Brian, a historian of some note – although the world hasn’t woken up to that fact yet – has just read, on his laptop, the latest letter from his bosses passing him over for annual promotion due to his “insufficient research activity”. Pamela, on the other hand, a sociologist of much productivity but little originality (if truth be told, and certainly not to her face) was nonetheless prematurely promoted to the rank of professor years ago – by a committee of predominantly women, it goes without saying.
The problem with universities these days is that they place the renowned book on an equal footing with paltry essays when it comes to research, and therefore serious academics, such as himself, aren’t supposed to spend years (13.5 so far) on a magnum opus that will revolutionise his subject and go down in history. Oh no, the politburo at his university, primarily working-class women of colour and lesbians and the rest, are blocking his ascendancy to Senior Lecturer-ship just because he’s not an intellectual dilettante who churns out an essay-a-month from the conveyor belt of his mind. Furthermore, he’s had to be Admissions Tutor for the past seven years as penance for his lack of publications, which means turning up on campus on Saturdays, just when all his colleagues are happily enjoying boozy brunches away from the Gulag. He, on the other hand, has to try to persuade teenagers to come and study at his university, or rather to persuade the parents who accompany their fledgling human offspring because they’re the ones making the decision since tuition fees skyrocketed.
Brian’s marginalisation at his place of employment makes him very angry, and when Brian is angry the world had better watch out, he thinks, as he sits in the living room sipping a glass of Shiraz at 4.15pm this Friday “evening”, or as good as, while looking out of the window onto a little garden with a shed at the bottom masquerading as his “study”. They moved into their two-bedroom house in a frankly unaffordable part of town because Pamela loves its exorbitant wine bars and restaurants. She immediately commandeered the large spare room as her study on account of the fact that “I have more books to shelve than you, sweetie”. He didn’t object because, in his frankly naive throes of in-loveness all those years ago, he wanted to please her, and he has simmered with resentment ever since. She refuses to move to a more spacious home outside the centre on account of preferring to invest in her pension rather than a larger property, Brian, darling. “This house is perfect, though, isn’t it? For just the two of us?” Oh yes, he thinks, so perfect the majestic view from his “study” window consists of compost bins.
Nonetheless, his pokey little lair is where he escapes into the Republic of Manhood, where he reigns supreme away from the matriarchal misandrists of the world. Talking of which, it’s their 20th wedding anniversary tomorrow and Pamela has insisted on a party with their families. Every year, as it looms into view, he wonders if he’ll dare leave her. Then he remembers what it was like before she swept him off his feet. Lonely, to be honest. And where will he find a replacement? All his female colleagues are taken because academics tend to be stable homebodies who partner up early and until death do them part. If one or two colleagues were to suddenly become available, well, they’re not exactly sex bombs, are they, and none of them is a ripe and fertile under-32. (Always wanted kids; Pamela didn’t.) Brian’s not seen a low cleavage, butt-tight skirt or sexy high heels on a colleague in his nearly three decades in academia. Some of the students are tantalising little minxes, of course, but sadly, boringly, that adventure is verboten by the Gestapo. He can fantasise and indeed does, especially about the peachy ones straight out of school. Never mind the age gap, he could easily nest with an adoring and adorable little 18-year-old for whom stretch marks are in the distant future. No law against having free thoughts, is there? They can’t stop what goes on in his mind, at least not yet.
So – where would he even go to find a new partner? Not on those vulgar online dating apps, and he’s too old for clubs and bars. He can’t remember when a woman last flirted with him. Women don’t even see him these days, which is what happens when men get to a certain age. Invisible. He’s probably stuck with Pamela for the rest of his natural life. Brian takes a few more sips of the Shiraz, heads off to the kitchen to replenish his glass and stick the shop-bought moussaka in the oven. Pamela won’t notice the difference. A job and domestic duties. Is this what men fought for? Is this what you call liberation?
He returns to the living room, sitting more comfortably on the white carpeted floor, his back against an armchair. Pamela chose white carpet and walls throughout the house, even in the hallway, which means shoes come off at the door. She believes it makes for a serene and calming environment. Well, Brian’s not feeling very serene and calm right now so it doesn’t work. In fact, Brian feels hard done by on many counts. It began when he was a child and his parents paid for his younger sister to be privately educated, while he had to go to the local grammar school where the girls were encouraged to aim for STEM subjects, and boys were steered towards the humanities. Once at university, he discovered that the majority of his lecturers were female, and so was the syllabus, which completely overlooked straight white male middle-class heterosexual writers. He didn’t read a single book by them in three years on his course, and when he challenged the department, he was told the only criteria was to teach great authors and was he suggesting they lower standards? End of discussion. Once he became a teacher, he found himself being forced to teach a female timeline, as if men had nothing to do with history.
