Walking with Cavemen

Although I rarely admit it, I am an avid reader of Cosmopolitan. I like the sex features, the articles on issues like rape and domestic violence, and even the odd beauty tip. But I have noticed a steady decline in the level of content of the magazine, and this month’s edition really hit rock bottom with it’s article about the return of “real men”.

I know what I want, and the term “caveman” doesn’t really sum it up as far as I’m concerned

This was an article that claimed the “new man” is over. Allegedly, women today don’t want a sensitive, caring partner, they want a butch, tough, man’s man. My immediate response to this was one of scepticism; it’s all very well wanting your man to be, well, masculine, but surely they were jumping the gun a bit with their sweeping generalizations. “Read on to find out what women really want… bring back cavemen!” we were told. Now, I’m a bit confused here; this being a magazine for women, surely we don’t need to be educated as to what we want, we already know what we want, and the term “caveman” doesn’t really sum it up as far as I’m concerned. That label itself puts everyone on guard; “caveman” implies a throw-back to a truly primitive society, in which men were hunters and gatherers, and women existed to cater for their man’s needs and give them babies. And as I read on, I realised that was almost exactly what Cosmo was propagating.

The article elaborated on the idea of sexy male characteristics by introducing us to Sam Martin, author of a book entitled The Lost Art Of Being A Man: How To Mow The Lawn. He wrote it, because in his own words “men have forgotten how to mow the lawn or change a tyre on a car”. If this is the case, are we to assume that these days grass is left to grow and tyres left unchanged, because men, traditionally expected to undertake such tasks, have neglected their duties? I agree that skills like the two mentioned are pretty valuable things to have, but what Sam, or indeed Cosmo, think about women having these abilities is not even mentioned.

If we were to rely solely on men for everyday manual jobs, the single woman or the lesbian would be completely incapacitated. I fully concur that men should know how to go about mowing the lawn, just as women should, but the idea that we are currently breeding men incapable of doing so is ludicrous. Apparently, Sam’s wife likes to watch on as her manly husband “sharpens the lawnmower blades” or undertakes other such sexy tasks. Each to his own I suppose; I do wonder if he derives the same erotic satisfaction from observing his wife carrying out traditionally female household jobs like ironing or washing up.

Ethan Hawke (he’s published two novels, eurgh)

After hearing from real live cavemen, we were subjected to a list of “Cosmo’s top cavemen and the New Men they’ve replaced”. Most of their choices would come down to personal preference – I can see how some of their so-called cavemen (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg) may well appeal to some people- but a couple of examples were outright ridiculous. They listed as sexy Real Men celebrities like the loutish and violent Liam Gallagher, or Robbie Williams, infamous for his drug and drink habits, not to mention his arrogance and womanising ways. As for unappealing New Men, mentioned were Ethan Hawke (he’s published two novels, eurgh), Ryan Phillippe (a successful marriage and kid are such a turn-off), and most significantly Jamie Oliver (a man who can cook? Disgusting). What exactly are Cosmopolitan trying to say here? That men who swear, drink heavily and generally disrespect a string of women are what we want? That men shouldn’t cook, be committed, or attempt any kind of intellectual pursuits? By their reasoning, I should imagine no guy could be proud of being able to call himself a Real Man. This isn’t just offensive to us women who are told we should have a man mowing our lawn; it’s offensive to men! The idea that characteristics that we generally admire in all human beings – intelligence, commitment, clean-living- now make a man unsexy, is unfair for everybody.

Their quotes from real women about their partner’s male traits (or lack of them) don’t even begin to back up what they’re trying to have us believe. I think it’s perfectly justifiable to be annoyed when your partner, male or female, takes so long to get ready that you miss your restaurant booking. I would lose respect for anyone who had “no backbone”, male or female. Here, the magazine seems to imply that unappealing traits such as these are acceptable in a woman, but not in a man- an unfair insinuation, making all women out to be weak and vain.

Cosmopolitan have tried to pass this article off as modern and even feminist. “We want men who challenge our minds, turn on our bodies and who also enjoy a good laugh” they tell us in the introduction, despite their subsequent scorn for the highly sexy Chris Martin of Coldplay because of his university degree. The message they’re really sending out is that we want men who indulge in stereotypically laddish or macho behaviour, and don’t let themselves be too sensitive or be seen doing anything traditionally associated with women. They’ve thrown in a quote from feminist Katie Roiphe about difference being attractive, in an attempt to make it seem as though the ideas they’ve presented are somehow supported by the feminist community. In fact, her quote would seem fairly reasonable in most contexts, and isn’t really relevant to the article at hand, as wanting men to be “just like us” isn’t what Cosmo is criticizing here; what they’re criticizing is men who don’t conform to old-fashioned, and mostly unflattering, male stereotypes.

Alex is a student near London. She loves debating, philosophy, tattoos – and men who can cook.