Friday, 11 May 2012

On a certain kind of despair 2

One of the difficulties of the situation is that I couldn't help being of the category:male;  that despite being an individual man I am not, nor ever could be, detached from the category. The category has been with me throughout my entire life and sometimes I have felt as though my back and heart was breaking under the weight of it, a weight that increases year on year.

I have seen many men dissociate themselves from category:male but I have never completely believed them, just as I have never believed those who say that it is the worst thing of all to be human because humans desecrate the planet. I suspect these are gestures by which people seek to cast off blame and transfer it elsewhere.  And of course that must mean that the blame exists, and exists so burningly it must be cut away altogether.  In effect they are going around with boards proclaiming: Not in my name. As if such proclamations were anything but a form of narcissism or self-advertising, I am blameless. 

Writing this, as I do in despair, I am aware it is likely to be read as an eccentric and pitiable post, somehow not befitting. Saying such things isn't done, except by the mad and pitiable. You are simply not facing the truth, readers will argue. And the whole truth must include the fact that your relations with women have been good. You have been loved.

In other words you are exaggerating. It's the psychological equivalent of 'man-flu': just another example of the vices of which you are being accused (just not in the way you so pitiably think).

It may be so but in this condition I see no sense in being. I feel like saying: if that is the case, kill your male children at birth. Let us have no more males. The individual exceptions only go to prove the rule. The world would be better off without them. It would have been better if they had never existed. Then vice will have been eradicated and such minor vices as the female species might have, which are as nothing in the balance as the Iona Community man claims, might end as no vice at all.

And I remember and always will: your category has no value or virtue; you are all bastards; you are all rapists, as a class, you are no good for anything, furthermore as Greer said somewhere, you hate women. Category:male hates women and the very fact you are writing this is proof  that you are of the category:male and that therefore you hate women. QED. You, like all category:male are a misogynist.

I might at some stage write something about why some men might hate womankind. The exercise would involve swimming in deep and dangerous waters where it would be important to draw precise distinctions between niggle, annoyance, dislike and hatred. And with some men, no doubt, it would extend to hatred. But I am not sure such distinctions would be allowed in deep waters so I'll probably just leave it.

I imagine the boys brought up with this consciousness of maleness. I imagine them denying it,  hoarding it up in silence, strutting and posing as if to deny it, going on to deny it in acts of rebellion that simply become more instances of their failings and vices. The more they deny the more they become that which they are told they are. The less articulate they are the more they become the thing. They do become haters.

Having said as much I can imagine the counter-argument, which is likely to be the reassertion of the long list of wrongs perpetrated by my category. But of course that is the list I know because I have heard it from the start. And that will be called misogyny. Back to the start. QED.

I myself am an articulate European male. Any moment now someone is going to say, for god's sake shut up and take it. I can hear myself saying it. Take it like a man, it says. Whatever that is. Now I'll shut up. I haven't said any of this.


Simon Thomson said...

I find it really powerful that you're writing about this, and an exciting relief (if such an emotion is permissible) that the question of masculine identity is edging its way onto the table. There are some great groups exploring what it means to be a man in a positive way, not least in Brighton. My academic research is into how the idea of masculinity was constructed in Anglo Saxon literature, and my feeling is that it's a remarkably complex notion of constant movement and adaptation to variant contexts: maleness not as a fixed attitude or behaviour, but as the capacity to recognise shifting contexts and adapt to them. My feeling is also that an increasing rigidity - of social movement, of religion, of language - makes this untenable, and men increasingly over time have had to define themselves. Connell argues that a range of masculinities exist, essentially competing with each other, in a really interesting book.

Anyway, my point in brief is twofold:
1) thanks for writing this;
2) I agree that maleness is in a PR nightmare and that this can have terrible impact on boys growing up, but there are particles of light in the midst of this great darkness.

George S said...

Thank you, Simon. I am always a little wary of men's groups - but that is chiefly because I am wary of all groups. They are fascinating but always in danger of amplifying everything. Group-think is frightens me. One sometimes just want to make enough space to think in, and then maybe say something.

But point me to the particles of light. I hope that they're not simply the proposition that some boys might become a little more like girls, though never quite as good at it, of course, as girls are.

George S said...

ps Forgive the stupid typos, Simon. It should be 'Group-think frightens me' - chiefly because people often tend to say what they think other people want to hear.

And one 'just wants to make enough space to think in'

The Plump said...

The problem is non-thought. Rather than think, people adopt a political identity that comes with a ready-to-wear set of opinions. And this is one of them. The crime of masculinity.

Non-thought deals with contradictions by ignoring them, 'understands' the evil acts of those they sanctify as noble victims through elaborate apologias, and banishes ambiguity to the gulags of the brain. It simplifies complexity, reducing it to a single category of vice - men, Jews, immigrants, gays, Zionists, Neo-cons,etc.

