01 August 2023

Caitlin Moran: ‘Men have more problems than women right now’

01 August 2023

It’s a grim fact that suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 50, according to government figures.

It’s one of the many disturbing statistics writer, columnist and social commentator Caitlin Moran discovered when she turned her attentions from feminist issues to focus on men’s problems, for her new book, What About Men?

“Men really are quite vulnerable and fragile right now. At the moment, women are on this brilliant high tide in comedy, films, music, TV and books, talking about any taboos of being a woman and being really frank and honest. Men have not yet found a way to do that.”

The outspoken journalist and feminist tub-thumper, whose award-winning bestseller How To Be A Woman has been published in 34 countries, recalls that when she was offering her thoughts about women at events and on tours, people would ask, ‘But what about men?’

At first slightly irritated and batting away questions with humour, she’d answer, ‘They need to solve their own problems! They’re the best qualified people to do so!’

But something didn’t feel right, and when when her teenage daughters started to ask the same questions – after speaking to their male Gen Z peers – it dawned on her that men might need help, too, as she learned of their insecurities, fears and challenges.

“They were saying, ‘What about men, because men are losing compared to women – it’s easier to be a woman than a man. Feminism has gone too far’.”

Moran, 48, the eldest of eight children home-educated on a council estate in Wolverhampton, rattles off her train of thoughts just as quickly verbally as she does on the page. It’s no surprise that she’s extremely confident. She published her first children’s novel, The Chronicles Of Narmo, at just 16 and became a columnist for The Times at 18.

“I think men do have more problems than women right now,” she concedes. “It is harder to be a man than a woman. Put three women in the ladies’ toilet and within 30 seconds we’re talking about our deepest problems, we’re confessing stuff, we’re crying, we’re laughing, we’re going ‘Me too!’ But men don’t have that culture. They will not reveal their anxieties and fears.

“They are not good at getting a group together and getting into the deep emotional stuff and going, ‘How can we change it?’ They have not learned to change things for their gender in the way that women have for theirs.”

Over the course of a year, she interviewed many men and boys, often using Twitter as a contact point, and researched the social and emotional problems they face, investigating how boys are falling behind in education, fears of violence and false rape allegations, loneliness, body dysmorphia, porn addiction, and their fears of expressing their emotions.

She also asked, when there’s such a fanfare about International Women’s Day, why does International Men’s Day not get the same recognition?

While women have come so far in the last 150 years, because they’ve organised, marched, legislated and created a strong feminist movement, there’s been nothing similar for men, she points out.

“Men really do just need to look over and copy the girls’ homework,” she continues. “They need to be empowered to talk about their emotional problems. Suicide is still the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 50.

Suicide is still the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 50.

“Boys under-achieve at school, are more likely to be put on medication for disruptive behaviour, they make up the majority of the jail population and the homeless. One in five men over the age of 50 say they have no close friends.

“None of these problems will be solved by men having power over women again and going back to the Victorian times, when men were the ones that earned the money and were strong and unquestioned, and women were the domestic ones.

“What will solve these problems is being empowered to talk about them; to suggest solutions to them, to change the way that men make friends, change the way they talk to each other.”

While the book clearly has serious themes, there is much humour in it, too. One passage, which starts light-heartedly, focuses on male banter – and how it blocks meaningful conversation.

“In many ways, banter is men’s biggest enemy. I love a bit of banter, but if men are always programmed to make a joke and make light of their emotions, or change the conversation to football, then, as one of the guys in my book was saying, you have men who go to the pub every week for a year feeling genuinely suicidal, but only ever talk about football with their mates, because they just don’t know how to start that conversation.”

Her husband, journalist and broadcaster Peter Paphides, who she met at 19 and married at 24, can relate to some of it, she says, particularly when it comes to a passage about men not going to the doctor and then [when they do] avoiding telling the GP their symptoms, just saying their wife or girlfriend made them go.

“In my husband’s case, I’d been nagging him for 10 years to go to the doctor and when he finally did, they found his blood pressure was so high, he could have had a heart attack at any minute.

“He really wanted to have that story told because he was like, ‘Now I feel like an idiot. Why was I so scared? I literally could have died and I just wouldn’t have done anything about it’.”

As a couple, they go for walks together every day to talk things over, but Moran says when she starts asking him a question, by the end of her diatribe she’s worked the answer out for herself.

“He’s a very stoic man,” she chuckles. “He’s very used to my ways and we work very well. He’s a really lovely cardigan-wearing bear of a man and I’m a hyperactive quacking seagull.”

She has deliberately focused on white heterosexual males in the book.

“In almost every other group, like the LGBT communities, campaigns are very effective and very prominent, and it’s the same with people of colour. We’re sort of post #BlackLivesMatter and George Floyd – all these issues have been spearheaded and talked about in the last couple of years.

“We’ve had massive think pieces and cultural changes around sexuality and race, but whenever you hear the mention of straight, white men it’s, ‘Oh, they are the problem, toxic masculinity’ – and the distress signals are becoming louder, particularly from straight, white, working-class boys who feel like, ‘We’re at the bottom of the pile and no one is talking about us’.

“I think it’s presumed that if you say, ‘I’m worried about straight, white, working- class boys’, instantly that’s in some way racist or homophobic. This is why young men are so angry, because we presume that those guys are winning.”

She says there’s a lack of advice and self-help guides for men, and hopes her book will provide a starting point for opening up a lot of conversations.

And she seems more optimistic for her daughters’ generation of men.

“They are already more open with their emotions, they will hug, and are very ready to hear things. They just need the men of my generation to give them more facts and help.”

What About Men? by Caitlin Moran is published by Ebury, priced £22. Available now

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