Weigh in

So, thanks to my somewhat pathetic, pleading blog post last month "Give me a TV show", I've hooked up with a production
company called R & R Media and we're going to shoot a "sizzle reel" for All Men Are Liars TV ...

What we intend to do is film a version of what will be a panel show - obviously with a series of guests - concentrating on 10 knotty questions about men and women.

The actual show will focus on a single topic but we'd like to showcase a breadth of subjects - and reflect the concerns of well ... you.

Below, I've listed some of the topics that jump out at me as "no-brainers" for discussion, but I'm sure y'all will have some thoughts of your own and we'd love to hear them.

Here goes ...

Who's really got the power? Feminism versus the patriarchy. 

The life of the average man is fairly depressing, some would argue, yet blokes are told they hold all the power in society. Why then are men considered so expendable, being continually sent off to die in war and our most dangerous industries?

Let us ponder what kind of power it is that bestows on men a 10-year-shorter life span than women and a higher incidence of disease, crime, alcoholism and drug addiction? What kind of power is it that blesses men with a self-destructive need to achieve and the duty to spend a lifetime supporting others, more often than not in an unsatisfying job?

It's easy to forget that, for men, inequality is often an end point, but for every woman it's where she begins life. Gender inequality is not limited to just one issue, one culture or one religion; it's the bass line of human dynamics.

Some argue the need for universal gender equality outstrips every other pressing world issue, including global warming and environmental degradation, overpopulation, Third World debt, poverty and disease. Indeed many say that if women's rights were addressed we'd go a long way towards solving many of these problems.

So who actually holds the power in society today and is it changing? Does the "patriarchy" of feminist theory even exist? And, with Western women flooding into the media and government, is it time they take equal responsibility for gender stereotypes, continued inequity and the lapsed feminist ideals of young females?

Is monogamy a natural state? Is it possible for the average woman or man, short of chemical castration or a chastity belt, to stay faithful to one person for life?

People who answer "yes", "unquestionably" or "without a doubt" are invariably in their 20s, 30s or 40s - the relationship equivalent of doomed adventure tourists doing karate kicks to warm up in Everest base camp.

We've heard all the theories; about monogamy being an unnatural state, that men are "meant" to spread their seed and we can even cite the cultures in which mistresses are widely accepted.

But is it just rationalising immorality? Why are men so quick to roll out the "evolutionary" compulsions for multiple sexual partners, yet they manage not to spear their neighbours or shit in the street like the cavemen they claim still to be?

Does monogamy really provide the necessary stability to bring up healthy children? Are women truly more monogamous than men? And is the secret to resisting temptation as simple as "not looking?"

Are you a misogynist? Do Aussie men actually like women? We live in a culture with a stringent demarcation between the sexes, whereby too many males struggle to relate to women as anything other than what the novel Puberty Blues described as a "piece of meat with a hole in it".

Why do Australian men so dislike hanging out with their women? Are the high-profile excesses of our football fraternities just an extension of a more pervasive misogyny? And are Aussie men all that bad when compared with the cultures of the Middle East, Asia and Europe?

Nowadays it seems the label of "misogynist" is often misused to silence reasonable criticism of women, or to describe attitudes that are merely sexist. Is it a reflection of society that the term "misogyny" is largely understood but "misandry" is not?

Do women's magazines promote an anti-man stance? Are women the worst misogynists of all? Are lads' magazines and TV programs such as The Footy Show a bit of fun or a bleak blueprint for the young misogynist? Can or will misogyny and misandry ever disappear? How do you challenge your peers' attitudes without losing your friends?

Kids: Selfless or selfish? Parents talk up the experience of child-rearing as if they're Easter Show urgers, saying "it changes your life!", "you don't know what love is until you have a child!!" or "it's the best thing I've ever done!!!"

Scattered among those exclamation marks, however, will be a person who'll occasionally admit "if I'd known what it was going to be like, I probably wouldn't have done it" or "I'm really struggling. I want my old life back."

What do you do if "the greatest day of your life" is actually the very worst? What are the options when you suddenly realise that little bundle of joy is actually a dreadful mistake you can never undo?

Critics will say "pull your head in", "parenting is about self-sacrifice" and "don't be so self-absorbed", which is funny when you consider that, in 2050, the projected world population is going to be 10 billion, more than double the number in 1984.

And you think it's hard to find childcare now?

Self-absorption is defined as "preoccupation with oneself, especially to the exclusion of others", which sounds like a mighty fine description for people who mindlessly shoot out offspring, ignoring the fact their little darlings are part of the biggest environmental problem facing our planet today.

Consolations for a broken heart: "One of the most profound mysteries of love is 'why him?' and 'why her?'" writes author Alain de Botton.

Why of all the possible candidates did our desire settle on this person and how did we come to treasure them above all others when their conversation is so dull and their personal habits so unappealing?

We've all asked ourselves this question and it comes into stark relief when a relationship ends. "What's wrong with me?" "Why aren't I good enough?" "Will I ever be happy?"

Every year science sheds more light on the compulsion to love, with some anthropologists now arguing it is a drive, no different from hunger or thirst, ensuring we search for (and hopefully find) the ideal co-parent to produce healthy children.

Is it as simple as this? Everyone endeavours to eliminate through the other individual their own weaknesses, defects and deviations lest they be perpetuated in our kids.

Perhaps the broken hearted can now take consolation from being dumped. "There is nothing wrong with us per se," writes de Botton, "our characters are not repellent, nor our faces abhorrent. The union collapsed because we were unfit to produce a balanced child with one particular person. The break-up was not their choice."