But poetry is a celebration of the complex; it is all about contradiction and ambiguity - unresolved. It is thought.

A thinker confronts non-thought and despairs.

It is Friday night and I face a choice. I could go out to the pub and find my inner beast, gaze lasciviously at the young breasts of a barmaid, crack 'inappropriate' jokes, talk about football, and, on the way home, fart - loudly. But then again, I could settle down, glass in hand, and read some poetry.

Both appeal, but then I am a man.

The Plump said...


Thought judges the act.

Non-thought categorises the actor.

George S said...

There is a practical solution to the dilemma at the end, Peter. It is better time management. Go out, have a couple of pints and gaze at the young barmaid's breasts for, say fifteen minutes, ideally in the proper surreptitious manner, then return home and read the poetry. Alternatively, the effect might be enhanced if you read the poetry first. The farting could be fitted in between the two, or spread at decent intervals.

None of this would prevent you being of the category:male and therefore, a Bad Thing. I cheered myself up this afternoon by tweeting a lot of Cole Porter lyrics and entering into conversations about Porter with singers, including Anthony Minghella's jazz-singing sister, whom I have never met, but who was charming and who linked me to a couple of her recordings which were gorgeous.

As an individual it seems I get along with the world by bidding it a cheery good day and singing to it in ways that seem meaningful to me and even to some others at times. As a gender, however, I lack any virtue whatsoever. The only problems occur when my individual self and my gender coincide. I have found absolutely no evidence to contradict that view. I mean I have never in my memory come across a view that says something like 'I admire men because...' Or 'they must be given some due because...'

Clearly my task in life is to make sure that self and gender do not coincide unless commanded to do so by Her Majesty herself at some sort of Royal Variety Performance.

George S said...

To get back to you, Simon. I am sure a range of masculinities exist but I expect there are certain common denominators that might serve to get hanged by.

I suspect education, at which most boys used to do well but do very badly at now, has been tweaked to cater more to girls. The change in depiction of men on film and TV from potentially heroic figures to hapless fools, bullies or weaklings will have altered boys' idea of themselves. The relentless assassination of the male figure in the daily press will have driven many boys into the underground of the mind which is not a safe place to be. Out of sheer interest about a year agoI put into the Google the words 'men to blame' and it turned out men were to blame from pretty well everything. I till have the links.

Young men pretend not to notice and try to brazen it out. The male suicide rate rose some 40% in the UK in relatively few years. Unemployment will finish off some and a dizzying sense of instability will do for others. I can't see this stopping though the seventies were the most intensely destructive years. The destruction now is more even and piecemeal. It doesn't need to be much more. The landscape is already a desert and not much life can exist in it, except that which adapts.

We're good at adapting. That may be one of the few complimentary things, however backhanded, that may still be sayable in polite company.

Kathleen Jones said...

There are times when I look at what human beings do to each other and can hardly bear to be human. So I understand your depression George. But women give birth to male children, they nurture and shape them, so we have to take some responsibility for the adult men that they become. (I have sons) Biologists tell us that the male of the species is more delicate, more easily damaged than the female - it is more vulnerable both in the womb (all foetuses begin as female) and out of it - psychologically and physically. It has been shown that even men with the psychopathic gene do not grow up to be psychopaths if they have had good mothering.
There is in all men a great capacity for violence but also for tenderness - all that testosterone can be channeled into good things. There isn't space on a comments form to be complex, but social changes (globally) have caused disintegration of traditional roles and the way that men and women see themselves. Women have benefited from this shift, but feminism has swung against men - almost to the point of creating a new form of sexism. In pubs women tell jokes against men that if a man were to tell them ......
There is, I suppose, always hope for humanity, though there are times when I think pig ignorance and stupidity will win by sheer weight of numbers. Perhaps I'm wrong - I hope I'm wrong. We live in dystopian times!
Forgive the ramble.

George S said...

Thank you, Kathleen. I expect you're right about all of that, although, even here, this part is telling:

...almost to the point of creating a new form of sexism. In pubs women tell jokes against men that if a man were to tell them...

Do you mean that if a man made a joke against women he would be regarded as only almost sexist?

NicoleS said...

As Jack Lemon says in Some Like it Hot, it's a whole different sex. Anyway, if it makes you feel any better, I for one like men as a category, if not all of them individually. I like their nerdy enthusiasms, like that of the sweet man on the radio this morning who goes around England photographing letter boxes. I like their deliberate lack of seriousness and silly jokes, their avoidance of introspection, their willingness to fix things (provided they are not Jewish), their reckless athleticism when young. They should not have to put up with abuse such as was heaped upon them by the silly man from Iona (I switched him off). Let's hope that by the time that gorgeous little hoodie in your picture grows up, sexism against men will be viewed in the same way as sexism against women.

