Men Don’t Make Passes… full stop.

When I was a mere slip of a girl in the 50s and 60s there used to be this horrid, patronising, sexist saying: “Men Don’t Make Passes At Girls Who Wear Glasses”, and in my experience this was true. Of course, it may only have been true in my experience. It is possible that other girls with glasses were having a whale of a time.

At least part of this may have been due to the ugliness of glasses in 50s and 60s Britain. From 1948 to 1985 there was a phenomenon unique to Britain – the National Health Spectacle Frame. Apparently these were the envy of other countries, who had neither a National Health nor its spectacle frames, but they were loathed in this country. The range was – limited – to say the least, and what there was seemed to have been designed, either to discourage you from availing yourself of their extreme cheapness, or to advertise to the world that you were too poor to be able to afford anything else. Which of course, you were.

I remember a little boy called Steven Savage (forgive me little Steven, if you are still alive). All the kids used to call him Steven Sandwich, since it sounded like that. Poor Steven Sandwich had National Health specs, and worse, one of the lenses was permanently covered in pink sticky plaster. I believe this was a technique to strengthen a weak ‘other’ eye, by forcing it to do twice the work. Either that or the glass was cracked.

And glasses or not, I had other issues. It wasn’t just the glasses that failed to attract men to me, but me being taller than all of them and possessed of what a doctor once (erroneously, a it turned out) referred to as “child-bearing hips” or was it “child-bearing thighs”? My Dad was 6 foot 4 inches tall and all my female relatives on his side were Amazonian in build. I had an aunt and a sister both pushing 6 foot, and another sister 5 foot 10. I was actually the lucky one – I was the shortest.

And I didn’t know how to talk to them. I grew up with sisters. I went to school with girls. Boys were – alien. They guffawed a lot. They patronised. They obviously felt themselves to be superior. And the advice then was not, under any circumstances, to appear to be cleverer than them. Men liked clever girls even less than they liked girls who wore glasses. So I tried to be stupid but could never quite pull it off.  Unable to speak my actual thoughts, I was left with nothing at all to say. Banter was beyond me. Giggling – just couldn’t manage it. Flirting – never quite got the hang.

Eventually I managed to bag a man or two, but only by signalling my availability really, really obviously, and how I even did that I can’t remember. And even then these chaps didn’t exactly rush to take advantage of me. Special Offer, and all that. It was more like an unenthusiastic amble.

And then I didn’t fancy them anyway, because:

Premise Number 1:

Who would want a man who only ambled? I wanted my Hero, my Knight on a White Charger, that man who would pursue me desperately to the ends of the earth; somebody driven frantic by my very presence in a room. I wanted romance, I wanted passion.

But even if there had been a Mr Darcy I would have instantly lost interest in him, because:

Premise Number 2:

If he was the sort of man desperate enough to want me he couldn’t be a proper man. He needs must be wimp, a total loser; there had to be something seriously wrong with him.

Premise Number 2 is the killer because there’s absolutely no way around it. For an entire lifetime your logical mind can argue the self-defeating ridiculousness of Premise Number 2: some primitive, damaged part of your subconscious will continue to know it is true.

At one point I had an inspiration. I could be a Lesbian! I wasn’t sure, to be honest, what Lesbians did with each other, but I knew I was already built for the part. All it would take was one of those shaven hairdos and perhaps a silver stud through my tongue. My niece – she of the pink hair, the Doc Martens, the many exotic tattoos and, sadly, now, the failed kidneys, once shared a flat with a gaggle of Lesbians and it didn’t seem to do her any harm. In fact my exotic niece seems to have had an awful lot more fun in her life than I ever did.

Anyway, so I looked around at women and attempted to find at least a few of them attractive but, inconveniently, could not. (My old friends Rose and Daisy will be relieved to hear this.)

And now – well, now things are better. I don’t feel obliged to attract men at all, and certainly not in that competitive, trophy-hunting, 1960s kind of way.  I like men – mostly and I like women – mostly. And mostly people are just people to me nowadays. I treat them alike, whatever they are.

