The Christmas present lists that drop out of our newspapers conspire to create a kind of Men Behaving Badly lad-fest
“All presents are propaganda,” observed an ex-boyfriend of mine, somewhat pompously, as he unwrapped my Christmas gift to him. As it turned out to be a copy of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, he may have had a point.
But what kind of message could you possibly be conveying if you were to give the man in your life not a classic feminist text but a set of nudie golf tees, say, a duck gallery for his air rifle or a remote control tractor?
Those are just a few of the thoughtful suggestions from the website Presents for Men, which assumes that you’re going to need all the help you can get to fill those male stockings. Most of the ideas fall into a few time-worn categories: socks – plain, patterned or with cartoon faces; alcohol – a personalised lager label, for example, or a whisky tasting kit; sport, of course, such as a book of football oddities, football headphones or indoor bowls; gadgets, mainly to do with sound systems or DIY. And then there are the humorous ones. What red-blooded man wouldn’t emit a deep, throaty guffaw when receiving wonky wine glasses, bloodbath shower gel, bacon toothpaste or a stick-on moustache for the car bonnet? Ha, ha.
In deference to the notion that all men like a scorching vindaloo after 12 pints in the pub, the ever-inventive Presents for Men does a fine line in spicy treats. Marmite chocolate anyone? Chorizo jam? Or how about a set of chilli sauces? Then there are the wry acknowledgements of their idiosyncrasies: a man tin for keeping all the bits that otherwise get caught up in the vacuum cleaner he’s never used; a wooden cave sign for the door of his den; an ironic apron since he never cooks except of course raw cave meat on the barbie.
But Presents for Men is not the only outlet devoted to tired old stereotypes. Every December the Christmas present lists that drop out of our newspapers conspire to create a kind of Men Behaving Badly lad-fest in which all guys are our sons, obsessed with gadgets, heavy drinking and games. Meanwhile, we women are expected to turn into our mothers – to long for glamour, pampering, soft feminine satin and hard feminine diamonds while tut-tutting affectionately at the infantilised antics of the boys who will be boys.
An especially arbitrary gender division is offered by Handpicked Collection: coloured fizz flutes for her, whisky glasses for him; a book of advice for daughters for her, Star Wars Art Comics Collection for him; six coloured teaspoons for her, a “My Dad is a Superhero” spoon for him.
Even the dear old Guardian was at it last week. Guardian man, apparently, will relish a desktop pool table, a fish-shaped flask, a beer-decorated tea towel, stag cufflinks and a bottle of whisky. And while there is nothing wrong with the chandelier earrings, fancy hand creams and pretty scarves for women, who says we wouldn’t be just as happy with some of the forbidden items in the men’s section?
I’m not suggesting that we change what’s on offer for each sex. Just that we abandon the gender separation altogether. That way, a box of Exotique macaroons, a bottle of sloe gin or an ArtFund National Art Pass all recommended for women by The Times Magazine, might be just perfect for him. I can even think of quite a few men who would be delighted with frilly silk pants and a bra for their special drawer, not to mention matching suspenders and size 12 stilettos. And I for one wouldn’t mind the malt whisky, perhaps, the cardboard radio and iPod speaker, or the device for finding mislaid keys.
But don’t get carried away, boys. There’s no need to underline your feminist credentials by giving us something too tomboyish.
I’ll never forget the frozen smile on my friend Susie’s face when she opened the enticing-looking Selfridges’ box handed to her by her husband, only to find a toolkit. They broke up soon after. But at least when she moved into her own place she was able to put up the shelves.