What issues do men have anyway?

Many people believe ‘men are still on top’.

In most countries, men make up 50% of the population; this is the situation in Australia. But men make up 93% of the gaol population here in Australia. Men are more likely to be violent criminals (and the victims of violent crime). Every week, stories of every depravity possible, mostly committed by men: murder, abuse, rape, torture.

Let alone the self-harm! Men in Australia are 4 times more likely to kill themselves than women. For men in rural areas, the rate is seven times…Depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling, domestic violence, the list continues!

Men commit these things. But is it inevitable? Does the Y-chromosome condemn a proportion of us to be criminals, monsters? I don’t believe it. It was important for women that feminism uprooted and demolished the roles that women were imprisoned in. But some extreme feminists blamed men for everything. Genetically inferior, masculinity was something to be quashed, mocked, ashamed of. Men had no gifts to bring. Fathers, when not being depicted as suspicious, dark, destructive, were painted as idiotic, incompetent, fools, large children in men’s bodies, kept out of trouble by a wise and all-knowing mother.

The simplification of the extreme feminist message was that it ignored the suffering of men; that just as women had suffered under roles that crushed them, so had men. Starting with the economic pattern established in 18th Century England and Scotland, men were forced by necessity out of their villages and farms and into the cities and factories; families and communities broken up. Men started working 12 hour shift work in factories, mills, mines, shipyards. Men’s role in the family was distorted into that of primarily the walking wallet, the main contribution money. What else could you expect when the father came home, exhausted after 12 hours of exhausting and repetitive work? Boys were encouraged to be violent, competitive. “Prove you’re a man!”. At least in the Australian experience, artistic or intellectual tendencies were suspect. God forbid anyone think you might be gay!

The feminist message also implicitly stated that the men who were the oppressors, the criminals, were ‘on top’, were the ‘winners’ out of the system. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that men who commit such crimes or live such lives are hardly to be envied. They are pathetic, distorted people, they are not really men.

And that is it actually. How do we get ourselves out of this hole? Nothing less than redrawing what we think a man is. Redefining what we think masculinity might encompass. What fatherhood could be.

What an incredible opportunity we have! We can break the pattern that has hamstrung us, our fathers and grandfathers. We can dream of what manhood can be. We can bequeath that new vision to our sons, help them grow to be freer, healthier men than we are. For a start, we could dump the ridiculous idea that you need to ‘prove’ that you are a man!

This blog is partly about what that new vision could be…

Published in: on Monday, 6 September 2010 at 9:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Father Part 2

In my first Father post I discussed the myths surrounding fathers. I also mentioned the great need that we have for fathers; that children cannot be raised properly without fathers. Proof of that is simple – find a man who never knew his father. He will explain.

Much more can be said about fathers though, beyond the myths about them, and beyond their invalidation and alienation in society.

Fathers are crucial to raising boys into men. They offer boys things that women cannot offer and usually do not understand.

For a man, your father is your first idea, your initial and always-core idea of what a man is. The word ur springs to mind – a German word meaning ‘original’ or ‘extremely old’, as in Urwald (ancient forest). Your father is your ur-man. He is your reference point as what a man is. In the hands of a poor father, this power is corrupted or simply wasted, but in the hands of loving, nuturing father this power is liquid gold.

A father has hardwired what a boy needs, but the problem often arises that the father himself was not properly raised. What if he himself is not a fully realised man? How good are his chances then of raising his own boy well?

As much as many people would have you believe that gender roles are the problem, they are naive. A boy cannot grow to be a man in a vacuum. Of course every man has his own path in life, but a good father will teach what is important in life, and the things a boy needs; how to love, how to work, how be be rational and control your emotions – in short what a man needs to live well.

Acknowledging fathers are important if you understand that living well is not automatic, even with age. It is a craft that is learnt and not possible to short cut by drugs or short term pleasures.

A father teaches a boy – with help from older men too – that being a man is something learnt and earned, it not automatically conferred at age 18.

