25 Burning Questions

Holly Combe answers the questions men are "too embarrassed to ask"

, 16 April 2003

Writer’s note: This piece, along with the subsequent comments about it in November and December 2005, contains uncritical use of dated and disablist language. This would not be in the article if it was being written now, but has been left in for transparency.

On 16 March, the MSN homepage (www.msn.co.uk) revealed, apparently ‘for the first time’, those ‘burning questions that men are dying to ask women, but are too embarrassed to admit’.

What a surprise I got when I discovered these ‘burning questions’ to actually be the very boring, dated and essentially patriarchal questions that most intelligent men have been bored with for ages now but the general “Mr. Average” stereotype is supposed to feel compelled to ask. Take a look readers and I think you’ll discover that these are not really the questions men are ‘too embarrassed to ask’ but the ones they are at risk of forgetting (if we feminists stop being so bloody pessimistic and start using our influence). In fact, I’d say they aren’t really intended as questions at all, and merely serve as a reflection of the ideology men are expected to adopt.

Admittedly, the Everyman role represented by MSN is still being played out. You can meet this character in any pub or club. You can observe him mindlessly and ritualistically persisting with those familiar jovial musings that the media dutifully keeps so fresh in his mind. If you so wish, you can play the Everywoman in this exercise in reinforcing gender identity. It’s been vigorously promoted to Everyman all his sad oppressed life so he’ll surely thank you for it.

MSN’s saying men are ‘too embarrassed’ is certainly pretty crafty. It looks to me like a rather desperate appeal to the bold masculine ego that men have been taught to emulate. Political correctness doesn’t affect Real Men who are Down-to-Earth and speak The Truth.

Someone has taken it upon themselves to speak for all men and make them look like idiots in the process

So do any men who saw these questions feel pissed off that, yet again, someone has taken it upon themselves to speak for all men and make them look like idiots in the process? Do let me know what you think of MSN’s questions. Were you seriously dying to ask them? I’d be especially interested in hearing from any of you who were.

I sent these answers to MSN and wasn’t surprised when they didn’t respond or, as far as I know, put them online. As I said, they’re probably not really meant as questions at all and weren’t intended to stimulate a dialogue of any kind (though they were apparently ‘burning enough to get put online again on 28 March).

So here are my personal answers to MSN’s imaginary ‘Everyman’. And no, I don’t claim to speak for all women….

1. Why do you all wish we were more like Ralph Fiennes?

Re-phrase- Why do you wish you were more like Ralph Fiennes? Does he tend to play rather classical romantic characters? If so, I’m guessing that perhaps you are fantasising that women all yearn for the traditional (but ‘sensitive’) heroic type because basically that is what you would like to be.

2. Do you or don’t you want us to open the door for you? Just let us know, and that’s what we’ll do.

Yes. I’d do the same for you. Nice trick question that one by the way. I start to answer ‘yes but…’ and you stop me right there and say according the rules I MUST answer yes or no. Well the full answer may not only be just one word but it is simple. Yes I do want you to open the door but, as I have said before on The F-Word, please give any ham-fisted performances that might come with the door opening a miss. By this, I mean expectant stares (I know it’s a shame ladies don’t blush much anymore but you’re going to have to get over it), big grand sweeping hand movements (it’s a supermarket door, not the gate to paradise) and general invasion of my personal space (perhaps you’re concerned that I might fall down in a swoon and want to make sure I make it through the door okay, but hovering your hand a few centimetres from my bottom is no less rude than actually giving it a playful pinch).

3. Why is it you look so cute in pigtails?

How tawdry. If you want to attach cuteness or sweetness to the way I choose to wear my hair, that’s your business. I can’t speak for you.

4. Why the fascination with Harrison Ford? He’s old enough to be your father, for God’s sake?

Because we just love having someone distinguished to look up to! Is that the answer you were looking for? Again, I have to ask what is your fascination with Harrison Ford? He’s clearly a role model of yours. You seem to think that telling me I love older men will make it true and keep the legacy alive for when you’re old and grey and want to continue pursuing young women. By the way, I asked around and couldn’t find any female friends who were both ‘fascinated with Harrison Ford’ and young enough to be his daughter. Perhaps you were just addressing the question to Calista Flockhart?