Anne said...

When John Bell comes on the radio I tune out. What’s most disturbing about this whole business is the idea that any virtue is inherent in one’s sex (other than obvious reproductive biology – and even that is becoming more fluid). Virtue inheres in individuals. Society pushes people into exaggerated gendered roles that perhaps hormones incline us to but don’t necessitate.

This idea of inherent male or female virtue as opposed to inherent human virtue is destructive. Humans of any gender have always been capable of both great humanitarianism and mind-wrenching evil, particularly when they act in groups. Unless you have chosen to align yourself with a group that’s behaving badly, you know that you are not guilty by association for the bad action of someone else who merely shares a characteristic with you. The idea that maleness constitutes a group that can be generally blamed is sexist. My husband used to have to remind me that he is not Men. You are not Men either; no man is.

Telling someone to man up is sexist. Andrea Dworkin’s accusation that all men are rapists is just as sexist as the sexism she was fighting. The sort of attitude that Ophelia is criticising here is one extreme of the sort of thing that causes this kind of despair.

Anne said...

Blogger just ate my link to Ophelia Benson's blog entry on the preaching on gender roles of the Berean Baptist Church. I'll try again, without using html:

George S said...

Thank you, Nicole and Anne. I see that what you like, Nicole, is the funny side, which does actually exist, and the useful side, that also exists. I don't personally know where I stand in those terms. The lack of introspection? That doesn't quite fit in my case or indeed in most artists or scientists or intellectuals of the male persuasion. We exist too. At least we sound tolerable, if not admirable, in your description. We amuse and can sometimes be useful if a little crazy.

I have been publicly hit a few times, Anne, by male teachers. At home the only person who hit me was my mother, but I didn't suffer any trauma as a result of it as far as I know. I did not go round hitting people afterwards.

I used to read Ophelia pretty regularly and, occasionally, comment. I don't think I am entirely on the same pitch as she is, though I admire her intelligence (God, I can actually get round to admiring her though she is of the opposite gender!) It's interesting that the men writing in to her blog are primarily talking about punishment for gayness or transgender. In other words the men who are OK are tolerated for their lack of full-maleness.

I mean the kind of maleness you saw in James Stewart, Cary Grant, and in a slightly different way, in John Wayne, Gary Cooper. Or, while in movie mode, in, say, Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart. I don't mean the looks - I mean the personae. Or, going a little further, the slightly dangerous: the Michael Caine, the Jean-Paul Belmondo... add your own.

Should I assume that this whole range, a range that does - in my subjective view - fits the category:male is entirely lost and good riddance? That is what everything said so far seems to be telling me.

Anonymous said...

As a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s I was strongly affected by a sort of femininst Orthodoxy that might have been in retrospect a necessary corrective to the widespread sexism of the time, but also had many deleterious consequences. Its strictures became so internalised by some of my peers that we never articulated the suspicions we must have all had that it was a sexism of its own.

Specifically, its most unwelcome effect was to vilify any expression of sexual or physical attraction on the part of the man. It froze attraction in guilt and political opprobrium. Glances at an attractive woman in a sexy skirt were surreptitious and reprehensible--a sort of asceticism, the gains of which eventually became unclear as it very slowly dawned on us that almost all women appreciate compliments on her appearance or dress done with aplomb, wit, or delicacy.

Thus I was fearful of approaching women and introduced a formality and caution into my relationships with them in precisely that decade--my twenties--when less self-conscious men were enjoying the pleasures of sexual and other friendships with women. It's a reserve that took a long time to unlearn. Now, it's got a better place, in my repertoire of behaviours for use when necessary (e.g., when one wishes to maintain a polite distance or to signal a desire to move away from someone).

I'm hopeful a more honest and sympathetic view of male-female relations will emerge. I see my 13-y-o daughters interacting with boys on an entirely different and more confident way than I remember. They expect more from men but that's no bad thing.

I am still utterly inept in most manly tasks. The other day Kirsty was upstairs assembling a flat pack wardrobe while I was downstairs cooking the tea. It works for us.

P.S. Don't let some ideologue from a windswept cloister get you down.

George S said...

Looby, I am replying in a blog post.

Mark Granier said...

What Greer said was that all men are rapists, in thought if not in deed. The statement astonished me because it appeared at the end of an otherwise perfectly intelligent article she wrote (in the Observer or Guardian) about society's attitude to rape and the stigmatising of rape victims. That weird concluding statement concluded nothing. It was as if she hadn't listened to *herself*, but instead abruptly switched the channel, exchanging a humane, analytical voice for that of a dull-witted misandrist.