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February 1st 2018
Ellen Pompeo, star of Grey's Anatomy - an American medical show that launched around the same time as House and, startlingly, is still on - caused a minor internet stir recently when she talked about her contract negotiations for the programme in the Hollywood Reporter. The crux of the piece was essentially that Pompeo was an empowered woman, and that her pay rise was great news for women everywhere. I have no quarrel with either the actor or the programme, nor even the essential message she was conveying - although it did make me wonder what people's reactions would have been if Michelle Williams rather than Mark Wahlberg had been paid big for reshoots in All the Money in the World ("ask for what you think you're worth" as Shonda Rhimes is quoted as saying in the article). What brought me up cold were the descriptions of men:

"As a woman, what I know is you can't approach anything from a point of view of 'I don't deserve' or 'I'm not going to ask for because I don't want other people to get upset.' And I know for a fact that when men go into these negotiations, they go in hard and ask for the world." - Shonda Rhimes

"A guy wouldn't have any problem asking for $600,000 an episode. And as women, we're like, "Oh, can I ask for that? Is that OK?" - Ellen Pompeo

Perhaps these were off the cuff remarks, and I'm happy to give Rhimes & Pompeo the benefit of the doubt in that regard, but I constantly read these kind of comments and, at face value, they are examples of a prevalent view: all men are the same; all men are strong; all men are confident.
We are not. I appreciate that there are large corners of the internet which believe that the views of white middle class men are not relevant - a small price to pay, I know, for the reverse holding true in far too much of the real world - and I do not claim to speak for all men, but I at least have the advantage on Rhimes & Pompeo that I am one. Stating that women are naturally weak and self-effacing whereas men are strong-willed and self-confident is damaging to, well, everyone. To women, certainly, but perhaps even more so to men: particularly to young men, who will see what they're supposed to be - what we're all supposed to be, apparently - and wonder why they're not it.
For a young man with low self-worth, I'm not sure there could be anything more harmful than the message that men don't, in fact, have problems with low self-worth. I don't think it is spurious to draw to draw the link to the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of young men, that men are vastly more likely to kill themselves (78% of suicides in 2013 were male) and that this trend is growing.
I am old enough, happily, to be mostly comfortable with who I am, and certainly not to spend any time worrying about how that doesn't live up to the gold standard of manfulness (propagated, it has to be said, by unthinking men every bit as much as by unthinking women). But, for the sake of anyone coming up the tracks who might not have got there yet, let me confirm that men can be weak. Men can lack self-confidence. Men are, essentially, not what Rhimes & Pompeo apparently think they all are.
To put a human face to it, let me cast around for the first man I can think of... me. I have been known to struggle with self-confidence, which may or may not come as a surprise to people, partly because it doesn't manifest itself in all situations. The worst, perhaps, was when I was at a previous job and, through a combination of factors, really didn't want to be there any more. I'm not great at the full-blown confessional, so I'll spare you all the details. I wrote some of them here, then I came back and deleted them. They'd only upset my mother, and they're not really the point here, anyway. Was I hugely over-reacting? Of course. I know that. I knew it at the time. It didn't help.
I'm reminded of this at the moment because I'm in the process of being made redundant, and I'm considering what the future holds for me in my career. Mostly, throughout the day, this doesn't affect me too badly, but sometimes, particularly late at night, it causes me to worry. What can I say, I'm a bed-fretter.
I trust in God, and that certainly helps. I don't want you to worry about me - although I'd like you to pray for me - but my point, really, is that the idea all men saunter through life is easily disprovable.
Let me finish by pointing you towards someone who, unlike me, has experienced real grief: Simon Thomas (not my brother) has written powerfully about his own weakness following the loss of his wife, and I recommend reading: AGriefShared.com

what was I listening to?
Origin of Symmetry - Muse
what was I reading?
Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
what was I watching?
Darkest Hour
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