Surveyors know that chivalry isn’t dead and thanks to a mixture of male pride and vanity, a female cold caller will nearly always elicit a response from a man
If you are carrying out a telephone survey into the tastes and preferences of men, it helps if you are female. To the male of the species there is something about the soothing voice of a woman at the other end of the line that draws the sting from an unsolicited call.
When a woman seeks a man’s opinion it rarely fails to bring to the surface the vanity that lies waiting to bubble up from the shallows of the male ego.
It doesn’t always work, however. Recently I was engaged in a spot of DIY involving glue, wood and nails – a task which, for reasons I shall not go into here, I was attempting in the wrong order – when the phone began to ring. It was a charming young woman who explained that she was conducting a survey into clothing and was desperate to elicit the views of a man (she didn’t exactly say “any man”, but that was the gist of it) and could I help? With the glue fast setting between my hand and the receiver, and with three nails in my mouth, I regret to admit my reply was short and tinged with asperity. Note, however, my regret.
Later, my customary composure restored, I was sorry that I had been so abrupt; it was completely contrary to the code of the Murrays, whose escutcheon is emblazoned with the emblem of chivalry. On the other hand, had the caller been male, my only regret would have been a failure to employ language of a riper hue.
I was reminded of my discourtesy when I saw the results of a phone poll of 500 men conducted on behalf of Norwich Union Healthcare. The results suggested that a third of men hate their stomachs, 20% are unhappy with their legs and a quarter admit to having problems with their entire body. These findings could have been elicited only by a female caller. Caught glued or unglued, most men, if asked by an unsolicited male caller to name the parts of their body which they least liked, would respond by suggesting a part of the caller’s body into which he might care to insert his survey.
But a woman caller is sure to evoke a quite different, altogether more emollient, even simpering, response. A gentleman of the old school, on hearing a woman’s voice on the phone, might draw himself to his full height and flick a speck of dust from a lapel before lowering his voice an octave or two in order to give full expression to the richness of his male persona. Even a modern man might, under similar circumstances, straighten an earring and wipe the remnants of Kentucky Fried Chicken from his FCUK T-shirt.
At any rate, Norwich Union was so pleased with the results it had obtained that it rushed into print with the “news” that “the days when a man’s beer belly was shown off as a symbol of his manliness are over”. This is, of course, nonsense. First, a random telephone survey of 500 men cannot be taken to prove anything of value. Secondly, as I have suggested, the results are certain to be skewed because of the eagerness of the male to please the female caller. I am sure it is true of almost all of us, male or female, that, given the chance to return certain of our body parts to the maker with instructions to re-supply them as per the dimensions specified on the form, we would proceed without hesitation. But that is merely to state the obvious.
I do not, however, doubt that the survey sample was representative. Just as it is impossible to bung a brick into a football crowd without hitting one of nature’s graver errors between the eyes, no bookmaker would give you favourable odds against a British man, telephoned at random, being overweight at the circumference and bald at the apex. That is the way we make them these days. In Victorian England men were thin and whiskered. Today the opposite obtains.
What was truly saddening about the survey was that the body most men aspire to is that of England football captain David Beckham, with actor Brad Pitt and Welsh rugby hero Gavin Henson following close behind. That inside every Robbie Coltrane or Ross Kemp there is a toned and muscled athlete beating against the bars of the ribcage screaming to be released is pitiable.
But it was ever thus; we all dream of perfection. I don’t suppose the lady callers of Norwich Union got round to discussing with their respondents the part of the body that can cause the fretful male the most anguish and inner disquiet. Had they done so, to Beckham, Pitt and Henson they could have added the name of any farmyard donkey.