In this September’s edition of Esquire magazine, Stephen Marche published an article entitled, “The Contempt of Women.” In it he discusses the female attitude towards males in society, but above all in popular culture: “the sneer, the female gaze of contempt.”
In charting the rise of the female and the decline of the male, Marche cites Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men and the Rise of Women in which she claims that the American middle class “is slowly turning into a matriarchy.” Marche agrees. “Her numbers make the case,” he says. The numbers: Three quarters of those who lost their jobs during the economic downturn were men; many of the top industries in America are now the preserve of women; and women now make up half of the American workforce. That’s right girls, we now make up half the work force. Half. We all know who the other half are, but that would invalidate the argument, so let’s continue. Marche goes on to point out that, in these heady days of female liberation, more men than women aspire to having families, that in some states “rapes have declined to such a low number that they can’t be charted,” and that “violent crime among women is spiking to an unprecedented degree.” Wow. What a statement of equality: rather than being raped by men, women are being attacked by each other instead. Germaine Greer, you might as well pack up and go home now. Simone de Beauvoir, rest easy tonight. Caitlin Moran, we all know how to be women, but thanks for the jokes anyway, love.
Some particularly astonishing examples in Marche’s argument include current-day politicians. Poor old David Cameron, the little pet, was wheeled out and roundly patronised by his wife Samantha for his tendency to be “quite annoying,” a blatant and unsuccessful attempt to humanise the welfare state-smashing, millionaire lizard; equally, Barack “Batman” Obama was castigated by Michelle as “a gifted man, but…just a man;” while the pièce de résistance was good old George W. himself: “proud of being small minded, proud of being ornery, taking the maximum number of vacation days possible, proud of never traveling, not knowing other languages, and just in general not knowing and not caring. He fit neatly into a pattern with the other recognizable men on television.”
Poor little world leaders. Just trying to do their job. Just trying to save the world. And all the while those wives of theirs are just plain mean.
The vital objection to this argument is of course blindingly apparent. Downtrodden, sneered on and patronised as these men might be, it is still they who are holding the positions of power. SamCam can simper and smile all she likes and Michelle could be splitting the atom in the kitchen sink, and you know what, it wouldn’t matter. These women are not in actual positions of power. They look pretty powerful, sure. They seem to each have connections and resources available to them. Money, power and fame. Nonetheless, they are always going to have more column inches devoted to what gown they are wearing than they will to their own thoughts on the Middle East. Call it “humanising”, call it “sneering,” if you’re doing it from the back room, no one can see you anyway.
And besides, anyone who uses George W. Bush as a case in point is just plain ridiculous.
Marche isn’t all wrong, of course. I’m gritting my teeth and punching the wall while I say it, but I do agree that a stereotyped male has emerged in popular culture who is lazy and feckless and waiting for a nice girlfriend to come along and to sort him out. Marche does go on to point out that the rise of women has been far from universal, that they are still woefully underrepresented in world governments and account for only three of the Fortune 500 CEOs. In his own words, “Trends don’t make a matriarchy.” On the other hand, not pointing this out could only be a result of the most culpable idiocy, so maybe he doesn’t deserve that much credit.
What seems particularly objectionable is not Marche’s problems with this presentation of men. It is a stereotype, and an unpleasant one, so all power to him. In just the same way as women have risen up to confront TV bosses and media execs about the use of women as glorified sex dolls, or as credit card-maxing bimbos, or as catty sexual predators, so too should men. Except women haven’t, have they? For every Sarah Silverman there are countless Paris Hiltons. This idea Marche has that women have somehow gotten past all this and are busy returning the favour of centuries of oppression is demonstrable nonsense. Male victimhood is going to need more than a few barbed comments and a couple women who made it to the top.