The measure of a man

6th January 2012 at 00:00

Should teachers be role models? It's a notion I have often argued against, on the grounds that those who call most stridently for it are content to exist in the 21st century, while expecting teachers to live in 1952.

Then one wonders precisely what sort of a "model" we are supposed to be? I'm prepared to bear the expectation of being a "good" teacher to my students, to work hard for them in and out of the classroom. But as for the rest of it, the messy stuff of life: isn't that my business?

As a teacher who is also a man, this is further complicated by the age-old question of what exactly it is to be male. What sort of a "model" should I project - or indeed follow - in pursuit of my maleness? Men, we are told, are in crisis. We have lost our old role as hunters and now must meekly stand in line at the meat counter instead. And the idea of the sharing, caring New Man has been exposed as a sham, too, by all those surveys showing how little we really do around the house.

There are other alternatives on offer. I was deleting my junk mail the other day and found myself pondering what view of masculinity was projected by the stuff they were trying to sell me. It fell into three categories: bling, sex and medications.

About a third of my junk emails offer me "high-end Rolex replicas". If they realised I was on a teacher's income, you can be sure I would only be offered the low-end ones.

No doubt bling is connected to the next category: sex. After all, what better way to attract a mate than by having a tonne of fake chronometer dangling from your person? One oft-repeated line in the "junks" is "Do you want to surprise your female partner tonight?" It would be a surprise to her if I interrupted EastEnders wearing nothing but my fake Rolex.

Much though we may like the idea of it, it seems men have deep-seated insecurities when it comes to putting sex into practice. According to category three, we are perpetually in doubt over whether we can manage it. Hence "medications" - a term that turns out to be a euphemism for Viagra and other products promising uplifting benefits.

I can't help but think it's a depressing way of defining the section of humankind that is male. Particularly when you realise that most of the sex on offer in the land of junk mail turns out to revolve around either prostitution or pornography.

That's not to say that teachers - along with greengrocers, high court judges and members of many other professions - won't be tempted to avail themselves of such services. Luckily for me, when a young woman hooked her arm into mine as I strolled down Barcelona's Ramblas this summer and asked if I was "looking for business", I was able to reply unambiguously: "No thank you, madam, I'm a role model."

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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