'I Hate Women Bosses' - And Other Things a Man Daren't Say Out Loud

The greater and grittier the female revelation, the more walls broken down - and the louder the critical approbation. But is the same true for men? Is uncensored male candour socially acceptable? Is giving voice to what's truly on your mind more likely to land you unemployable than lauded for your bravery?






Shockingly honest - if not tall - tales of canine candour, forgetfulness and just what constitutes a step too far. Female candour sells. Well, it shifts a fair few copies of 'real life' women's magazines like Take a Break and That's Life!.

At the somewhat higher end of the spectrum, female candour not only sells - it's lauded for its groundbreaking honesty. When Caitlin Moran writes about having her first periods - "sometimes, there are huge blood clots, that look like raw liver" - she's busting taboos.

Ditto, Lena Dunham's unfiltered honesty: "I learned to masturbate the summer after third grade" - whilst "Intercourse felt, often, like shoving a loofah into a Mason jar."

The greater and grittier the female revelation, the more walls broken down - and the louder the critical approbation. But is the same true for men?

Is uncensored male candour socially acceptable? Is giving voice to what's truly on your mind more likely to land you unemployable than lauded for your bravery?

These are questions I've been grappling with whilst writing my forthcoming (and first) book - Who Stole My Spear? - an unashamedly honest look at how to be a man today.

I took a view to be as candid as possible, no matter what dirty/embarrassing/absurd laundry that would entail hanging out for all to see.

Why? Well, I buy into the idea that to make any inroads into the dire state of men's mental health, we need to say what's really on our minds; to wear our fears and frailties on our sleeves - rather than bottling them up in some damagingly machismo way that can explode down the line in something self-destructive or violent.

And also to show that men aren't the two-dimensional, emotionally-retarded dumb-asses who can't load a washing machine or look after a child, as is the daft, lazy depiction coming out of ad-land.

So, into the book has gone disastrous dating stories, mental health meltdowns at the most inopportune time, episodes of betrayal - and a host of incidents and thoughts that I really ought to give my dad some pre-warning about before he starts proudly giving copies to old teachers and relatives. I'm not sure auntie Ethel (real) especially needs to know about the post-mid-30s requirement to not self-pleasure on the day of a date, in order to maintain enthusiasm to bother trading a night of box-set familiarity for small-talk with a human stranger.

But quite quickly, that male candour hits a line: that undefined, wobbly line of social acceptability of what a man can say. On one side lies potentially-applauded manly honesty - on the other stalks accusations of smuttiness, insensitive crudeness and sexism.

And what emerges is that the line, in places, is drawn differently for men and women.

What men daren't say out loud

Here are some thoughts that men have expressed to me - which they would never dare say in public:

  • "My female boss is a nightmare. One of those super-aggressive women who acts like an alpha male"
  • "Women are only paid less these days because they have kids. What do you want men to do? Grow a uterus?"
  • "TV comedy panel shows often have women on who just aren't funny, they are clearly box-ticking and the shows are worse for it"
  • "I never masturbate about my wife. But I tell her I do."
  • "I don't really care about my football team as much as I pretend to. I feel like I fake the emotion."
  • "I actually don't like being around my kids, they bore me."

For example, full sexual disclosure: what's empowering for women can quite easily slip into the seemingly smutty or puerile for men (unless confessing to mishaps - such as failing to rise to the occasion being more likely to happen when you really like that person).

A female author friend advised that there's greater leeway when going historic: talking about teenage masturbation habits has a Roth-esque charm; an adult man describing his contemporary self-pleasuring proclivities is going to take a hit on the dinner party invites.

The greatest disparity - and danger - lies in gender relations. Women can write about men - even decry the 'end of man' - male behaviour and make sweeping generalisations about male motivations with virtual impunity. Whereas for a man to critique feminism is to step onto a minefield where one wrongly-worded phrase will explode in social media-fuelled accusations of sexism and being dismissed as some Ukip/Trumpian crank whose opinions are to be quietly ushered to the margins.

Of course, there are entirely valid reasons for why the demarcations are different for men and women - who haven't subjugated men for the last ten thousand years, as far as I can recall.

And where the line most matters - to be able to emotionally express ourselves, to say what's on our minds - men are in a better place than ever before. The Southbank's Being A Man (BAM) Festival - and what we've tried to do on BBC 5 Live's Men's Hour - is pushing at that line of male emotional repression: to show there are so many different ways to be a man. It's telling that as BAM rises, FHM and Zoo bite the overdue dust.

Take a Break is still doing very nicely too.

Tim's book, Who Stole My Spear?, is available to pre-order at Amazon. It's published by Century

Tim Samuels will be speaking on 29 November at Being A Man Festival, Southbank Centre's annual festival that explores the challenges of masculine identity in the 21st Century. The full festival takes place on 27-29 November with a programme of talks, debates and performances from over 150 speakers and performers. For more information see www.southbankcentre.co.uk/bam

HuffPost UK is partnering with Southbank Centre's Being A Man Festival, taking place 27 - 29 November. It will focus on lighthearted, serious and challenging issues facing boys and men in the 21st century. There will be talks and debates, concerts, performances, comedy and workshops with contributions from over 200 speakers and performers, including Akala, Frankie Boyle, David Baddiel and Kellie Maloney. Day passes are £15, 3-day passes are £35. For more information, visit the website or call 0844 847 9944.