Fathers can have much more resonance with their sons, because they have lived through similar experiences. Male wisdom is gold for a young man understanding how to navigate through the world; it is essential.

More than we really understand, fathers also need us. Society has denied the ability of fathers to love and nurture, it has also denied the vulnerability that fathers feel. Many fathers feel vulnerable – feel that they have failed at many things in life – and deeply need to be accepted, if not loved, by their children. They need to feel understood and that at least their life was worth something. This is the unspoken tragedy of modern fathers today.

Published in: on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Mythocracy

Time to clear out the bullshit

Marc Rudov lists five myths about women:

1. “Women don’t like or need sex as much as men”

2. “Women aren’t as visually stimulated or as obsessed with looks as men are.”

3. “Women are more faithful than men.”

4. “Women are more relationship oriented than men – men prefer to date.”

5. “Women are kinder, gentler and more romantic than men.”

These implicit myths about women are as much a problem for women as they are for men. They are bullshit, and blanket endow all women with virtues they may not necessarily have.

How about if we flip these on their head?

1. “Men don’t like or need sex as much as women”

2. “Men aren’t as visually stimulated or as obsessed with looks as women are.”

3. “Men are more faithful than women.”

4. “Men are more relationship oriented than women – women prefer to date.”

5. “Men are kinder, gentler and more romantic than women.”

It does seem odd to read these flipped-around myths – but I bet you can think of your own examples where men have been more faithful, gentle, or less focussed on sex than women. Women will shout these down as exceptions to the rule but I believe this is more because they feel their position on Mt Moral High Ground is threatened rather than because the myths are true. The myths, to a degree, also socially condition men and women and frame how they see each other.

Men have been imprisoned in a cage that refuses to acknowledge their fidelity, their self-control, their ability to see beyond mere surface appearance, their empathy, idealism, kindness and that all these qualities are a part of masculinity. The cold, unemotional John Wayne is bullshit — and men should junk this false cardboard cutout of maleness.

The 50s tough guy man is a modern invention and denies the great spirit, and tradition of male emotion and experience. We men are able to control our emotions – we must do so to be to be good firemen, coast guards or policemen. Our ability to control our emotions is a great strength of men and one that was always traditionally celebrated. The great sagas, fairy tales and epic poems celebrate this and look down on men who gave in to their passions and indulged their emotions without any vestige of thought or reason.

Up til not long ago, popular tales or accounts of men, of explorers, shipwreck survivors or soldiers, often celebrated this ability to control fear, despair and other destructive emotions, and men’s strength in getting on with the job. If you are in an overcrowded lifeboat in the Midatlantic, and you are running out of water, and you are suffering from sunstroke, it is not helpful to crawl into a ball and cry as the water seeps in through the caulking in the boat.

There is a great difference between control and denial. By controlling emotions, it doesn’t mean we deny them, it just means that we need to know when and how to let those emotions flow. Manginas get it wrong, because they think that maleness and emotionality are incompatible. We men have our own emotions and they cannot be anything but masculine. How could they not be – we are men! Men’s emotions simply differ in degree of maturity and his progress along the path of manhood.

As for fidelity, it is simply a fact that women cheat as much as men – but other women generally ‘close ranks’ and give ad hoc excuses for why that woman’s infidelity was OK “She must have felt destitute” or “He probably never listened to her/He ignored her” etcetera.

I grant full equality to women: they can be as shallow, destructive, duplicitous, brutal, callous, cynical, lecherous, manipulative and hollow as men can be.

We men don’t have to accept the myths that grant women immunity from their vices. Don’t buy into them, and don’t let women hoist their pennant, unchallenged, on Mt Moral High Ground.

Don’t accept these myths, don’t be a willing sheep in the Mythocracy.

Barnoz.

Published in: on Saturday, 19 January 2008 at 6:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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Father

Lego Father

Like it or lump it, I think your father is part of you.

This is a hard fact to face for many men who had alcoholic, abusive, violent or absent fathers. Sometimes men who never know their father discover years later how much their character, habits and gestures have been inherited from their father. But your father is always there inside you, and I think you won’t find peace with yourself until you have made peace with him. Because your father is part of you, if you fight him – even if you are shadow-boxing a ghost – you are really fighting with yourself.