And – bonus – the National Health Spectacle Frame is no more – abolished, I believe, by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I can wear any specs I like. I can send for them through the post, I can try them on at home and send them back if I don’t like them. I can have three pairs. I can have purple ones, or tortoiseshell, or knicker-pink.  I can go Dame Edna or John Lennon. I can – what else can I do…? Oh well, you know what I mean.

nhs

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

It doesn’t seem to be fashionable – or perhaps I mean politically correct – anymore, for a lady to long for a hero. I suppose we threw that particular baby out with the feminist bathwater, along with expecting doors to be opened for us rather than slammed in our faces, and for seats to be given up for us on an omnibus.

In The Female Eunuch Germaine Greer makes passing mention of a husband – her only husband. She was married to him – I’m sure she said for a week. I don’t have a copy of the book now – I must get another – but seem to recall that his irresistible attraction had been something to do with that comfortingly tweedy masculine shoulder against which to bury one’s head.

I just checked it out. She was married in 1968 to an English graduate who was working as a builder. Perhaps it had given him broad shoulders and a suntan – that always helps. In true ’60s style they met outside a pub in the Portobello Road and, after a brief courtship, got married using a ring from a pawnshop. According to Wikipedia it only lasted ‘a few weeks’ and Ms Greer spent their wedding night in an armchair because her husband was drunk and would not allow her into bed.

The Female Eunuch actually came out in 1970 but in my provincial backwater I didn’t stumble across it until some years later: in W H Smith’s actually – fascinated and horrified in equal measure by a truly, shockingly, hideous cover – see below. I remember covering said item using brown paper and sellotape so that my parents wouldn’t be tempted to confiscate/immolate/jettison it. (My mother had form with book-throwing.)

female eunuch

I was twenty-one at the time and married as I was reading it. What a fool! If only I’d found it six months earlier I might have gathered my wits and relocated to Auchtermuchtie or possibly Muckanaghederdauhaulia, County Galway. And I married exactly that heroic sort of man – the comfortingly tweedy masculine shoulder, and so forth. He was even working on a building site and had the temporary broad shoulders/suntan.

What is it in us, though, that still pines for a hero? Even now when subjected – as one all too frequently is – to Bonnie Tyler’s cheesy 1980s bellow-fest Holding out for a Hero – I get that same little shiver. I know exactly what she means. Don’t you, other ladies?

Or if not a Hero, at least a Gentleman.

According to one website, these are the 23 behaviours of a Gentleman:

  1. He opens the door for a lady
  2. He walks closest to the curb
  3. He makes reservations (what does that mean – for a restaurant?)
  4. He gives her his jacket
  5. He is punctual
  6. He rises when she enters a room
  7. He gives compliments sincerely and often
  8. He helps her to be seated
  9. He gives up his seat
  10. He helps a lady on with her coat
  11. He says “please” and “thank you”
  12. He minds his table manners
  13. He is never rude to servers, bartenders or anyone else for that matter
  14. He pays
  15. He gets her safely to her door
  16. He listens
  17. He keeps his word and a secret
  18. He never hits a woman
  19. He shows initiative
  20. He pays attention to detail
  21. He asks her family’s blessing before proposing
  22. He is a jack of all trades – knows how to do things – the guy people look to in an emergency
  23. He goes out of his way to let her know he cares, every single day

Goodness, I’d forgotten about most of those. Ex scored well on 5, 18, 19 and 20 and ultra-highly on 22. I used to think that if we were ever to get stranded on one of those tiny cartoon desert islands together, with only a palm tree and a ball of string he of all men would have been able to whip up a watertight raft and guide us, using only the sun and stars, to South America or Finland or somewhere.

Perhaps what it all boils down to is that a Gentleman – or a Lady – earns that description by putting the other person at their ease. If you feel relaxed, happy and altogether better about yourself after an hour or two in someone’s company, you can probably award them Gentleman/Lady status.

However, no need to marry them.

And at least finish reading The Female Eunuch first.

due south

And another picture of Paul Gross, and, because there can never be enough, yet another:

paul gross 2