A few years ago, Brian discovered the possibilities of using social media to be a voice in the world. He founded the White Man’s Liberation Front, WMLF.com, and operates from the big social media platforms. It’s where he lets off steam with likeminded individuals who are fed up of being lorded over by the matriarchal misandrists of this world. Naturally, his real identity on social media is hidden. Doesn’t want to lose his marriage, or his job. His persona is of a young person, a university student, because the yoof use social media much more than his generation and he wants to be relatable. Once he got the hang of it and coined the hashtags #whyismylecturernotastraightwhiteman and #defeminisingthecurriculum, his posts went viral. Brian discovered that he had a community of people who agreed with him. Hundreds of thousands of his brothers followed him. Now he has over a million followers, and even a few females. They’re not all evil oppressors. There are a few good women out there. Brian realised he could be a voice for good in the world, a campaigner against the systemic injustices that disadvantage mankind, especially his kind of mankind – white.
“I’ve had it up to my back teeth with the way men are marginalised in this, the land of our birth,” he writes on his blog. “Nor can we openly express our anger or we’ll be accused of having a chip on our shoulder, of being unreasonable, of even fabricating the very existence of the matriarchy. Yet we are underpaid, underemployed and under-represented in most spheres, and it’s not because we’re not good enough but because we’re discriminated against, or must we pussyfoot around and call it ‘unconscious bias’ now in order to make women feel better about their prejudices? Talking of which, when did any woman you know last admit to being misandrist? ‘You’re imagining it,’ the beneficiaries of the matriarchy say. ‘You guys just need to pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, work harder, be more ambitious, stop blaming women for your failings and make something of yourselves.’”
Brian’s glass is empty. How did that happen? He goes back into the kitchen to pour another glass of red only to find the bottle empty. How did that happen, as well? Never mind, there are three boxes of wine by the washing machine for tomorrow’s party. He extracts another Shiraz and returns with it to the living room, placing it carefully between his outstretched legs for easy access. Pamela will be back soon, waltzing in after a heavy day’s teaching, she’ll say, which means a handful of lightweight tutorials with the brightest students: doctoral candidates. He, on the other hand, has had several large classes this week. Again, a punitive workload for an “underperformer”. Except that this so-called “underperformer” is writing the first ever academic book investigating all the great men behind successful women: Prince Albert, Prince Philip, Feroze Ghandi, Ike Turner, Denis Thatcher, David Beckham, to name a few. His thesis is that these women wouldn’t have achieved anything without the support and encouragement of their male partners, and the matriarchy needs to acknowledge the role men have played in women’s lives.
Brian’s laptop is set to Touch ID because Pamela is so adept at technology she’d probably be able to crack any passwords. She has no reason to be suspicious of his online activity, but you never know, she’s such a control freak. He scrolls through the news. The Prime Minister, Ayesha Mohammed, is going to schedule a debate in parliament about creating some all-white male, middle-class candidate shortlists for political parties come the next election, in order to ensure better representation of them. It looks hopeful, but he knows progress will be slow and there’ll be a sizeable contingent of mainly female MPs who will accuse her of pandering to the politically correct lobby. He slurps back his wine in one go. Pours another, logs onto his @wmlf page and scrolls quickly through the trolls, mainly disgruntled brown women, the bitter and twisted oldies, who hate that he’s campaigning for equal rights. On a good day they threaten to castrate and disembowel him.
Brian bangs out some motivational empowerment messages for his brothers, feels his stomach straining against his belt. It’s still continuing to bloat after a couple of plates of spaghetti bolognese for lunch. He takes his trousers off and flings them across the room. His shirt, too. That’s better, he feels free, although he’d rather not look at the legs splayed before him, not what they used to be. Pamela used to be a “legs woman”, couldn’t take her eyes off “your slender, shapely pins, Brian”, in the early days. He used to wear tiny shorts around the house, even in winter, just for her pleasure. Now she doesn’t even notice them. Sadly, the body positive movement has come too late for him. Self-hate set in a long time ago. Men should be taught to love their bodies from childhood, instead of being forced to aspire to an unrealistic ideal. He writes about it, ending with the hashtags #selfbodyloveformen #lovetheshapeyoucomein #guys4bodypositive.
Stomach unleashed, mind unfettered, fired up by the wine, Brian lets off more steam online and sends off a volley of attacks on everything from universities, government, schools, the NHS, fashion companies, the lack of football and darts coverage on television and the glass ceiling. “What I really hate is the way guys are denied opportunities for promotion and self-advancement by the ruling elite. We’re never good enough, even when we’re the absolute best. Only 39 white males out of 18,000 professors. WTF. #academicpromotion4men #highIQ #genius #leader.”