I really wonder if the violent, thuggish men we have in our society are partly trying to prove to their fathers that they really are a man after all. Perhaps their father never accepted them, perhaps he sat behind a newspaper.

I know men who never knew their own father. I cannot even begin to understand the grief, that deep abyss that just keeps swallowing you up. Even understanding the reason why he was absent doesn’t help the feeling of isolation, that somehow, they have missed out connecting with generations of male wisdom. This is a grief that is truly male, because your father in theory should have the most love, sympathy and understanding of you, out of all men. Never knowing your father might be like wandering round a mansion, carrying a telephone you wish to connect but never finding a socket for it. You are missing out on plugging into years of experience and wisdom. “Who ya gonna call?” “I don’t know!” (Although maybe Ghostbusters might help out…)

It is time to acknowledge that men desperately need their fathers.

This simple fact, that children (but especially sons) need their father is so often ignored, denied and overlooked. Even men have claimed that the only contribution men make is some genetic material at conception. What bullshit. It is very hard for a mother to raise a healthy, balanced man on her own, simply because a mother cannot provide what a father provides. This is the key idea, because the recent myths about mothers and fathers incorporate the assumption that mothers do all the nurturing.

This myth underpins the outrage about refusing IVF to women who have no male partner. It is deeply offensive and ignorant to suggest that children can be raised as well without a father as with one. This myth, which really suggests the father only contributes money to a family, and offers nothing more, is a slap in the face of men.

The myth that fathers only bring money to a family is also bolstered by the anti-father bias in pop culture. Fathers are depicted as irrelevant, oblivious, doddering, irrational, dispensable, weak and out of touch. In contrast, “Mother is always right”. Next time you watch a pop-culture sitcom, keep in mind this bias. Imagine if the father’s character was swapped with the mother’s, or the jokes about fathers were flipped to be about mothers. There would be an outcry that the show was sexist. Yet fathers are depicted as only being interested in cars, football, beer, TV and show-room models.

It is important to critically assess these influences, because however subtle or peripheral they might be, these stereotypes sink in. Liberty to make jokes about anyone is important, but the real issue is balance. Contrast fairy-tales with modern day culture. Fairy tales often taught of the destructive, poisonous potential that mothers have. Yet these warnings are largely absent these days, and the columnists are a flurry of confusion when another crack-addicted mother murders her children. ‘How could this happen – we always thought mothers were perfect’.

Fathers have a lot to offer and do not deserve the popular stereotypes forced into their faces. We should be vigilant – write a complaint letter, talk about it with your father, throw your newspaper at the TV and switch it off, just don’t let it go unchallenged.

Men need their fathers. They need to work alongside them, learn from them, and above all connect. This connection is different from that which women have with each other.

We forge our bond with our father by working with him. Men often don’t need to talk, the connection and bond can simply be formed by doing things together. This activity and working together is an essence of being a man and therefore connecting with men. You might have weeded the garden, played music together, dug potatos, fished or changed the oil on the car. But there is somehow an osmosis about working with your father.

Father is the living example of a man for his children. He is what they refer back to, even if not consciously. He teaches his son what being a man is, not by words, which are often poor teachers, but by living and doing. I think it is fundamental that sons and fathers talk and think about these things, in light of the misinformation and misandry present.

We also forget that fathers need their sons, they ultimately must have their son’s approval and respect, even if they would never admit to it.

Published in: on Friday, 4 January 2008 at 1:52 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Moustache

Jim BBQ -Hero of Movember

Jim BBQ is my hero. He gets the message of mo out there, and gently and amusingly taunts the general prejudices about moustaches. (You can find his MoTV on YouTube easily)

He is the face of Movember too – an annual campaign to raise money and awareness for men’s health, which started in Australia but has spread to the UK, the USA, NZ, Ireland and Spain. (It raised $14 million in Australia last year).