We would be better off forgetting the stupid battle-of-the sexes baggage

5. When you ask “Does this look okay?” do you want honesty or support? We can do both.

You seem to genuinely mean well on this one. However, I’m also guessing that on reading this question, we are meant to picture Everyman, scratching his head like a confused panto character and throwing his hands up and merrily saying ‘women eh?’ when Everywoman explodes at his incorrect answer (because she is overly needy of his approval and asking questions she doesn’t really want a sensible or honest answer to). Instead of partaking in a game in which every participant plays the complimentary fool, we would be better off just forgetting the stupid battle-of-the sexes baggage. We should, instead, be judging every person in our lives as an individual. In doing this, we can (if we wish) give our partners what we think they are asking for accordingly. Sometimes we’ll get it wrong, but the scary truth is that we can’t expect to apply a set of dated rules and then live happily ever after. As Kylie once sang ‘life can be difficult at times but it is by design’.

Basically, if you can do both honesty and support you can also make the effort to get to know the woman you date instead of treating her like yet another sample of ‘Woman’ as you know it. Stop being so lazy.

6. How can you complain endlessly about having “so much work to do” and then find the time to go shopping or talk to someone on the phone for two hours?

Oh that will be because it was all a lie and I don’t really actually have anything worthwhile to do. Right? I think this is just your wishful fantasy of the kept and irresponsible woman. And I take it you never procrastinate? When we have lots to do, we all slack off from time to time. And, shockingly, shopping is not the first thing on my mind when I want to relax. You may also be surprised to learn that when I am just about to spend a couple of hours with a friend anyway, I do not feel the need to chat on the phone for ages. How un-feminine!

7. Do you ever get tired of watching The Sound of Music?

Why do you ask? Do you ever tire of it? It’s okay to admit it you know.

I have never even bothered to watch it all the way through myself.

8. Why is every anniversary such a big thing to you? I’m not talking about yearly anniversaries, but our first date? Our first kiss? The first time I met your mother?

Oh how jolly. Instead of just saying straight out that she wants to celebrate an anniversary, Everywoman drops miniscule hints that Everyman is actually required to miss entirely (to reinforce how manly is) and then gets incredibly upset (handily reinforcing how womanly she is) when the Big Day comes and, alas, he has forgotten it. A row ensues, followed by a sexy making up where Everywoman and Everyman feel all warm inside and laugh to themselves and celebrate how ‘different’ they are.

In answer to your question: women are taught to value their memories more than men are. It’s as simple as that.

9. Do you think I’m better looking than Jamie Theakston?

On the larger scale of things it really doesn’t matter but I will say it’s good to see that men are finally realising they need to make some effort and care about their grooming.

10. How can you always remember those little things, like Great-Great Aunt Emma’s birthday or the anniversary of Cousin Susie’s dog’s death?

That’ll be because I leave the big important things to you darling! Seriously, I don’t automatically remember all those things and if I do remember any of them at all it’s probably because I wrote them down. Sorry to ruin the magic with that revelation.

Please also see my answer to question 8.

11. Why do you always ask us questions when you already know the answers?

When a person does this, they are looking for reassurance. It is also clear that they respect your opinion. Are you really so low in self-esteem that you think your opinion is not worth voicing? If your answer is the same as what she hopes or expects anyway (as your question suggests) then you won’t be in for any of those complications that you seem so afraid of.

12. How can you always be up for going shopping?

I’m not. Money doesn’t last forever and I like to have control over my life. If you spend money that you don’t have, you’ll always be a slave. Please also see my answer to question 6.

13. Chest hair – good or bad?

Again, why the need for rules? A girl can change her mind. So can you.

14. Boxers or briefs? Be honest.

Who’s been secretly strutting about in a nice tight pair of briefs then?

