Leaning in at the swimming pool: thoughts on Sandberg, Peterson and men being annoying

So I was in the swimming baths – Beckenham Spa if you want to know, which you do, nosy – and I was doing a few lengths of my pretty average breast stroke in the medium lane, and there’s a guy doing his pretty average front crawl, about the same pace as me, but after a while he decides

I’m in the wrong lane. My front crawl is so superior and stellar that, by rights, I should be in with the champions, in the fast lane.

So off he goes, to the fast lane, where he continues his sub-par thrashing about, where there is a woman doing what I would describe as proper swimming: front crawl, high elbow, easy breathing, not too much splash, cutting through the water with the smooth efficiency of a German stereotype

and she finds herself being obstacled by Mr Sub-Par Thrasher, who absolutely refuses to cede any lane space to her because, well, he’s got some balls, and she hasn’t, and that’s that.

All the other men in the fast lane were also:

  1. Not very good at swimming
  2. Not going very fast, and
  3. Not letting her go by.

So, after a while, she decides to sack it off and goes to the middle lane with a float to do some still-pretty-nifty legs-only lengths.

Which brings me to Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, which is basically 200-odd pages of gentle encouragement for women to, politely, not put up with men in the fast lane who want you to drop down a lane or, better, get out of the pool altogether.

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Sheryl Sandberg: she’s probably doing an email with the other hand while posing for this photo

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook, and probably up there with Stakhanov, Sisyphus and Sonic the Hedgehog as one of the hardest working S’s in the world, ever. Her idea of flexitime is taking a couple of hours off to have dinner with her kids, before working until the wrong side of midnight.

She thinks that if women were better at advancing their own and other women’s causes in the workplace, and men were prepared to do half the housework, you would soon be close to getting 50% of top jobs held by women. She thinks that would be desirable for both women and men.

It is fair to say that Jordan B Peterson doesn’t agree.

In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he takes the view that most women in really high-powered jobs back away from the demands of a career at the very top when they start having a family, because their priorities change.

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Apart from him getting intense on Marxist postmodernists (by which I think he means the kind of spoken word poet types I hang out with) this is a really good book.

Peterson takes the long view that this is how men and women have always been, and it won’t change, so there.

Without wanting to align myself as a wishy-washy centrist, I’d say that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Sandberg outlines, with devastating honesty, the toll her work has taken on her family life. She talks about her daughter holding onto her leg at the airport telling her not to get on a flight (to do a talk about women in the workplace).

She admits, “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone.”

Obviously, most people aren’t up for that level of work devotion when there’s telly to watch and stuff. But perhaps more men are, as Peterson suggests, by their very nature, driven towards that kind of lifestyle, and to make those kind of choices.

Which brings me back to the swimming baths, and some questions:

Why didn’t the female swimmer simply swim more aggressively so that she asserted her rightful dominance as the best swimmer in the pool?

Is it simply human nature for men to want to dominate literally every situation except childbirth and the washing-up?

Clearly, I don’t know.

But it would be nice if just one geezer doing his bog-standard Sunday morning lengths could notice a woman who is better than him and, if he can’t admit she is better, at least revert to chivalry, and doff his swimming cap, and let her pass.

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A nice head and shoulders of Beckenham Spa. There’s a recycling centre in the car park as well.
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The Joy of Hair: how England got over Beckham

The perestroika era arrives for England’s players

We all saw it. The goal had more than a touch of luck about it, with Steven Gerrard’s cross deflected off of the Ukrainian defender’s ballbags, past the keeper for Wayne Rooney to nod home from six inches.

But it was the celebration that caught the eye. Because it was in Rooney’s celebration that we saw an England team usher in a new age and finally move on from the tyrrany of the Beckham era.

To recap, Rooney celebrated his goal in unique fashion, by pretending to apply hairspray.

It emerged afterwards that Rooney, hugely enjoying the versatility of his hair implants, has been sharing product with Andy Carroll.

This was a simple act of hair-kinship between two strikers which would have been unthinkable during Beckham’s decade or so in the England team.

While Beckham was an excellent player, there can be no doubt that he would never allow anyone else to show creativity when it came to hair, and this hampered the team’s performances. With his lucrative contracts with both Gillette and Brylcreem, Beckham stamped out any meek, honest expression of grooming from any other England player.*

Even two years ago, Beckham was at the 2010 World Cup simply  as ‘player liaison’, a made-up role which ensured the subjugation of our players to ensure none of them made an attempt to, as they say in the rap game, ‘shine on his shit.’ And what happened? It was England’s most miserable tournament performance in living memory, perhaps ever.

It is only now, with Beckham occupied growing his luxuriant moustache in preparation for the Olympics – where, incidentally, it can be presumed Great Britain will perform atrociously – that this England Euro 2012 squad are beginning to express themselves hair-wise.

Rooney appears to be developing a quiff of which Elvis Presley would approve; Andy Carroll is there, ponytail full and in effect, flourishing the full mane towards the end of games; Ashley Cole, who has never showed any signs of freedom of hair expression previously, is now attempting a junior mohawk; even Jermain Defoe, while rarely seen on the pitch, is showing his support with his subtly effective peroxide dye job.

Clearly, this is a team just beginning to express itself. The dark days of the Beckham autocracy are still a very recent memory for many of these players and their confidence is, for some, including Gerrard, fragile at best.

It is true that England may not yet have enough style, team spirit and hair-quality to pull off a tournament win, or even a final appearance. However, this is already the most promising England performance since Euro 96 – the last major tournament over which Beckham’s malign influence did not loom.

Going into the quarter-final against Italy, when faced with Balotelli’s dazzling blond mohican, and Andrea Pirlo’s Steven Tyleresque layer and flow, England remain underdogs.

But what we do have is a group of players unafraid to openly experiment with different hairstyles with the full support of their team-mates. The choice of Krakow as base for England has been questioned by many, but perhaps being in the land where the Perestroika movement rose and eventually crushed the tyrannical Soviet regime, is exactly the sort of historical influence our lads need right now.

We are becoming a team of which England hair greats such as Kevin Keegan and Chris Waddle can be rightly proud. However far we eventually progress in this tournament our lads are doing it together and I, with my twin loves of football and hair, am immensely proud.

*Bar Glen Johnson who effectively acted as a foil for Beckham’s hairstyles down the right flank, giving him something to work off, and David James, whose constant pratfalls nullified his threat.