A friend recently wrote in her blog how her partner had ended up with a bad case of sunburn. We’ve all done it, you might say, but it got me thinking. You see, I knew exactly why her partner ended up sunburnt and it has nothing to do with the strength of the sun (we live in the UK which is on the same northerly latitude as Newfoundland in Canada) and everything to do with falling foul to the way men must judge their own behaviour. These rules, these unwritten rules, are known to every man in the country and if we don’t meet them, we start to question our masculinity. Of course, they are, frankly, rubbish, as you are about to find out, but every man (like my sunburnt friend) has fallen foul of them at one point or other.
1. A man must use the lowest factor sunscreen available
Using suncream is not manly. Luckily, the years of health education have finally sunk in and men are now aware of the dangers of skin cancer. We now protect ourselves from the sun like the other 51% of the population. However, anything with an SPF over 9 is seen as for wimps, because real men have skin thicker than a Rhino’s backside. Factor 50 is for kids, anything else is for women or weaklings. That is why my friend spent the night whimpering in the foetal position as each bead of sweat scored his sensitive skin like a branding iron. He fell foul of rule no.1.
2. A man must order the hottest dish on the menu
A Chicken Korma is a food for wimps. So is a mild chilli or wood-smoked chicken wings. You are not a man unless you eat food so spicy that it causes your brain to pour from your ears. I once went to a restaurant in the US where their speciality was called “Atomic Wings.” These innocent looking chicken wings had been coated in a substance similar to napalm. One taste numbed my tongue and the skin started to peel from the roof of my mouth. Within seconds I needed water but I couldn’t see where my cup through the tears in my eyes. If this food had been found in Baghdad by Hans Blix, nobody would have argued against the Iraq war. Yet that one taste brought me a newfound respect from my colleague. Crazy.
3. A man must be able to drink at the same rate as their friends
I’ve never been a big drinker. Being skinny with a high metabolic rate doesn’t give you a high tolerance to alcohol. When I was younger I always struggled to keep up in a round. The first beer would be OK, but even then I would start to get bloated. The second would arrive just as I was two-thirds through my first, so I would have to quickly finish that before I lagged too far behind, but as I would start the second, the third would arrive. This was not going out for a nice drink, this was drinking the foie gras way. Yet if I fell behind, I would be ridiculed for the rest of the evening.
4. A man must be able to cook with fire
The barbecue is a man’s terrain. This is because cooking with fire is manly, taking us back to our prehistoric roots. Men who wouldn’t be seen dead in a kitchen are more than happy to don their Hawaiian Tropic SPF 1 oil and stand in the baking sun cooking meat. On Charcoal, because gas barbecues are not manly. And by cooking, I mean converting protean to carbon in the quickest way possible, because cooking meat on a low heat, regardless of whether it makes the food taste better, is not manly, because if you’ve been waiting two hours for the barbecue to get hot, you’re buggered that you are going to let it cool down a little before cooking.
5. A man must be able to fix things
How many of us remember our father or grandfather building or fixing a broken toy. Now how many of us can remember a favourite toy being broken apart because it was “making a noise” only for it never to materialise again. If you do, this is because your father / grandfather (but let’s admit it, your father) had fallen into the trap of rule number 5. You see, a man must be able to fix things. It doesn’t have to be the big things. Many men
reluctantly are happy to call in a professional if the boiler breaks or the roof has blown off, but if it looks achievable, we naturally think we can do it. This is because we are men. I’m as bad as anyone with this. If you ever come to visit my house, please don’t bring a spirit level and place it on any shelves, and if you want to play with a fisher price cash register, I’m sorry but you’re out of luck.
Things were so much easier for men in the Victorian era. Of course, when I mean easy I don’t mean standard of living, age expectancy, mortality rates or anything like that. What I’m talking about was their understanding of what it meant to be a man. I don’t for a minute believe we should return to the sexist, misogynistic behaviour of that era, just that we take a leaf out of Rudyard Kipling, who famously explained what it was to be a man in his poem, If. Think of the money we would save on aftersun.