On Friday, the pettiness of modern, online protest feminism versus the stark truth that Britain is becoming increasingly hostile toward men was brought cruelly into view, when two seemingly unconnected news stories collided on the same day. To add a typically British undercurrent of black humour, both stories centred around the human bottom.
In the feminist corner, we had the Athena “Tennis Girl” poster, one of the iconic images of our time; a cheeky classic that has sold over 20 million copies globally since its release in 1979. For generations, it’s been seen a wholesome; a quasi-erotic image that helped spawn millions of healthy, harmless male (and no doubt some female) fantasies.
Only now, 26 years later – in the world of freely-available online porn, no less – the sclerotic eye of online protest feminism has seen something altogether more sinister in it. Of course, Tennis Girl is sexist – and regular observers of modern feminism like myself only half-sobbed: “How did it take you so long?”
The hoo-hah started last Wednesday, when the Wimbledon Twitter account tweeted a picture of the poster, which had been selected to appear at the All England Lawn Tennis Club’s “Powerful Posters” exhibition.
Under the self-righteous standard of the Everyday Sexism Project, Twitter protesters immediately went to war. First, they hounded Wimbledon into deleting the tweet and issuing a ludicrous, grovelling apology: “We apologise for offence caused by the Athena Tennis Girl poster. It is a controversial piece of poster history but we do not endorse it.”
(For the record, Athena Tennis Girl is about as ‘controversial’ in the history of contemporary pop culture history as boyband East 17 – although it shifted considerably more units.)
The choice of target image felt totemic. Cruelly outing the Athena Tennis Girl as in some way misogynistic felt like a sort of historical abuse allegation against all men. It exhumed and shamed long-forgotten masculine desires felt by millions of us as we set off on our paths of sexual awakenings.
It was almost like Everyday Sexism were claiming most British men have been inexorably sexist from age seven, when most of us first saw it on a bedroom wall of an older sibling or school pal. Now the image was “disappointing,” as Everyday Sexism called it, in the favoured, terse language of the purse-lipped, disapproving matron.
But that wasn’t enough: the Everyday Sexism Project wanted game, set and match for political correctness and tweeted: “Wimbledon having deleted your tweet, can you confirm if the poster you tweeted will be included in your exhibition?”
By the time I clocked in to Twitter at 4 a.m. on Friday morning, Tennis Girl’s detractors were calling for it to be “eradicated from history” – sharing poisonous lexicon with history’s most heinous despots and totalitarian censors.
Seething with finger-curling indignation, I made my way to the Sky News studios for my weekly newspaper review, where I chose to cover the second big story that was affecting men that day, a shocking Prostate Cancer UK report in the Daily Mail.
The report shows that prostate cancer, which affects only men, receives just £417 worth of research funding per case. The “female” cancers – ovarian, cervical and breast – receive £1912, £1142 and £853 respectively. Of the 40,000 men who contract prostate cancer annually, some 10,000 die.
As the UK population gets older and lives longer, this will only increase.
Furthermore, last week the Cancer Drugs Fund in England axed the new drug Jevtana – even though it was said to give patients at least three extra months of life. On top of all this, Owen Sharp, of Prostate Cancer UK, also warned that half of specialist prostate cancer nurses are set to retire in the next ten years. There are no plans for a new workforce.
The story gave me the perfect opportunity to launch into a depressingly recurring topic of debate, namely: “Is health care provision in the UK sexist against men?”
I have long argued that it is, for along with the prostate figures, men are now four times more likely to commit suicide as women. Tragically, suicide is now the leading killer of men under 45, with 5,140 suicides recorded in England and Wales in 2013, a 15-year high.
Nobody really knows why this is happening – mainly because there isn’t anything approaching an official investigation into the biggest killer of young British men. And, like Prostate Cancer UK, male suicide charity CALM cannot secure sufficient funding for their much-needed, life-saving work.
On Sky News, I repeated a message I’ve howled myself to hoarseness with in recent years: you can bet your life if women, or minorities of any ethnicity, sexuality or transgender were killing themselves at four times the rate of straight white men, it would be front page news. Millions of pounds would be magicked up, an emergency Government working party would be formed and this would be tackled head-on overnight.
Yet the same thing isn’t happening for men, especially if they are white and heterosexual. Why not? Quite simply, straight, white men don’t qualify for special dispensation under any discrimination or equalities laws, as we aren’t a recognised minority. So we don’t get any “special attention” for diseases that primarily affect us.
We just have to accept that the much-maligned “patriarchy” has enjoyed too much “privilege” for too long – even when those same privileged males are killing themselves in record numbers or dying in agony on cancer wards because the prevention of their cancers and treatment through nurses or drugs aren’t deemed sufficiently high-priority.
It poses the big question: does men’s health no longer matter? At both ends of the spectrum, young and old, more men are dying than is necessary, alone and in pain and nobody seems to care. Why are so few people speaking up about it?
We live in a time when discussing men’s issues is not seen as pro-man, but dismissed or slandered altogether as curiously anti-woman. As feminists shout ever louder about every minute social problem affecting women and girls, it seems men are retreating and losing their voice.
The drip-drip narrative of the Everyday Sexism Project – along with the continued demonisation of young men in the media and on University campuses – would have us believe Britain is intrinsically more sexist against women than it has ever been.
Yet in truth, the war on the gender pay gap is won. Both British and American women under 30 now earn more, like for like, than men. More women now attend university and graduate. Women achieve better A-level grades and at GCSE the new educational underclass are now white, working class boys who, for the first time in British history, achieve lower grades than not only all females, but Asian and black boys, too.
Needless to say, there is no investigation or government enquiry into this shaming fact, either.
Furthermore, if the recent Crime Survey Of England & Wales 2014 is to be believed, violent sexual assaults and domestic violence against women are at their lowest level since records began in 1981. Domestic violence, as opposed to non-violent domestic or sexual abuse, plummeted by an incredible 75 per cent since its peak in 1993, from 1,136,000 incidents to 280,000.
Sexual assaults (again, cases where actual violence occurred) were down a staggering 27 per cent year-on-year. Last year 2.2 per cent of women experienced a sexual assault: in 2005/6 that figure was five per cent. So while there’s always room for improvement, we’re significantly better-behaved men than we were even in 1993.
Not that you hear many voices – male or female – saying so. In fact, I was the only British journalist to report on this in a mainstream newspaper, the Telegraph. It seems we live in a world where saying the streets are safer because men are behaving more reasonably is an unfashionable message. Why does only bad news about men make headlines?
Today’s voices of protest would rather howl about a “sexist” Athena poster, when the truth is the real sexism in Britain is against men, who are – quite literally – dying under its weight.
Martin Daubney was the longest-serving editor of men’s magazine Loaded. He is a regular pundit on Sky News and a columnist for the Telegraph. Follow him at @MartinDaubney.