Wanting to take part in a good cause, I grew a moustache for Movember in 2006 and then again in 2007 (Men start the 1st of Movember with a clean shave and grow a mo for the next four weeks).

But after the month was over, and men all around were relishing ‘getting rid of it’, I decided to keep it on.

Without fail, people comment on the moustache. It is always the same, albeit gradually thicker, yet people’s reactions vary from

disgust:

[woman]:”Ewww, why do you have that gross thing still on your face?”

admiration:

[man] : “Dude, awesome mo!”

abuse/shame:

[man or woman] : “Movember’s over, mate!”

manipulation:

[woman] : “My last boyfriend had a mo for Movember and wouldn’t shave it off, so we broke up. I hate mos”

advice:

[man] : “You should trim those side bits”

mute contemplation:

*I wonder why he has that strange moustache. He must be a weirdo.*

envy:

[man]: “I would have gone in Movember but my wife wouldn’t let me”

My moustache almost always draws a reaction. Generally, women hate it, and men either generously comment on it or decide that it means I am fair game to heckle.

So what does a moustache really symbolise? Why do people vary in their attitude towards it, and feel they have a right to comment on it? It is unfashionable, generally, so why might that be?

Could a moustache demonstrate that a man isn’t frightened of what other people think, in particular women? Deep down, many men mould their appearance to fit what they think women want, and most women claim they don’t like moustaches. Many married men confirm this in their opt-out from Movember – it’s just the same as their excuses for not buying a motorbike or doing the other things that their wife forbids.
A moustache physically demonstrates this maleness. It represents the hairy maleness that all men have in common. A moustache is more or less cultivated and trimmed, but it hints at the Wild Man that is found in fairy tales like Eisenhans.

The moustache reminds that however much school, university, the company, or the army wishes to make men conform to a pattern, the wildness still lives within. The glorious variety of maleness is on display: every moustache is different, the hairs often rebelliously red, the whiskers straggly and untamed. The plethora of styles and the great natural variety of hair accentuate this individuality. It is uniquely male, it is uniquely individual and it guides a man away from the uniforms he’s worn his whole life: school, army, company. Why do we all wear black or grey suits? When did men lose the joy of looking like an individual?

The moustache bucks the trend in our youth-deifying society. Without the Zeus or Jehovah overtones of a full-length beard, the moustache nevertheless shows age. It makes a man look older, is a hint at experience, wisdom and has the individuality and weathered-toughness that bland smooth young faces never have. A moustache hints that a man might have been initiated; he is calm and stands tall, is not a boy in a man’s body.

Moustaches are the flowering of male sexual ripening. A moustache reminds of the controlled but powerful male sexuality more or less latent in men. A moustache might well have the same texture as pubic hair, but regardless it is a subtle reminder of the same. Both sprout at the same time!

I believe there is a relationship between how men are portrayed, and how they are expected to conform with regards to their outward appearance. The packaging and blandising of young men as objects of envy or desire saps their potency, such as you might find with flawless male fashion models. Their unblemished, hairless faces are bland and shallow. They are uninitiated, unmentored, ready for the workforce or for following orders. Look at the face of an interesting old man and it is (particularly with Australia’s harsh sun) often full of crevices and valleys, and interesting contour map of his life. Crows feet crinkle mischievously when he smiles.

Pop culture likes airbrushed, patterned young men as much as it likes perfect young women. Both are sold as much as a commodity as oil or wood. A moustache breaks this because it is imperfect, individual, difficult to photograph and pointless to photoshop. Why else are election posters augmented with a twirly moustache worthy of Dali?

Growing a moustache is a small but active step towards the rethinking and reliving that men must make. It is for the man, it might be for other men too. If a man’s father or grandfather has a moustache or beard, when he grows one himself, this could be saying “I appreciate you, and am taking my place with you”. Like it or not, they are our proto-man, they have shaped the mould that we call ourselves.

The moustache is more than what meets the eye. What do you think?

Published in: on Monday, 19 November 2007 at 11:07 pm  Comments (11)  
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