Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Men try it on

Well, that's no news. I mean, they do, don't they, given half a chance?

Even I get propositioned very, very occasionally with a line of talk that could - if I run with it - lead to a conventional chat-up and whatever might follow on from that.

Or (more usually, though still rarely) some apparently-reasonable request, that conceals a hidden male agenda that isn't obvious but on analysis is of course a definite try-on - be it only to enlist me in some task or chore that the man can't rouse himself to do for himself. Such as make himself a cup of tea. I say this is rare: and the reason is that I don't associate with lazy men. Dad wasn't lazy. My friends' husbands are not. I can spot a man who wants a woman for a compliant slave - or a doting nurse - a mile off. My message to them is: don't waste your breath. There is no inducement you can offer that will suck me in and wait on you hand and foot.

And yet, in all men of every generation, from teenagers upward, there is still the prevailing easy assumption is that women are 'naturally' their handmaidens, floating around mainly to love them, to be nice to them, to give them pleasure on demand, to feed them, to do their washing and ironing for them, to look pretty for them, to take care of 'their' children, and generally to behave as a cross between a geisha and a super-competent housekeeper. Hah.

Perhaps things have changed a bit in the last twenty years or so, but I wouldn't like to exaggerate that change. Take the current American Presidential Nomination race, for example. It seems that Hilary Clinton just about has the Democratic Presidential Nomination in the bag. But although that will a matter for rejoicing among the female US population, many of a conservative persuasion (in my imagination that's all Bible-Waving Christians, and all Flag-Waving Good Ol' Boys With Guns And A Real Bad Attitude) will not be excited that - for the first time in history - a woman is running for the Oval Office. So far as I can see, American Men like their women to be feisty in the harmless and controllable and blonde way that Calamity Jane or Cat Ballou are feisty, and not feisty in the 'I-am-perfectly-capable-of-dealing-with-Putin-and-Iran-and-North-Korea' sense.

She's a great lady, but handicapped by the past antics of her famous husband. In fact, think of Hilary and you immediately think of Bill. And, moreover, a Bill taking vital phone calls while being pleasured by an intern. Hmm. I'm convinced that Americans were generally glad to discover that their President was a proper red-blooded human being, who appreciated intelligent company. But I'm also convinced that he displayed sub-optimal judgement in that matter. And inevitably it stains the personal judgement and reputation of his wife, who when she married him years before failed to foresee how he might behave, if he were ever installed in the White House. She ought to have known, many will say. That she did not have a crystal ball is evidence of weakness, incompetence and cloudy assessment. Such is the definition of good judgement in America.

One thing about Donald Trump, he has never had Bill Clinton for a husband. Things like that may swing it.

Now, let's contemplate this poster:

It caught my eye one day in March 1995, at Horsham railway station. It's built around an excellent photo. It's captured the half-aggressive, half-complacent swagger of a man who always tries it on. But it's also a clever play on words. Because he's trying-on a great jacket on sale at the Bentall Centre in Kingston-upon-Thames. You know it's a great jacket because his wife or girlfriend is stroking his shoulder with a besotted 'Buy this, and I'm yours forever' look on her face. But the poster has compelling power and punch for passing males because his face says 'I don't need jackets to get my way with her, I'm a man'. Which is verging on the insolent. But she doesn't care. And the poster will pop the notion of a shopping trip to Kingston into the brain of a male onlooker. And, when all is said and done, is that going to be a notion that a wife or girlfriend will resist?

That was 1995. Would the poster have the same resonance today? Clever wordplay is still fashionable. The nature of men hasn't substantially altered. But I think the woman's expression would be a matter for complaint. There are those who would take offence - Being Offended is now the National Disease of course - and they'd be shouting that no woman fawns on a man like that now, that women aren't this kind of stereotype any more. (Presumably they have become a different kind of stereotype, the new kind that such strident people approve of) Anyway, nobody would dare run it.

The Bentall Centre, by the way, seems to be an amazing place to shop, now, in 2016. See http://www.bentallcentre.co.uk/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentall_Centre,_Kingston. I've never seen it in modern times. But I did used to go regularly to the original department store called Bentalls during the 1980s, when I was living in London. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bentalls. That too was an amazing place to shop, though clearly second-best to the present development.

They have apparently kept the shell of the original store. That included, on the river side, a lifesized bronze statue of the store's founder, Mr Bentall. He stood there, at second-floor level I think, every inch the respectable draper made good. Unfortunately, his pose was ambiguous. He had his arms hanging down in front of him, with hands together, and it looked as if he was standing up and having a pee. You'd think this only from a distance, of course, but once the idea popped into one's head, that's all you saw - a man pissing on the passing crowds. What a jape!

I wonder if they have preserved this statue, erecting it somewhere inside as a centrepiece perhaps. Or maybe he is still there on the river side of the building, still perpetually relieving himself over the shoppers.

Well, I'm not sure that I can be bothered to travel up to Kingston to check that out. But if I'm ever there for some other reason, be sure that I will try to find him and take a shot or two. Just for fun. Or just for the sake of nostalgia.

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