I'd wager that's small satisfaction if you're getting divorced and already have kids, though.

Jealousy, rejection and violence: The evolutionary compulsion behind most human emotions, be they anger, love, sadness, disgust or curiosity is pretty clear, but can you name a single good reason why jealousy exists, except to stuff up relationships?

How much jealousy is enough? Where does it come from? When does it veer into obsessiveness? Why does it end in violence so often and what can we do to combat it in ourselves and discourage it in our partners?

"If a man wants a woman who doesn't want him, he cannot win," says David Deida in his book The Way of the Superior Man.

It's the same for both sexes; unfortunately too many men are unwilling to deal with emotional pain caused by jealousy and rejection and try to enforce their will on women through violence, or turn to drugs and alcohol to escape it.

What do you do when someone doesn't want you? How do you reject a person without humiliating them? And what are the warning signs that a relationship has gone seriously wrong and you need to get out?

Madonna/whore syndrome v bad boy and SNAG: It's said women have two lists of attributes for men – one for when they're younger and looking for fun, and another for when they want to settle down and have children.

Why do so many women want to shag a bad boy, yet marry a Sensitive New Age Guy (SNAG) - and how is this confusing young men looking for their masculine identity?

Men's lists of attributes for women are no less contradictory. Many want a woman who'll act one way with them but not the rest of the world, who'll be the cliched "whore in the bedroom" and Madonna outside.

Are these tired generalisations and are they perpetuated by sexist socialisation? Is the new generation of sexually empowered young women forcing men into a more feminised role? And how can we expect men to treat women with respect when so many girls are hypnotically drawn to guys who treat them like shit?

Prostitutes and diamond rings: When I wrote an opinion piece in 2007 for The Sydney Morning Herald about visiting a prostitute it became the most read articles on Fairfax Media websites for the month.

The question I posed was a simple one: is it more morally correct to use a sex worker than to lie about your feelings to get a woman in bed?

More than 30 per cent of men admit to having visited prostitutes, yet we disdain these women above any other, perhaps because their trade strips bare the dynamics of the sexual contract.

The original marketing campaign for diamond engagement rings devised by De Beers is embedded in the male psyche because it ingeniously played on men's complexes about love, status and money: "If you don't buy her a diamond, you can't afford her."

So how does giving a woman a diamond engagement ring differ from paying a strange woman for sex? Is the ingrained custom of a man paying for his date also not prostitution of another stripe? Does the trade serve a purpose in sexless marriages and where do the unloved, the ugly and the disabled go for intimacy if not a prostitute?

Size matters: Men's dicks and women's breasts: It's one of our most enduring questions, one that men and women of all shapes, colours and creeds have asked themselves at one time or another: are they big enough?

Thanks to advertising campaigns, men's magazines, pornography and women's fashion it's now perfectly acceptable to use the proportions of penises and breasts to judge our own gender and belittle the opposite sex.

Flat-chested women are mocked as "masculine", while men with small penises are rebuffed as "not man enough". This has led to breast enlargement transforming from being a jaw-dropping obscenity just 40 years ago to a socially acceptable 21st-birthday gift for girls.

The cosmetic and plastic surgery industries have learnt their lesson well: "Make women hate their bodies and they'll buy stuff". So now it's the men's turn as they're bombarded with pills and ointments and surgeries to enlarge their dicks ... to make them "complete".

So does having a small penis or breasts affect how people live their lives? Has their size helped form their personality and the way they interact with peers, work colleagues, lovers and the opposite sex?

What do men really think of small breasts and what do women think of guys with little penises? What's it like to be rejected for an appendage and how do we move beyond the static of unrealistic expectations to see people as individuals, not just suits made of skin?

The games we play: How many times have you heard someone say "I just wish guys would be honest" or, "Why can't she say what's on her mind?" or "I'm so sick of playing games".

Why then does nothing scare off a potential mate quicker than plain old honest vulnerability? If you want to be a winner in the dating game, it seems you must hold your cards close to your chest, never letting the other know just how you feel.

But then what?

Is game playing necessary and who plays with the other sex's mind the most – men or women? What are the games each gender indulges in? Do we bring them on ourselves through jealousy and nagging? Are they a means of self-preservation, a shock-absorber for rejection?

Cheat within the sheets:  Is there a better feeling than cheating on your partner; having mad sex with a nubile stranger, then sliding into bed beside your snoring other half knowing you've got away with it?

When you've got a spouse, a brood of kids and the possibility of losing half of everything you own, including custody of your children, the sheer wild, stupid danger of infidelity must be nature's most potent aphrodisiac, because why else do it?

We've discussed monogamy, now let's look at its ugly cousin: infidelity. Why do men and women risk careers, financial ruin and social ostracism to cheat on their partners?

If you don't know, does it hurt you? Can a little bit on the side ever do a relationship good by reminding you what you have at home? And is it possible that infidelity and promiscuity is actually good for the species?

Are successful and financially independent women cheating on their partners more than their male counterparts? Does this mean women are just as promiscuous?

More to the point, how do you know if someone's cheating on you and, if you're the one doing it, how do you get away with it?

Feel free to offer your own topics.


I'll be talking with Alex Mitchell, author of Come The Revolution: A memoir and Kevin Rudd's former head of spin, Lachlan Harris, this Friday, May 18, 2012, at the Philharmonia Studio, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay from 1pm to 2pm. It's free. For more info, go here.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.