It seems to me that many people are so disgusted and embarrassed by male genitals that they prefer them to remain hidden until the very last minute possible. Briefs may be the unfashionable answer but they definitely show off the male body more. Boxers are fine but they look very scruffy when they show above the trouser line. If you want to wear briefs, I won’t hold it against you. In fact, I would applaud your decision. Bring back briefs!

15. Why do you find it endearing when a guy’s in love and won’t take no for an answer in the movies, but in real life you call it stalking?

You clearly want the answer to be ‘because deep down we’re just playing hard to get’. You probably also know ‘deep down’ that this is just a just a fantasy on your part.

My answer would be that I do not find male pushiness endearing in the movies and nor would I define it as stalking in ‘real life’ (as I am perfectly capable of getting rid of someone who doesn’t interest me). However, some women who don’t actually want a ‘stalker’ do enjoy the pushy lover fantasy. You just have to remember that, sometimes, what we fantasise about and what we really want are two totally separate things.

16. Why is it so easy for you to stop and ask directions?

Because I have been trained to think I can’t find my way, just the same as you have been trained to think that admitting when you can’t would make you inadequate and ‘not a man’ (i.e you have been trained to think that women are inadequate).

17. How do you innately seem to know what can or can’t go in the dryer?

It isn’t innate darling so don’t kid yourself. The reason I know what can or can’t go in the dryer is because I have been taught how to do my washing. You, however, have been led to believe that a woman will do it for you.

18. Why do you always complain about your mothers and then end up talking to them for hours upon hours?

Isn’t this a variation on what happens in most family relationships, regardless of gender? Is the implied answer meant to be something trite about us being ‘doomed’ to turn into our mothers?

19. Why do you always go to the bathroom in groups?

Because we aren’t virtually forced to actually pee in front of each other like you are (not without invitation into a cubicle anyway). Our society’s homophobia is now hidden underneath a veneer of tolerance so boys are usually subtly brought up to avoid looking gay. All of this means that going into the loo with your mates, chatting and laughing and generally hanging out would seem like you were getting too close and into the whole ‘peeing together’ thing. It would break the respectful solemnity of the urinal set-up.

20. Facial hair. Good or bad?

I’m glad you value my opinion but you can’t possibly expect a big fat rule designed by Everywoman to Everyman.

I’ll give you my subjective answer anyway: good for dad, bad for lover.

21. Looks or money?

Definitely not money, though I reckon you were hoping I’d say it. That way, you can make zero effort with your appearance and stay in financial control, while I keep both our home and myself all nice for you. And who can blame you entirely? Times may have been changing for the better but it is still a privilege you’ve been brought up to expect (though not one I am prepared to aid I might add).

22. When you ask, ?If I died, would you remarry?? what exactly are you looking for?

Now it’s you who is asking questions you know the answer to. Because our society idealises monogamy, we are encouraged to think that the only way to know we are truly valued by a person is to be loved exclusively by them. Paradoxically, the current approach to monogamy is also serial. So we are also expected to turn off these feelings when they are inappropriate (i.e when a relationship ends or someone dies). The chances are that the woman who asked this question knows you should be able to enjoy your life after she has gone but can’t square this with what her ego has been trained to feel and so secretly hopes you will say no one could ever replace her.

23. If I died, would you remarry?

Yes I think I might. Though who’s to say the two of us bothered with marriage anyway? Good to see you admitting to a few similarities between us by the way. See also above.

24. Does your dad like me? No, seriously.

Not all dads are jealous sexists with double standards you know. I know it’s nice if all the people close to a person can get along but why should you care too much anyway? It’s not like he owns me. (If men didn’t still give their daughters away during marriage ceremonies, we wouldn’t still get asked silly questions like this.)

25. How do you mange to be so cute, charming, silly, frustrating, beautiful, mysterious, complicated, simple and unbelievably interesting? Honestly.

Thanks for the compliment but how could you possibly know all this when you’ve never met me? Are you listing what you would define as exclusively female traits?

How can you assume that the above are burning questions for all men? Or that all the women who read this are all the above things?

Anyway, must rush. I’ve enjoyed our little chat. Do have a proper think about what I’ve said.

Lots of Love,

Holly xx

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