The new rules for men
The collective noun for males these days is a confusion of men. As the world digests the latest story of appalling behaviour by some powerful men, the rest of the male population wonders if it's OK to compliment a woman, hold the door open for her, or ask before moving in for a snog. Pat Fitzpatrick examines the latest rules of engagement in an open letter to all you women out there. (His tongue is slightly in cheek, in case you're wondering)
Dear women/females/ladies/people-who-are-identifying-as-female today,
Things are tricky for all of us on the gender-terminology front. It's a minefield out there for the common man, or whatever we are supposed to call her these days.
Our biggest problem is what to call you. It would appear the term 'girls' is off limits in a lot of circumstances, which is fine by us. We always found it a bit creepy, in a 'sit up there on your uncle's lap' kind of way. But we hear there now is a move to outlaw the term 'ladies', as well. We're not sure exactly why, but apparently it's a thing among people who can say "gender studies" without making a face.
One of our guys (me) was pulled up recently for using the term 'ladies' in polite company. Apparently in certain parts of south Dublin, you are never more than five metres away from someone who thinks Ladies Gaelic Football should be called Women's Gaelic Football. (Not that this person would ever be seen dead in Croke Park, but it's the principle that matters.)
Thanks to Twitter, these seemingly ridiculous notions can become the new way of doing things, over the course of an afternoon. So right now, we are getting ready to say goodbye to the term 'ladies'.
Any chance of a shift?
The avalanche of #metoo stories, about the sexual harassment and violent assault of women, has changed everything. We're genuinely sorry we didn't listen when you told us about this before, but we're listening now. And we're open to any changes that will stop this crap for good.
One of the suggestions is that a man should ask a woman for permission to kiss her, before making a move. In other words, it's time to retire the age-old Irish tradition of lob-the-gob. To be honest, we'd be glad to see the back of it. It only takes one rejected gob-lob to haunt us all the way to the grave.
So, we're all on for asking. We'd love to know where you stand on this. Our initial research suggests women in Ireland think there is no need to ask, because men should be able to read the signals. That's grand, in theory - or in Saudi Arabia, where they don't drink. Let's just say the signals can get scrambled after five pints.
If your solution is for Irish men to avoid drink while out on a date, here's a quick heads-up. I've checked with the lads, and to be honest, that isn't going to work for us.
Cat-calls and compliments
You women might not be aware of this, but inside every man, there is a little guy who has no filter whatsoever. He's basically Larry David, with knobs on. Most of our lives consist of a struggle to keep a cap on this guy, so he doesn't get control of our vocal chords and cat-call some unfortunate woman. We have managed to create the myth that only builders and van drivers do this sort of stuff, but the truth is, most of us are just one lapse in concentration away from shouting "nice arse" at a woman on the street. We realise most of you don't want this; rest assured we are committed to winning this internal war with No-Filter Guy.
We note that cat-calling is now illegal in France and can result in an on-the-spot fine. As a result, we will not be going this summer. We find it extra hard to keep a lid on No-Filter Guy when it's hot, and you can get a bottle of red for €3.50.
A quick word about complimenting a woman at work. Remember that guy who admired your new coat last week? The official story is he really likes wax jackets and wants to contribute to a positive environment in the workplace. However, having checked, I can confirm that he is planning to get off with you at the summer barbecue.
Word has reached us that it's a huge faux pas to hold the door open for a woman in Sweden. We will keep this in mind the next time we are in Stockholm, because we have little enough chance of scoring with Swedish women as things stand, without insulting them into the bargain.
But what about women in Ireland? Do you expect us to hold the door open or not? Our current operations handbook states: "If you are walking with a woman, it's OK to hold the door and let her go first, as long as you don't get caught trying to check out her bottom.
"If you are not with the woman, then the Five Step Rule applies. If she is fewer than five steps from the door, it is considered OK to stand there and hold it open. Anything more than five steps and you're 'teacher who turns up at your 21st uninvited' on the creepy scale. So walk on through and let the door close. If you get grief for this, just say, "Sorry, I thought you were from Sweden".
That's what we're at currently, ladies. If any of this is inappropriate, please let us know.
We need to talk about dick pics. If scarcely credible social-media platforms are to be believed, a lot of young men signal their interest in a partner by sending them a photo of their genitals. This seems like an advance for humankind in one way, because it's a lot less hassle than making a mix tape. And it costs nothing, so it's easy to signal an interest in 20 partners at a time, provided our guy has a decent data package. I'd normally add in a schoolboy joke about decent packages here, but times have changed, and I've been asked to keep the single entendres to a minimum.
Here's the problem with dick pics, as far as men are concerned. We had a quick a look at our wedding tackle there, and, to be honest, it looks disgusting. Call us old-fashioned, but would you not prefer if we sent you a photo of some flowers?
