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Is anyone listening?

Men are constantly being told to open up, to share their feelings, to be more emotionally available. But the thing is, when they do, does anyone want to hear?

Last Saturday the Times magazine ran a special edition devoted to articles written by men, on how they feel about their position in the world.

William Leith explained how troubled he was when he realised all the children's books he read to his son showed men as selfish idiots and women as decent and clever. He was even more troubled when he realised he and his son were unwittingly laughing along at the stereotypes.

Leith wondered at the representations of men in adverts and films, from the oafish layabouts in British ads, to the TV frat-boy idiots of American comedies; and he questioned the casual assumption that penises were the root cause of the global recession.

Chained by stoicism

In another article, Robert Crampton, was more philosophical. He asked: What makes men really happy? Is it really the stereotypical triumvirate of cars, birds and beer? The conclusion he came to was quite the opposite: Men actually thrive on duty, self sacrifice and honour.

This, I thought, was a significant event. These are weighty issues that men need to discuss. Perhaps at last men were beginning to break those ancient chains of stoicism.

But it was the knee-jerk response on the respected indicator of British women's opinions, Mumsnet -- the site was courted by politicians ahead of the general election -- that I found most telling.

One reader posted: “This article made me so f'ing mad. The old 'men are in crisis actually, it's not women who have difficulties' line.” Another wrote: “Leith doesn't have a leg to stand on with his arguments. They are from a whiny misogynist male who can't stand to see any woman portrayed positively.” And so on.

You see, despite on the one hand being called upon to be more open, in reality when men do talk about what troubles them they are very often told to be quiet.

Double bind

What was so ironic about the angry response on Mumsnet was that it went a long way to proving the points the writers were making: that men aren't allowed to have a voice on gender politics.

One writer posted in response to Leith's worries about his son's children's books: “Hope he gets over himself and doesn't transmit his sense of 'them against us' to his son.”

But of course, Leith wasn't making a “them and us” argument – his article fully acknowledged women's concerns – it was the angry Mumsnet writers that in fact had polarized the discussion.

Men are in a double bind that is almost elegant in its cruelty. In the pre-feminist construction of masculinity, men were required to be stoical. Information about their feelings was not required.

Now, in the post-feminist world, men are considered a privileged class who have no right to complain. Their feelings are still not required.

Someone needs to listen.