When Nigel Farage waded in to defend Donald Trump recently, his interpretation of events was, as so often, completely misguided. Where Trump had bragged about sexually assaulting women, Farage excused it as “alpha-male boasting”. But women know that Trump is very far from being an alpha male – he’s just another angry little man shouting at strangers on Twitter, but with a budget of billions of dollars.
When a true alpha male walks into a room, everyone notices him; Crap Man, by contrast, resorts to grabbing our crotches to get our attention. A natural leader, like Barack Obama, is comfortable around intelligent, outspoken women; a weak man has a tantrum every time a woman disagrees with him. A proper boss, like Justin Trudeau, embraces feminism because he knows that, in a truly equal society, he still has a chance of rising to the top through merit; the “men’s rights” crew scream, shout, abuse, belittle, fight and scratch because they secretly fear that male privilege is all that’s keeping them in the game.
To an optimistic feminist like me, though, Trump and his ilk represent the last gasp of the Inadequate White Man. It may not seem like it to women looking around right now, but foaming-at-the-mouth woman-haters are not the majority – they just shout louder than the rest because they are desperate. Could this be what psychologists refer to as “the extinction burst”, when a behaviour or way of life throws all its remaining energy into fighting before it dies out? Is all the impotent, anonymous, online raging the equivalent of a cornered animal lashing out? I hope so.
Meanwhile, quietly and with no foaming, more and more men are speaking up to tell other men that, really, there is nothing to fear from equality. A brilliant new book by Grayson Perry, The Descent Of Man, is aimed at young male readers and tries to offer an alternative to the current system. Many men are resistant because they feel the status quo works for them, Perry says. But what’s so great about a system in which suicide is the biggest cause of death among British men under 45? One that sends so many young men to prison? Why not just try a world that lets men raise their own children once in a while? Perry’s radical argument is that boys and men are people too and it’s about time they started exploring the full range of their humanity. It’s not easy – he says that talking to men about patriarchy is like talking to fish about water. But the book certainly makes a compelling argument… and the rude pictures are very funny, too.
When Farage claimed that Trump’s behaviour is “the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do”, men everywhere responded, “Like hell we do!”
There is also fresh evidence that many men do get it. Murray Edwards College, a women’s college at Cambridge University, published a report yesterday called “Collaborating with men”. It follows a 2014 poll of female alumni about inequality in the workplace and was commissioned after women asked, “Are the men noticing this, too?” Yes, they are, the report has found and some of them are mad as hell.
“Gender equality is important to me because it makes sense,” said one “early career male” who was interviewed for the report. “If you’re excluding 50 per cent of the population from achieving their potential, then you’re ending up with a significantly less effective, significantly less efficient and significantly less happy population. For me, personally, I can’t see why gender equality wouldn’t be what you’d be aiming for... The idea that women wouldn’t be respected and treated and paid and everything else the same as men is just almost impossible to fathom, so I think we should be working hard to stop that.”
Tellingly, younger workers were keener to instigate change. Their reasons ranged from “It’s the right thing to do” and “I like working with women” to “Diverse teams make better decisions” and “It gives us a competitive advantage”. If these are the colleagues, friends and fathers of tomorrow, then roll on tomorrow.
There’s another reason why men are fighting back against the old-school masculinity represented by the likes of Donald Trump and that’s because they find it really insulting. When Farage claimed that Trump’s behaviour is “the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do”, men everywhere responded, “Like hell we do!”
Modern men, increasingly, can get a woman’s attention using conversation, not assault. They can win a promotion through talent, not by shutting out half of the other candidates. They know that there’re more to being a man than overpowering a woman. The more we see of Donald Trump and his toxic brothers-in-arms who abuse women in the street, in the workplace and online, the more women see right through them. But here’s the thing that should really scare the old-school masculists: men see through it, too.