Let us know what you think. If there are times when only a shot of our genitals will do, we're there for you. Just please delete it after taking a look. We'd hate if our dicks got into the wrong hands. (Says you.)
Would you like my seat?
Public-transport etiquette is a nightmare these days. There is an extra strain on us guys, because some of us were brought up to be gentlemen.
Like yourselves, we will always offer our seat on the train to a pregnant woman, in a very low voice, hoping she'll hear someone else first. (The train could break down or anything, and you'd be left standing there for hours.) We would ask for a bit of slack in this scenario. A lot of our guys don't have an eye for this, and often mistake the effects of too many Celebrations over Christmas for the early stages of pregnancy. It's awkward for everyone when this happens, but at least the lady in question gets a seat.
But what if an elderly woman gets on the bus? How old does she need to be, before you can offer the seat without causing offence? Is it OK to ask her age before making the offer? Does it make a difference if she is from Sweden? What if an elderly man and elderly woman get on at the same time? He's older, she's a woman, you've only got one seat. Sexist or ageist: you decide.
These are just the main pitfalls facing men on public transport. No wonder half of us have taken up cycling.
We want to create an equal society and help our partners to pursue their career goals by doing our share of childcare. At least, that what it says on our Tinder profiles. You'll probably find us rowing back a bit when child number one arrives, mainly because our mother keeps making passive-aggressive comments about being a breadwinner. (She'll never give up.)
We are aware that Ireland lags behind other European countries when it comes to our percentage of stay-at-home dads. We are officially horrified at this, and actively working to catch up. In secret, many of us are quite proud that we have held out for so long. No one will ever admit to this.
We are are well aware of the situation with our old friends, the Swedes. It is indeed remarkable that they are given up to 480 days parental leave per child, with generous paternity benefits; up to 80pc of their salary. We have drawn the obvious conclusion from this. Don't move to Sweden. We can't fall back on the 'supporting my family' lark, so there goes any chance of escaping to work, just to get away from the kids. (They'd do your head in.)
Sorry if these revelations come as a shock, but at least now you know the score, when you have a child with one of us.
Modern life is rubbish. Our fathers lived in houses, and operated under the 'woman works indoors, man works outdoors' division of labour. So while our mothers spent seven hours a day folding washing, the old man was outside, taking a week to cut the grass. Great times.
There is no lawn any more; we paved it over to free up time for Extreme Cycling at the weekends. Men in apartments haven't a hope; there are only so many times you can paint the railings on the balcony. So a lot of us are giving housework a go. It can seem, at times, that we are making a balls of the washing in the hope we won't get asked again. We can't rule this out completely, but to be honest, most of us are just genuinely crap at folding stuff. (It isn't our fault that our mothers wouldn't let us help around the house.)
Finally, a quick word on the male identity crisis, caused by the disappearance of our traditional breadwinner role in society. This is just bullshit we made up to try and get out of dressing the bed. So feel free to call us out on that, if you want.
The old emotions
The good news is that men have started talking openly about their mental health. (It isn't the Late Late these days if they don't have a former GAA star on to talk about his depression.) There are signs that this new openness is starting to work.
The latest figures from the HSE show that while four in five deaths by suicide are male, the overall numbers are showing a decline. It's a relief to be able to talk about how we feel; the strong-and-silent thing was a tough ask, and half of us ended drinking too much to cope with it.
That said, don't worry when we say we'd rather not talk about our emotions. There is a good chance we've just run out of ones to talk about. You see, a lot of us have an emotional range that goes from hunger to anger, with very little in between. So don't ask us for something we haven't got.
Also, be careful if you ask a man what he really thinks. We've gone a bit giddy with all the openness, and most of us have a cruel sense of humour. And to be brutally honest, that dress does nothing for you. (Soz.)
It's clear that some men abused their power at work. Again, thanks to #metoo, we're fully behind the message that it's not OK to make a pass at someone who works for you. There are a few guys that didn't get the memo, but we expect to get them sorted out shortly. (It's surprisingly hard to get in touch with people working in the entertainment industry.)
Likewise, almost all our guys know you can't ask about marriage or kids in an interview. (It's even harder to get in touch with junior ministers.) Just like females with hiring responsibilities, we hate not being able to ask, because it's a balls trying to organise maternity cover. Obviously, we'll never admit this in public, before the fourth pint.
Finally, just a word on merit. Strange as it might seem, there are actually one or two men occupying a role because they are the best person for the job. You'd swear this wasn't actually true, judging by the volume of women on Twitter who reckon they're being held back by the patriarchy. So, maybe give us a break from that for a while. Because, as it turns out, most men are feminists these days.
Yours, The Lads.
Sunday Indo Life Magazine