Friday, 11 May 2012

On a certain kind of despair 1

Young male hoodie

This morning on Radio 4  on Thought of the Day John Bell of the Iona Community - the man who had on a previous ToD damned the English as a people far inferior to Scots - ran through all the dreadful things that are done by men as a gender. There was a long list. It turned out this was apropos the Rochdale case but the charge was not against those particular men: it was against maleness as a category.

It threw me into a deep depression, out of which I write now, so readers may attribute whatever I say to that condition, but I  was, and still am ,very low, close at moments to a near-suicidal despair. I tried to to think of one positive value, a single virtue, in forty years - that is all my adult years - that has been ascribed to men in general. I cannot think of one, nor of any occasion on which it might have been attempted. None that I knew of in my own society anyway, or in what I read. Of vices several, forty continuous years of it, week on week, day on day. The other Sunday Esther Rantzen claimed that the idea of women and children first (into the lifeboats, that is) was unique to the Titanic and that it was only the case because the captain had a gun. In other words the men who had died were just scared of the captain's gun and no worth was to be attributed to them.

I want to make a distinction. As an individual man, I - and many other individual men - have been admitted to possess a few gifts and virtues, but that was on an individual basis, in effect despite the category: male. The virtues we, as individuals, might have been deemed to have were distinct from the category. The category itself was irredeemably worthless, harmful, stupid, feckless, malevolent. Everything else was a void. That is what you, as a member of the category:male had as your starter kit. It was never completely clear whether this was nature or nurture, cultural or genetic, but after so many years it the unavoidable conclusion is that it is genetic. The male gene is the bad gene. All vice was located there: all virtue, all worth, all true heroism was located in the female.

I should make another distinction, quite an obvious one. I have very rarely met a woman who was instinctively hostile to me as a man. It has happened three or four times in my life. Sometimes you could see the hostility itching to get out but on the overwhelming whole I have liked women and they, as individuals, have liked me, sometimes even while speaking against maleness as a category. Individually I have enjoyed three great Freudian comforts: fame (of a minor literary kind), money (well no, never had money but did have a job and luck when it was needed), and the love of women (I have felt it and hope I was not imagining it out of male self-flattery).

Interesting that the love of women should seem to be such an important factor in a man's life. I remember my mother telling me as a young child that I could never love her as much as she loved me. It seemed unfair, an accusation I couldn't possibly answer, but perhaps it was true. It must have seemed true to her, defining love as she might have defined it.

One post isn't going to be enough on this, even as a starting point for something I have no time to finish now and this one is in danger of getting too long. So I will move on to part 2 in the next blog.


havantaclu said...

George - there is a horrible cultural construct being built up to try to stereotype every aspect of maleness as necessarily evil. In my humble opinion all of this is culturally influenced by a few individuals, who in themselves have one unacceptable trait or another, being projected as the typical male. There is no such thing - any more than there is an average man (or woman). You know this yourself, but at the moment you are being vilified by a person or persons with an agenda, and you're being hurt by the implications. The fact that you're being hurt shows that you are neither an average man or a typical male - as I have already said, there is no such thing. As a woman myself (and I have been accused by some people of having feminist views), I am sorry that your mother told you that you could never love her as she loved you. This has its own truth, in that the bond of mother/child is a special one, so that there is a powerfully visceral tug between the mother and her child. But the conscious love that you have felt for your mother is in every way equal to that she has felt for you.
Your poetry tells me that.

I wish you healing. I wish you love, and peace - of mind, of soul, of spirit.


George S said...

That's very kind Jeni, but I have nothing against feminism. It has done much good work. Almost every woman I know is a feminist and we like each other just fine.

The chief point is that I personally want no sympathy. I have enough. I know I am and have been loved.

But there is no use making me an exception. I have rarely if ever been criticised as an exception. It is the category itself. No one can bring themselves to say anything nice about men in general. The very word 'masculine' has been denuded of virtue.

Nor is it fair of me to expect you, or any other correspondent, to suddenly launch into encomiums of male hood. Men themselves don't expect it. All I can expect is that some people read this and think a bit, and that the next time they roll through our vices they might give just an internal thought to our virtues. If, that is, we have any.

havantaclu said...

George - I shan't launch into any encomiums, but I will say this.

I have known a lot of individuals, both male and female, and only two gave me the feeling that there was nothing worth while about them - nothing to which I could relate. That includes some criminals. The ones whom I sensed as malevolent weren't criminals.

I'm sure that, even for them, I was probably missing something. I don't believe in the innate goodness or badness of mankind - unlike, I suspect, the member of the Iona Community on Thought for the Day. Vices, virtues - we each have a package of them given to us by the mere fact of our humanity - it is how the individual develops these that counts.

panther said...

