these boys would like to grow up to be more than just wage-slaves, and not be judged as fathers solely on what they can provide. It’s in their relationships and their homes that the positive changes are taking place. So, although it’s true that economic and institutional power still tends to be in the hands of some men, the majority of individual men aren’t actually all-powerful. It’s worth remembering that the mother of all feminist slogans was “The personal is political”.

Nigel Planer writing in Radio Times 16 – 22 June 2001.

The above article, written by Nigel Planer for the Radio Times, succinctly illustrates for me the lack of perspective that makes so many men fear Feminism. Nigel’s very narrow premise appears to be that the spectre of feminism is behind all of the current problems being faced by young men and boys (including his own insecurities, and those of his fellow sufferers).

If Nigel was so negatively affected by a few cutting words he should be thankful he wasn’t born female

Because someone, we assume a woman, wrote disparaging remarks about men on the walls of his “politically hyperactive” university Nigel thinks he was made to believe he was “hopelessly flawed”. This, he implies, made it difficult for him to get girlfriends. Get real Nigel! Young men had this problem long before any woman chained herself to the railings; it’s called growing up, and surprisingly, it affects girls as well as boys. Good gracious, if Nigel was so negatively affected by a few cutting words written on the toilet walls he should be thankful he wasn’t born female. Who knows how he would have turned out if he’d been subjected to the disparaging language and behaviour reigned down on them by men that, for many girls and women, is just part of every day life. But hey, maybe he’s just a sensitive type.

He talks about the current generation of boys who are doing worse than girls “at all levels of education”. It would be interesting to know where he derives his statistics because this sweeping statement is not strictly true. It is true that in some areas, particularly English (in the UK) girls are doing better than boys. But this is not true in all areas of the curriculum, nor is it true across all demographic perspectives. There is a whole industry now in education that is looking for explanations for boys’ apparent failure in certain areas of the curriculum and the causes are, as any intelligent person would predict, complex and varied. It is true that one of the reasons girls are doing better in some areas is because more resource has been put into girls’ education. And about time too some might say? Apparently though not Nigel.

To help to make his point about the unfair way men are now treated Nigel cites increases in male suicide rates

To help to make his point about the unfair way men are now treated Nigel cites increases in male suicide rates and lower life expectancy. Why he does this is not clear, since this statistic has always been true and it is difficult therefore to see how one might conclude that it is related to feminism in any way. He also uses that rather fatuous argument that men are getting a raw deal because more money is spent on women’s health than on theirs. Yes, men get testicular and prostate cancer and of course appropriate resources should be targeted in these areas. But women get breast, cervical and ovarian cancer, not to mention all those gynaecological problems; and of course, they have babies don’t they? So quite rightly, the proportion of resources being spent on women’s health is greater and it is difficult to sympathise with anyone who would argue that it shouldn’t be.

And whilst it is true that more women are coming into more senior and professional positions, this does not change the fact that the wage gap continues to increase and there are still more men in higher ranking positions than women. Far from being “wage slaves” men still hold the balance of power at work.

Surely even Nigel must accept there is a collective responsibility?

One thing I agree with Nigel about is that women’s subjugation by men is not the fault of individual men. But surely even Nigel must accept there is a collective responsibility? Of course it doesn’t help to blame individuals and it’s sad to think that poor Nigel seems to feel that he has been expected to personally shoulder the blame for all the things that made those nasty women write all that horrible graffiti about men. But when I read Nigel’s article I can’t help being reminded of a little boy crying and stamping his feet because his sister has taken away his little toy. He just can’t understand his sister’s reasoning, that he’s been playing with it for ages now and it’s her turn.