5 min read

Well, what about men? Caitlin Moran’s love letter to masculinity

Gender writing that’s gracious and full of hope. Krish Kandiah reviews Caitlin Moran’s What about Men? Part of the Problem with Men series.

Krish is a social entrepreneur partnering across civil society, faith communities, government and philanthropy, He founded The Sanctuary Foundation.

Four men stand silhoutted against a sunset, One stands apart on their phone.
Meilisa Dwi Nurdiyanti on Unsplash.

The first time I met the award-winning Times columnist Caitlin Moran, it was in her home, and she cooked me soup. She couldn’t have been more hospitable, which was particularly appreciated as we had met to talk about advocacy and hospitality for refugees. I found her personable, funny, helpful, and extremely well-connected.  

Despite my deep respect and appreciation for Moran and her writing, I have to admit to being sceptical about her latest book What about Men? published by Ebury Press. It’s a brave thing for a woman to write a book about men. As a married Asian man I wouldn’t dare to even consider writing a book about what it means to be a woman, or white, or single. Yet somehow Moran has done the impossible: she has written a book that is both feminist and masculinist, both refreshing and disturbing, both gracious and frank.  

For a start Moran makes no apology for being a woman, or for writing a book aimed squarely for white straight men, or for dropping the “F bomb” on almost every page, or for speaking explicitly and frequently about sex, genitalia and orgasms. She delves into thorny and controversial issues such as toxic masculinity, rape culture, false allegations, and pornography, as well as giving her opinions on men’s health, communication, loneliness, friendships and fear of death. Moran writes with unshockable candour and yet somehow does so with a lightness of touch, humility and generosity. 

Moran shows us that we don’t live a zero-sum game:  in order for women to win men don’t have to lose and vice-a-versa. 

Here are the five main things that I appreciated about this book: 

1. It is laugh out-loud funny  

There’s no denying it, Caitlin Moran is a brilliant writer. Some of the chapters read like observational comedy resonating rather too accurately with my own experience. Moran has made great use of her large Twitter following and wide male friendship group to provide testimonial and anecdotal evidence for the issue in question, inserting their stories with the perfect comic touch.  

2. It is uncannily resonant 

Despite being born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Bryson has become a national treasure in the UK, writing not just one, but numerous books about the English. His outsider perspective helps us Brits to see ourselves through the eyes of those around. Similarly, Moran’s book about masculinity is so brilliant exactly because she is not a man. She cuts through what others would overlook, asking more interesting questions, and pointing to wholly different ways forward.  

3. It makes peace in the gender war 

Moran’s honesty and humility offers us a model of how to transcend the culture wars without avoiding the difficult conversations. Her book suggests that men and women can bring the best out of each other by celebrating our differences. Moran shows us that we don’t live a zero-sum game:  in order for women to win men don’t have to lose and vice-a-versa. She offers a vision of a different way for men and women to relate to each other. As a firm believer in the power, possibility and pursuit of peace whether in the Russia-Ukraine war or the politically-driven culture war or the subtleties of gender war, I sincerely appreciated her efforts.  

4. It celebrates good masculinity  

Moran believes our society will be happier and healthier if men and women find ways to celebrate and appreciate one another.  It was this line in her book that struck me as a vital perspective:  

“There should be no shame in being a man. Being made to feel shame for how you are born is something every other progressive movement is trying to remove and trying to impose it on the one group that didn't until recently feel shame; straight white men, benefits no one.” 

5. It is hopeful 

It’s been a long time since I have read something about gender which was as full of hope as this book is. Sadly, many books in this field are written in a bid to fight one’s corner, including those coming from the church. Moran’s posture offers us a much-needed challenge. If an outspoken feminist, who claims to have only stepped inside a church once in her life, (apparently for Rev Richard Coles’ last service in his parish) has no fear of showing support to men and their rights, or of promoting a Christian sexual ethic of commitment before sex, or of seeking to find a peaceful resolution to the gender wars, how much more should Christians be willing to do the same? 

My one and only issue with the book was when it tended to lapse into stereotypes. Being the sort of man who doesn’t like to fix things (I wish I did and I could), and who doesn’t find it hard to express emotions (have I overshared already?) and who does care about my appearance (check out my latest charity shop find!) I sometimes felt a little misunderstood. Or even worse, unintentionally pigeonholed as not really being Caitlin’s idea of what a man is. This is one of the biggest challenges of anyone writing about gender, how to do so without either reinforcing stereotypes or ignoring genuine difference.  

My overall impression is that this book reads like a love letter to masculinity. Take this powerful paragraph from Moran’s last chapter: 

 “I wish for any man, or boy, everything I have wished for my daughters: that they can be proud of who they were born as; that this will never be a burden to them; that they can appear as they like; that they understand both their own pain, and that of others; that they can love out loud with their whole hearts, because they understand that love is a verb – a doing word; and that they never belittle or destroy what they envy, but recognise it for what it is: almost certainly, a future you wish for yourself.”  

That quote reminded me of St Paul’s defining of love in a letter to Corinthians. It sets a high bar, but I believe it is both aspirational and achievable. I would love to see sentiments like this coming out of the church too, with similar books that can transcend the cultural flashpoints and offer great hope to all who need it. 

4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.