Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Men moving backward" while women move forward (Mark Kelly, on CBC)

Finally, the words were spoken last night on CBC's Connect with Mark Kelly. It was not an official announcement. It was not part of the script for a news story. It was, ironically, the "disconnect" for the September 19, 2011 show.
As he reviewed the progress made by women over the last few decades, using the interview with a Hugh Hefner Playboy Bunnie as his springboard, he closed with this thought...
As women have beeen making all this progress toward equality, men it seems have been moving backward. With the "dumb men" jokes and ads, men have become the idiots in the room....
Not only is it true, it is one of the tragedies of the last quarter century.
Men have, indeed, become the idiots in the room. We are being laughed at  in many of the television shows currently playing in prime time. We are the butt of many of the "jokes" that wander through daily water cooler conversations. Listen to the staff of any department populated primarily by women and you will hear too much talk about the "dumb" or "insensitive" or "lazy" or "irresponsible" or...pick your own adjective husband, partner, back home.
And it is a regular subject for a circle of female bonding....and to put it mildly and bluntly, it sucks.
If men were to talk about their female partners in the same way, we would be accused of gender bias, in polite terms, and sexism in less polite terms, and reinforcing the "gossip" in ugly terms.
What has happened to the male "character" in our North American society?
Have we simply surrendered our spines and our needs and our aspirations to the closet or the basement or the garage where those things on their way to Value Village are stored?
Have we refused to step up in the face of "women's liberation" to provide the kind of counter-balance to healthy, self-respecting, assertive women who wish to attend school, get good grades, get good jobs and produce a good family?
Have we considered the "competition" not worthy of our best efforts, in support of those healthy, assertive, self-respecting women we call our daughters, our wives, our mothers, and even our grandmothers?
Having been raised by a mother born three years prior to the start of World War I, whose brand of assertiveness, and courage and self-respect was forged in the bush of Algonquin Park where she lived in a boxcar with her parents for the years from three to nine, while her father was shop foreman at the CNR roundhouse, I am too familiar with her references to Charlotte Whitten, the former mayor of Ottawa. It was Whitten who publicly uttered words that rang in our house for decades:
Unfortunately, in order to be considered equal to men, women have to work twice as hard;
fortunately, men have not made that achievement all that difficult.
Following her life in the bush, she attended nursing school, at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, where she was "educated" by the nuns of the Roman Catholic church, not exactly a 'liberal' education in nursing. Upon graduation, she was hired by those same nuns for work in the maternity ward, before returning to her home town to marry.
Even prior to her marriage, she attempted to convince her then fiance, later my father, to attend university to study dentistry in the early 1930's, with her working to cover the costs. His confidence, not having completed high school, was insufficient for the challenge, something she held over his head for the sixty-plus years of their marriage.
She took a back-seat to no one ever. She took on the task of being President of the North Bay Canadian Club in her 80's, travelled on planned excursions throughout her retirement, engaged her granddaughters in conversations about their developing plans and interesting lives, and drove her car until three days before she died, following hip surgery after a fall on the front steps of her house in North Bay. She was then in her ninety-first year.
She competed with her two sisters-in-law, both nurses, for fifty years, sometime innocuously, sometimes overtly, to their disappointment. They never felt the need to compete, given their firmly established positions in the administration of two Toronto hospitals, The Hospital for Sick Children, and Mount Sinai Hospital, both teaching hospitals attached to the University of Toronto, and the various community colleges that sprang up in the 1970's under then Premier William Davis.
I watched my mother's unquestioned dominance in her marriage for many decades, wondering what had happened to my father's spine. There certainly were times when his firm, but unyielding hand on the tiller would have steadied their marriage and reduced our family's trauma, without in any way denigrating her significant contribution. She lacked a vigorous and assertive and self-respecting partner for those sixty-plyus years, and I have come to the realization of that "missing component" in my family of origin, and in my own first marriage, given the modelling I saw as a young man.
Working in both schools and churches, and in several corporations, I have witnessed various forms of male-female interractions, some of them downright viscious, others more compatible, and others a sheer delight to experience.
My three daughters owe much to their grandmother whose modelling gave them confidence and self-acceptance that has resulted in their many achievments in athletics, academics and later in professional life.
Nevertheless, I remain convinced that men, individually and collectively, have permitted the erosion of the "brand" called masculinity through a combination of indifference, some arrogance (mostly a mask) and some fear. We have not provided, in too many cases, the kind of self-confident, assertive and healthy modelling for our sons, and our grandsons over the last half century.
Were we tired folllowing the two world wars?
Were we too busy making a living to have any energy left over for polishing the male brand?
Did we leave the field to the Dubya's, of which there are far too many, who have put on the stereotype of Marlboro Man, and sacrificed their poetic, and their feminine qualities, as both embarrassing and irrelevant.
It was Carl Jung who taught us about the unconscious in all men; he called it the anima. And through a process, still somewhat ill-defined, of claiming the Shadow, we could find the "gold" in that effort.
There is a model of androgyny, that combines both masculine and feminine qualities in both men and women, and the model is far more acceptable to most women than it is too most men.
And the sooner men "get over" our fear of being gay, and our fear of those who are gay and we find our feminine sides, we might begin to fill the gaping hole that exists in too many families, organizations and even nations' schools, hospitals, churches and corporations and provide mentoring to our sons who wish to become artists, musicians, dancers and creative community organizers...and not have to funnel them into only the hard sciences, accounting, law and medicine.

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