Sunday 25 March 2018

A much-needed manual for modern man

Lifestyle: Who Stole My Spear? Tim Samuels, Century, €23.70

Tim Samuels offers sane solutions to make masculinity work in his new book Who Stole my Spear?
Tim Samuels offers sane solutions to make masculinity work in his new book Who Stole my Spear?

Katy Harrington

Tammy Wynette didn't sing "sometimes it's hard to be a man" but that, in a nutshell, is the premise of clever clogs journalist Tim Samuel's first book.

Who Stole My Spear? stops and thinks about how men have evolved from cavemen to surviving in cut-throat corporate culture and coping with commitment.

Samuels cut his teeth in the BBC, starting out as a cub reporter on Newsnight, before moving into documentary making (most recently The Great Big Romanian Invasion - which sprinkled some reality on the hysterical scaremongering surrounding Britain lifting work restrictions with Romania in 2014). He's also the host of the blokes' version of the Beeb's Women's Hour (called…you guessed it…Men's Hour) on BBC Radio 5 Live.

And so with his investigative nous, Samuels has penned a 'for us, by us' answer to Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman.

How are men in 2016 supposed to act now that the pipe and slippers have been snatched away - the media, technology, failures of organised religion to provide answers, wildly unrealistic dating standards, marriages and monogamy - what's a boy to do?

Samuels sets out many questions, and attempts to answer them with his fair share of soul searching as well as stats. And he lays it all bare - the frustrations, the humiliations, crying in the office, porn, paternity leave - with honesty and humour. There's a real risk that a book like this could become boiled down to a few Cosmopolitan cover lines ('Find out what your man is really thinking in bed!') but Samuels swerves past sensationalism and instead guides the ship with researched argument.

From the outset, he's keen to point out that this is no "sappy tirade for men's rights", not a dominant group whinging, but rather a studious look at where it's all gone pearshaped for men: horrifying male suicide rates, depression, boys underperforming at school, pressure to perform at work, prisons populated overwhelmingly by men and so on.

Samuels isn't asking for a revolution, rather calling for a rethink. The chapters on dating and monogamy will be particularly interesting to female readers, although the latter comes pretty close to excuse-making for cheating men. Samuels posits that perhaps some men just can't help themselves, which reminds me of when as a kid, my older brother would walk towards you swinging his arms wildly and shouting - 'I'm just swinging my arms, if anyone gets hurt, that's their fault'.

Agree or disagree with where he's going, Samuels's willingness to not just to dissect his topics, but his own man brain (actually recent scientific research has shown that there is no such thing as a female or male brain) is laudable.

It's a bit like being a miniaturised Dennis Quaid injected into the body of Martin Short, which is a thoroughly unhelpful metaphor unless you've seen the 1987 movie Innerspace.

The chapter on mental health is moving - men are rubbish at talking about feelings, we've heard that so many times before that it's lost its impact, but Samuels lifts the lid on why men are too proud or simply unaware of the symptoms to realise something is mentally amiss.

And satisfyingly, he offers sensible, sane solutions to make masculinity work.

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