Sadly, in the 21st century, there are plenty of out-dated and false gender stereotypes still knocking around. A particularly untrue one is that only women ‘gossip’. Gossip is when I talk about another person, with an implicit judgement or criticism which makes me feel good by comparison. Putting someone else down, I comfort myself with the feeling that, however, crap my own life might seem, at least I’m not as bad as they are. I project my on guilt onto them as a way of feeling better about myself, rather than changing anything in my own life.
I’ve found myself falling into this trap, after reading about men who have committed acts of sexual or other violence; getting some measure of satisfaction from feeling morally superior to them, and reassured that, by comparison at least; I’m one of the ‘good guys’. It seems that many of us love to read about bad people. Newspapers don’t run such stories on their front pages because they want to educate and inform us, or make the world a safer place; it’s because it will sell more papers.
The pervasive disdain for ‘the feminine’ in our culture makes it harder for men and women to have mutually respectful and healthy relationships, and, I think, also underpins our destructive behaviour towards the environment To have a healthier relationship with nature, and have a hope of survival as a species, men urgently need to understand our feelings about the “feminine nature” in women and in ourselves, and how we can relate to that better.
It seems that plenty of men are still, at some level, afraid of women, and go into a panic the moment their fragile sense of power or authority is in any way challenged or confronted by a woman they are close to – all too often leading to punches being thrown. Like schoolyard bullying, violence is used as a means of self-defence by those men who at a deep lack confidence or self-worth. This fear reveals itself in a variety of ways, including addictions to porn and substance abuse, and at it most extreme to the currently high levels of male suicide.
On a milder level, many men (and I’ve been one of them) instinctively retreat to a timid place of safety where we limit our emotional engagement with the women in our lives – leaving everyone feeling frustrated and often locked into a cycle of mutual recrimination and disdain. At this point, the sexual fire in the relationship usually dies away, and the man resorts to fantasising over the kind of ‘safe’ sexual images, which are easily available to him online.
What can we men do about this?
I hope and believe that we are currently experiencing an evolution in men’s relationship with, and attitude towards, ‘the feminine’ in girls and women, in nature, and in themselves. To nudge this process forward, we need the intervention of a government that has the insight and courage to realise that, taken collectively, the on-going incidence of male sexual abuse and violence is a largely hidden, but serious problem that demands serious intervention. A good start could be some kind of awareness raising campaign and national ‘Men’s Forum’ which would galvanise men to realise that sexual abuse and violence is not a ‘women’s problem’, it is OUR problem, and that if we don’t want to be part of that problem, we need urgently to be thinking about what we can do to be part of the solution.
Men who are concerned about these issues, and want to support women’s rights, find it hard to identify with feminism because they see it as a ‘women’s movement’, but possibly would want to be part of a parallel men’s movement for change that they can think of as their own. It’s not enough for men to ‘support women’; we need to look inside ourselves and challenge our limiting beliefs and attitudes so that we can become more healthy and complete as individuals, and reclaim a sense of pride and strength as men and develop our capacity to respect and nurture women and children…and the planet.
In the current climate of questioning traditional gender roles and expectations, men have a real opportunity for positive change, if we can embrace a broader sense of what it means to “be a man”. By not always worrying if we are living up to a traditionally narrow view of ‘masculinity’, we can be more fulfilled as individuals, as well as being better partners and fathers. We have a chance to reconsider our roles in a changed world where traditional male occupations are shrinking, and where men are rightly expected to contribute more to domestic responsibilities.
The payoff for men in terms of well-being can be enormous.
Rather than gossiping about each other, we can start to support and be proud of each other; emulate some of the mutual support that women seem more easily to provide, and create a ‘men’s movement’ that will, unlike the so-called ‘Men’s Rights’ movement, be about moving forward to a society of equal men and women rather than rolling things back to the mutual suspicion and manipulation between the genders that we’ve lived with for too long.