Saturday, June 6, 2015

Thinking about men in my life

I have always been a fan of men, and during my adolescent years actually found that I favoured the company of men rather than my female peers.  At that time, the women seemed more complex and difficult to predict, and the power games that were at play were beyond my ability to negotiate.  I had no female friends for an entire year of my schooling because of some female bitching that I never understood.  I then gradually and carefully re-built a mixed friendship group, but it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I finally found a woman that I could confidently call my best friend.  This was a turning point, and maturity, combined with motherhood has bought me back to women, and I am deeply indebted to the women friends in my life for their love, support and flexibility.  In addition, it seems that life is a long game, and where women were perhaps more complex at the onset of adulthood, it is middle age that seems to challenge men.

These relationships between men and women have been of renewed interest to me lately as I have turned my attention to using music to end gender-based violence against women and girls.  Power has been an ongoing theme in my exploration of this topic, and I have been reflecting on my own experiences in relation to the theoretical and advocacy literature that I have been consuming.  In doing this, it occurs to me that there are two types of men in my world at the moment.  There is the traditional man and the equitable man.  They often appear the same based on how they look, dress and talk; I have only been able to distinguish between the two types based on how they respond when I assert my own power.  Some men tolerate it until it reaches a point where they can’t anymore.  Others enjoy it and are happy to switch between being the leader and being directed, as suits the situation and each person’s strengths and interests.

I think the traditional, tolerant men believe they are good and fair men.  They accept that I earn more money than them, although they secretly wonder how it happened and quietly feel that I have benefitted from ‘women’s lib’ in the same way that they have been downtrodden by it.  They notice that I work, but they assume this must be to the detriment of my children and do not, for a minute, consider that their father should have to compensate for any absences that occur due to work.  This is most actively demonstrated when I travel for work and people say ‘oh, that must be tough on your husband’, rather than, ‘oh, your husband must benefit from the income you bring in that allows him to pursue his passions; nice to see that you get some benefits too.’  At a dinner party recently, an older woman friend of mine made the point quite nicely when she said ‘don’t you dare congratulate him for drying the dishes, it is the only thing he does.’  She loves her husband, and this was not intended as a criticism; rather, it was a reminder about equity.

There is little emphasis on gender equity in Australian culture, so the tolerant men I know are constantly congratulated for their contemporary stance.  “Oh, that is sooo wonderful that you dropped the kids to school today, how does your work react when you come in late?” In contrast, the attitude to me is “Oh, you’re dressed up, do you have to go in to work again?  How do you juggle it all!” This is also enacted in a myriad of ways that attract excellent social commentary from the young feminist women I read and speak with.  It was painful to watch the Australian police respond to the rape of a young woman in a park during the day by saying that women should not walk alone in parks. Why not acknowledge that we have a problem with male violence?!?  Similarly, there is a legal clause that allows men to claim that they were provoked to murder their estranged spouse because she did something deserving like … oh you know, challenge their masculinity.  There are many little acts in Australian culture that support the idea that men are already being generous to women by allowing them to have a seat at the table.  In some places, women are even allowed to speak.  But, to continue the metaphor, women are not yet allowed to speak if they disagree with the men at the table, and they certainly should never try and suggest they may be the cause of the problem.

Feminists who choose to speak about women’s rights on social media have shares the horrendous comments made by men when they dare to suggest that male behaviour is inappropriate.  How dare we protest that a child’s computer game routinely includes raping women as part of the chase!  Surely it’s ok to have magazines in supermarkets that promote rape culture by telling young men to ignore women’s protests and help themselves to the action!?!   As the hyperlinks in this blog suggest, women are beginning to protest against a number of male privileges that have been in place, without being questioned, for a long time.  The road is rocky, and many men have been getting angry.

That is the experience in my life too.  I am allowed to go so far, but at a certain point, the tolerant men begin to put on the brakes.  They begin to question my motives. They begin to blame me when their wives also start to protest.  They credit a fellow man’s incongruent descriptions of me above what they know from their own encounters with me.  They make intentionally sexist jokes just to get a rise out of me.  These men are often ‘snags’ (in the old language) and ‘hipsters’ (in the new language).  Perhaps they do not realise that they are enacting the traditional rules of men having the power and choosing when they distribute it, and when they don’t. As with all of us in a privileged position, they cannot see what I am talking about when I suggest their position is not equitable.

On the other hand, I increasingly meet a new brand of man.  These men have their own internal power.  They do not need to take it from those around them.  They have an abundance attitude which suggests that there is plenty more power where that came from.  These men that I know love women.  They love powerful women. They love vulnerable women. They love other, equity-oriented men, and interestingly, they can smell the men who still want to control the behaviours of others.  I am yet to develop such a good sense of smell, but I am working on it.  The smell of the new kind of man is tantalising, I must say.  Long live great men. May my own marvellous son grow up to be one.