Man flu loses out in coalition of weak

Martin van Beynen
Martin van Beynen

Anybody who follows the cut and thrust in the gender wars will know of David Benatar's new book The Second Sexism.

Benatar, head of the philosophy department at Capetown University in South Africa, argues men and boys, like the fairer sex, also suffer from the disadvantage and discrimination inherent in a highly patriarchal society. Lack of attention to the unfairness, he says, sets up a new prejudice - "the second sexism".

Without even reading the book, I can wholeheartedly agree men and boys are the forgotten victims in modern society. All those rigid expectations of what a man should be like in 2012 are oppressive and destructive of our true selves and our rich and varied masculinity. Where I depart company with the second sexism brigade is that I don't think we should go on about it.

Recent discussion about the gender war seems to have descended into a competition between the genders to see who is the more badly off. A sort of coalition of the weak. I think it reflects badly on men to play this game, even if men suffer as much discrimination as women. It is up to us to be stoical and uncomplaining, stalwart male values we neglect at our peril. Our innate nobility should prevent us from whingeing about the burden of being brave, staunch, resourceful and composed in all circumstances.

While this philosophical debate usually concentrates on the workplace and higher spheres of society, for me the gender wars start at home.

Most semi-functional homes, I suggest, run on a combination of matriarchal and patriarchal values with the matriarch winning out on points of controversy. Most sensible men would agree on the basis they are too busy running the world to worry about the home as well.

For instance my "Captain on the bridge while the engineer takes care of things below decks" approach is a model I would recommend to any families trying to sort out their priorities.

I got to thinking about these intractable issues this week because I had a raging cold so awful and debilitating I should have taken to my bed for the week and stayed there to be nursed back to health by the tender mercies of a loving Mrs VB.

Unfortunately, Mrs VB was also laid low with a horrible bot, which left her unable to speak - I am going to avoid an obvious joke here - and to take on nutrition, including fluids.

The situation mirrored the current gender debate about which sex is worse off. In our case it was who was sicker. Whoever was the least sick would have to light the fire, make the warm drinks (Mrs VB was undemanding in this area), cook dinner for the family and make sure the dishes and washing were done.

It occurred to me how much of a disadvantage I was starting with.

For instance, men who claim to be ill are generally not believed.

Man Flu is a pejorative term describing a male sniffle. It seems to suggest men have no right to be sick. Could this be why so few men go to the doctor rather than the commonly cited not wanting their bits to be handled or poked?

The subtext in every cynical female snort when male illness is mentioned is, "You should try childbirth or try getting period pain every month, or if I was as big a sook as you I would always be in bed."

So, to begin with, male sickness must reach a much higher threshold before it is entitled to attract sympathy or even the niceties of breakfast in bed with the newspaper, or cups of tea on the hour accompanied by a little baked something to take a man's mind off his suffering.

Then the male, due to that damn male hierarchical system, also labours under certain expectations. He must be resolute, stoical and prepared to ignore all suffering to ensure his wife and loved ones are provided and cared for. Pain, discomfort, feeling lousy? Suck it in. Any failure attracts the rebuke of the society as a whole not to mention Mrs VB, who is inclined to remind people of their obligations.

We both looked terrible, sounded terrible. Had we achieved that rare state of equality in sickness?

In the end, the innate nobility of the male won out. It's that quality which ensures men give up the seats in the lifeboat for women and children, or the ones going off to war to make sure our womenfolk can exercise their right of free speech to talk about shopping.

Despite being at death's door, I cooked, I cleaned, I lit the fire and made sure everyone got to bed. Those caring, nurturing male values won out again. I guess you would have to say patriarchy rules.

The Press