Skip to content


LLast month, when the whole of Twitter was sharing this quartet of photos of Emmanuel Macron, a friend and I were expressing our appreciation for the aesthetics of chest hair and happily agreeing that we absolutely would, when a gentleman told us seriously interrupted to remind us that it would be considered unacceptable these days for two men to discuss a woman politician in such terms.

I didn’t like to upset him by suggesting that there might still be dark corners of new and old media where men assess the shaggability of women in public life (ask Angela Rayner), but his rebuke was about a Broader point: when it comes to objectification, we currently enjoy a brief window of license denied to men.

It’s still okay for women to crack a joke commenting on whether men’s bodies are fit or not, because the balance of power has been so grotesquely lopsided for so long that a few Boddingtons ads in the 1990s and Fleabag snuck up. going to an Obama speech still barely tips the scales. In part, it’s OK precisely because it’s presented as a joke; men rarely feel threatened by women who comment on their bodies, even if they don’t take advantage of it.

There’s also the unspoken law that men aren’t supposed to care what people say about their looks, let alone show that their feelings have been hurt by a personal remark. But that could be about to change, after last week’s decision by an employment tribunal, which ruled that a West Yorkshire electrician, called a ‘bald asshole’ by his male boss, had been the victim of sexual harassment.

Leaving aside the fact that “bald pussy” is inevitably funny, especially when you imagine it being shouted by one man at another during an argument over a machine cover in the offices of the British Bung Company (which, by the way, by the way, would be a big name for Sunak’s Treasury if it plans to change its name), let’s consider what constitutes sexual harassment. Court judges ruled the incident was comparable to a previous case of a man commenting on the size of a woman’s breasts in the workplace; in both cases, they said, the insult was specific to the gender of the victim, thus: sexual harassment.

What they seem to have glossed over in this comparison is the intent of the insulter. Ask any woman what sexual harassment looks like and she’ll tell you it’s bullying. It’s the fear that a comment about your boobs will get out of hand; it’s the ostensibly disparaging reminder that some of your superiors or male colleagues will always see you primarily as breasts and ass. Is a man who makes fun of another man’s baldness really in the same category? I am not convinced.

Of course, it goes without saying that men can be victims of sexual harassment at work, and it can be much more difficult for them to come forward. It’s also a positive step if men are willing to publicly acknowledge that they find insults about their appearance detrimental; boys are conditioned so early to ignore this stuff as jokes. But let’s not blur the lines by suggesting that calling someone “bald,” even contemptuously, amounts to sexual intimidation. If everything is sexual harassment, then nothing is; this kind of upgrade is just a flattening that serves no one.

Stephanie Merritt’s latest novel is While You Sleep

theguardian Gt

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.