Am saddened and depressed to hear of John Bell's comments.

Just as ridiculous as someone,on hearing of one or two Jews doing something despicable concluding, "Ah, this is the nature of Jewishness. If other Jews have not yet committed such hideousness, it is only a matter of time.They are obviously itching to do so. They are Jews, after all."

But there are laws against the latter. Rightly so.

And his comments strike me as worryingly self-hating, as if on one level he wants to castrate himself. (No, am not a Freudian psychoanalyst or likely to become one. But the suspicion arises, none the less.) Does he think maybe that such remarks will endear him to women ? As a woman, I can only say I am very much not endeared by them. What he is adopting isn't a feminist position, it is a position of hatred. However softly spoken he is, however many nice jumpers he wears.

On a much happier note, is this handsome smiling fellow at the top of the article your grandson ?

George S said...

Thank you, panther. No, not mine. He is just a baby in blue. Grandson is rather handsome though, with great laughing eyes, Clarissa has just been over there looking into them.

panther said...

I don't want to be terribly nosey, but has your grandson had the operation yet on his cleft palate ? Best wishes to him.

George S said...

Yes, thank you. And he smiles a lot. I'll see if parents are happy for a picture to go up.

TomS said...

I'm actually trying to understand why you care about anything Esther Rantzen or anyone appearing on Thought of the Day might say. Both in my mind are a complete waste of space and time.

I know this is a subject that you come to from time to time. I wonder how much of this might be a generational thing? .

I agree you don't have to look far to get annoyed about in the media when it comes to gender stereotypes (for both sexes however). Simplistic media messages do tend to reduce us men to either as stupid, occasionally violent creatures, and women to vacuous self-obsessed consumers. But then listening to 90% of paid 'pundits' is bound to drive one to distraction.

Personally speaking (and maybe I'm being incredibly thick skinned) I can't say I've ever sensed any hatred towards me as a male. I work professionally with women as peers, bosses and subordinates and gender politics never crosses my mind. I"m not remotely ashamed to be a male, neither do I see it as a particular privilege (though I think perhaps we do share a few still). It never occurred to me that any of the woman in my life have ever considered me in this light either (they certainly didn't express it).

But then for my generation, Greer is just a pundit who occasionally appears on panel shows to review films.

George S said...

Tom S - I may be being thin skinned but my skin has had forty years of it so it has worn a little thin.

I don't think the representation of men and women is as you see it. Advertisers take enormous care with images of men and women because of spending power. The media, by which I mean not only journalists, columnists, broadcasters etc, as well as the shapers of opinion through books and education have long inculcated the views I notice and they worry me.

They worry me because the impact is less on men who are successful and articulate and much more on those who are not.

Three times as many men as women kill themselves ( Suicide rates among young men under forty-five doubled between 1950-1998, being particularly bad in men in their 20s, then held steady, though according other sources, it is rising again. Nevertheless, the male-female balance remains. Interestingly, male suicide rate rises again in the age group 65-75, probably because men might feel their usefulness is at an end, and their lives have only ever been measured in terms of usefulness.

The material on male incompetence and brutality continues to accumulate week on week. Some people demand that boys' books (and boys read far fewer books) should show them doing more girly things, because books in which seems strong give them an advantage over girls. That of course is unlikely to increase the number of boys reading.

You haven't spent your life in education as I have. That makes a difference. The debates here go on. The images in papers and publicity always show female success, hardly ever male. I don't worry particularly about Esther Rantzen nor indeed about Greer now but they are representative of important factors.

The phrase you use '90% of paid pundits' is roughly right. But that's a lot of public people and while they may not have an effect on you, they are widely read, respected and quoted, which is what makes them pundits.

I was very careful to distance personal and individual experience from representation in general. I too have worked with women as colleagues of course, for a very long time and have had perfectly fine female bosses, and not cared a white whether they were male or female. Nevertheless I have been careful in case I say anything even faintly construable as wrong (not that I have been tempted to) nevertheless the care remained a constant factor, just in case I ever should be careless or be tempted.

The disjunction between what women say in particular and what they say in general is considerable - and I cannot help but be aware of it. Probably because I am thinner-skinned, but then thin skins, or sensitivity, is long associated with my vocation, sensitivity in particular to language being a crucial part of it.

I could go on for a very long time - I have the 'scientific' material and the links - about the way men are thought to be to blame for everything and to be praised for nothing. Each individual case is just that, but cumulatively it constitutes a climate.

You are in the safe generation (for now). In most company you'd be regarded as a very decent and articulate alpha male. That is always a pleasure. There are many who are none of those things.