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Monday, March 14, 2005

Lads of leisure...

What fun I had reading the papers over the weekend; the past few weeks has seen the media sprinkled with articles about Alpha Females and their lack of marriage offers, all to do with Neanderthal types not seeking to marry intelligent, high IQ, career oriented, clever women.

Then before you can say inequality sucks, behold the new new man. He is not afraid of marrying the Alpha Female; in fact he may have hunted her down and dragged her back to his cave for a game of chess.

While Alpha Female is out bringing home £1m plus a year, new new man is out doing lunch with his fellow new new men.

I say, and why not, and about time too.

Lads who lunch
John-Paul Flintoff

A new group of men who are kept by high-flying wives is emerging. They are pioneers — no less public-spirited than the early feminists

One of London’s fashionable restaurants, any day of the week; four married men sit at a corner table ogling waitresses and washing down food with the most expensive wines. If they do not seem in a hurry to get back to the office, that’s because they are not.

These men used to hold high-powered jobs that brought them to these same restaurants to entertain clients. But there was no point in working any more — because their wives earned more than enough to support them.

Now they have lunch with each other, daydreaming like children about new lives as inventors, explorers and sportsmen. Unlike children, though, they have the means to make some of those dreams come true. This group recently went truffle-hunting in Italy. Another time they went heli-skiing. Not content with merely going to the gym, they became triathletes.

Whatever else the great feminist pioneers intended, you can be sure that it was not this. But for an increasing number of women — the ones who have benefited most from social reform, with the most lucrative and powerful jobs — this more or less describes the life of a modern husband.

You have heard of the ladies who lunch. Now there are the lads who lunch.

The advent of this seemingly blessed type can partly be explained by the modern economy. Job security is a thing of the past and layoffs happen all the time.

Additionally, with more women getting degrees, including MBAs and doctorates, the number of households in which the woman earns more than the man has increased dramatically. Most households need both incomes. But not if the wife is a seriously high earner. In those households, when the husband gets the chance to drop out he grabs it.

“My wife wasn’t wealthy when we married,” said James Millett, formerly in publishing. “She was penniless. But there came a time when there was no way I could compare my income with hers.”

His wife works for an investment bank. Her annual bonus alone eclipsed his salary. So he resigned.

“And here I am,” he said, “wandering around my estate surrounded by servants, living the life of a new rural squire. Forget the 35-hour week, I’m on a 35-hour year.”

Others have made similar moves. There is the civil servant from the Foreign Office, whose wife brings home more than £1m a year as partner in an international law firm: he gave up work to listen to Deep Purple records and play cricket.

Or there is the financial analyst, also married to a lawyer, who set up as a day trader after he was made redundant and refused to look after the children. Not even in emergencies. Or there is the broker, married to an heiress, who packed it in to live in tax exile.

Or there is the man whose wife is a headhunter, who did nothing for weeks except to lunch and play golf — until he found idleness itself was burdensome. “You need status,” he explained. “At dinner parties you need an answer to the question, ‘What do you do?’ ” His solution was to trade wine. He earns about £25,000, which barely pays for the childcare and his season ticket on the train. He goes home and does not have to think about work. He can sit and watch television and have a drink. His wife, by contrast, continues to work at home in the evenings and at weekends.

Perhaps understandably, these men prefer not to discuss their arrangements publicly. “I’m not sure about being named in the paper,” said one. “I’m not sure that I want to be . . . you know. But I’ll talk to you if you don’t use my real name.”

Despite the bravado, some of these men have a big psychological problem with their situation. “It’s very sensitive,” said Fiona O’Sullivan, the headhunter whose husband trades wine. “You could probably get more people to talk to you on the record about how often they have sex.”

It is important to emphasise that this is a new phenomenon. Sociologists, if they have started their research, have yet to publish any papers on the lads who lunch. But if you examine the latest reports from the Office for National Statistics, a picture emerges to support the anecdotal evidence. These show, for instance, that more men now “work at home” than women: 14% of men, compared with only 8% of women. And plentiful research shows that working at home permits greater leisure time.

More telling, Trish McOrmond of the Office for National Statistics said that women who give up full-time jobs to work part-time do so because they want to spend more time with their children. Men go part-time because they can afford to and much less frequently mention children as a motivating factor. For men, it seems, the lure is indolence.

Millett does not altogether disagree. “Behind every great woman is a great man,” he joked. “Because even if we don’t do the housework and the cooking, we can hire and fire the people who do.”

One recent study showed that the likelihood of divorce is higher than average when women earn 51% to 75% of the family income, but that, for reasons nobody entirely understands, when women earn more than 75% the divorce rate decreases.

How can that be? Here is one possibility. The business magazine Fortune reported in 2003 that 30% of its “most powerful women in business” had a stay-at-home spouse. They included Anne Mulcahy, chairman and chief executive of Xerox, and Carly Fiorina, then chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard.

Fortune also described the husband of Anne Stevens, Ford’s group vice-president Canada, Mexico and South America. He “tends the gardens, runs errands, manages the social calendar and . . . makes a killer beef wellington”. In the evenings he “would love some scintillating conversation, but he usually lets Anne flop in front of Wheel of Fortune and fall asleep”.

Until recently few British men would have gone public about such a feminised existence. But a survey has shown that similar men exist here, too. Future Laboratory, a consumer forecasting consultancy, was commissioned by a dating agency to interview more than 2,500 people aged between 20 and 45. It found that British women are looking for a “new type of man who is compliant, does the housework, is considerate in bed and will cut his career to tend the children”.

Martin Raymond, a director at Future Laboratory, has a name for such a man: the Stepford husband.

“They feel their role is to keep their partner or wife happy,” he said. “They tended to be bankrolled (by their wives) but did not feel it questioned their masculinity. And the women did not want someone whose career competed with their own.”

Examples of the type pop up all the time. One of the latest is Derek Gadd, reported to have put his own career to one side so that his wife Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, could make a success of her life in politics.

On the face of it there would seem to be a massive difference between Stepford husbands and the lads who lunch. But if you look closely you sometimes find they describe the same individuals — men who struggle to manage the changing imperatives of manhood, who give up work with the best intentions but find it difficult to keep to their high ideals.

Men, in short, like Harry Bell. A 35-year-old graphic designer whose wife, a financial analyst, earned much more than him, Bell left his job to do the childcare after their son was born. But when a second child arrived he insisted that they hire a nanny. Looking after one child was tiring and depressing, he found; two was out of the question.

Now he spends his days at the gym, in Waitrose, browsing in antique shops, in the basement of their smart north London town house playing computer games and (naturally) going out to lunch. He resents it that people find that funny or objectionable. After all, women have been doing the same thing for years.

Nobody said the sexual revolution was going to be easy. Perhaps the men who push at the boundaries — the boastful lads who lunch and the meek Stepford husbands alike — deserve to be regarded as innovators, no less public-spirited than the pioneering feminists of the early 20th century.


posted by Opus at 21:04

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