For about ten seconds after each post, he feels better, slightly euphoric, especially when thousands of others share his outrage. Then he feels himself plummeting into the depths of depression. Tomorrow he has to put his smiley face on for the party. He knocks back some more wine and knows exactly what the day will be like. His mother will talk too much, as always, yet she accuses his father of doing just that when the old boy is practically mute these days. Forty years of being crushed by the matriarchy! Brian timed a conversation between his parents recently. His mother spoke for 4.3 minutes, his father got in 26 seconds before she started trying to butt in; before the minute was up, she’d succeeded. As for the in-laws, Pamela’s mother has never liked him because he’s not good enough for her daughter. Pamela was supposed to conform and marry someone brown and working class like herself. Her mother looked appalled when Pamela brought him home to meet her. How were they ever going to live down the shame? Her daughter marrying a white man who grew up in Hampstead and whose parents were doctors. She feared her family would become social outcasts.
This gives him another idea for a post. “Guys, if only we’d been born with all the privilege of brown working-class women in our ‘great’ country. Respected wherever they go. Have you noticed how women are always addressed as ‘madam’ in shops and cafes, but men aren’t addressed with the equivalent of ‘sir’? This is how the matriarchy wheedles away at our self-esteem, guys. This is how we are belittled and made to feel worthless. #everydaymisandry.”
His sister, Mary, always shows up for family gatherings. She’s always been a pleasantly placid person, unlike her mother. However, her eight-year-old daughter, Sarah-Jane, is a precocious and entitled brat. Top of her class since she started school and it’s gone to her head. Last Christmas she boasted she’s going to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain when she grows up, to everyone’s approval, including, shamefully, some of the men in the family, who seemed to find her endearing. As she was leaving, Brian accidentally-on-purpose tripped her up on her way out of the front door. Only minor bruises and mild concussion.
As for his brother George – as far as Brian is concerned, he’s suffering from internalised misandry. George is actually happy playing second fiddle to his wife and three teenage daughters, who all boss him around. He’s also a matriarchy-denier, plain and simple. George’s whiny mantra is: “We’re living in a meritocracy, Brian. Success is all about ambition, intelligence and talent, and women are better than men on all three markers, that’s the truth of it.” The number of times Brian has resisted telling George he’s a pathetic doormat and despised all-round traitor to the male race.
Then there are the three cousins who grew up next door. The eldest is Roger, a househusband ever since he married Lisa (now a CEO) who wanted him to stay home and raise the kids. He spends his time lunching with other househusbands, doing stints in charity shops and going to yoga, Pilates and Spanish classes. The middle child, Samantha, used to be a lot of fun when they were teenagers, before she became ruthlessly ambitious and started making money as a partner in a management consultancy. Now all she does is go on about her property portfolio. Poppy, a paediatrician, is still single but went from gay to straight a few years ago, which upset her entire family, who can barely talk to her. Why would she take such a backward step?
Brian goes to take another swig of the blood-red elixir of life but the glass is empty. So too is the bottle. Oh no, not again! Perhaps this bottle of wine is weird and once the top is unscrewed, it dissolves on contact with air. He struggles to get onto his feet, crawls across the room to the kitchen, takes a bottle from a box, and levers himself up because crawling is so ridiculous for a grown man.
As he begins to head back towards the living room in a not-quite-straight line, well, more like a zig-zag, really, he suddenly feels dizzy, nauseous, starts swaying and before he can make it back into the kitchen to lean over the sink, a torrent of vomit is heaving inside him with volcanic force and he throws up all over himself, and Pamela’s beloved and serene white hallway carpet, which is now covered in red wine and undigested spaghetti bolognese. Without thinking, Brian rips his boxers off to try and stop the mess seeping into the carpet, except all it does is make it worse.
Brian falls to his knees in tears. Life is so shit. He needs to get to the bathroom. He begins to crawl down the hallway towards the front door and stairs.
Just then Pamela gets out of the taxi and walks up the path to her house. She’d texted Brian to tell him she would be home in twenty, but he didn’t reply. No surprise there. He often ignores her texts these days. He’s such a moody sod most of the time, has no idea how privileged his life is as an academic. He also has no idea she’s been having affairs since the year they married. There’s never been the slightest hint of suspicion from him. Brian’s just not that bright and he’s so wrapped up in himself, he barely notices what she does. Her husband has always represented stability but not sexual desirability, and her young lovers make her feel so alive, youthful, adventurous. The latest is a student exactly thirty years her junior. He’ll do for the next two years until he graduates, at which point she’ll have tired of his unformed brain, although his young, rugby-player body will be harder to give up. They’ve just had sex three times in two hours.
Pamela is always happy to say goodbye to whatever young stud she’s fucking and come home to Brian and a lovely meal on the table. They’ve never actually had a blazing row in spite of him being a miserable sod. How many couples can say that? Somehow, they are compatible, despite his moods. They knock along nicely together. He’ll do.
Pamela puts the key in the lock, opens the front door, and steps inside.
Bernardine Evaristo was the joint winner of the 2019 Booker Prize for her novel “Girl, Woman, Other” (Penguin)
This article appears in the 24 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Spring special