Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reflections on gender issues

In a period of history so fixated on misogyny, it seems more than a little appropriate to mention its opposite, misandry. Nobody seems to want to discuss the ways by which mostly women, but certainly too many men, defame, degrade, disdain, trivialize and trash males and all forms of masculinity.

The most obvious example of males demonstrating contempt for males is highly visible and even more audible in the Oval Office. Obama is, persistently and contemptuously portrayed by the current occupant as effete, weak, spineless, and even effeminate by a president so paranoid in his masculinity that he has set a course to undue everything that Obama accomplished on behalf of the American (and world’s) people. Hawks, like John Bolton, are also engaged in a dangerous display of neurotic masculinity, on behalf of America, through their overt and aggressive push for war with Iran including regime change, and potentially also with North Korea. Life-long military generals who actually know something about the ravages of war take a much more balanced and moderate and mature perspective.

Does trump think of what he is doing as misandry? Of course not! Yet, does trump think beyond the superficial impact on his personal ratings of anything he says or does? No!

Pervasive among red-neck males is another aspect of misandry: contempt, hatred and bigotry of the LGBTQ community, and especially of gay men. Red-necks really don’t give much thought to how they feel and think about whether females are lesbians, or which gender is claimed by transgenders. About homosexual men, however, red-necks consider them an affront to all forms and expressions of masculinity. (And before we go any further, let’s not confuse pedophilia with homosexuality. Pedophilia is dangerous and criminal! Last time I checked, being gay is not a crime in western countries, as it is in some African nations.)

There are other less obvious and less overt examples of misandry among red-neck sports talking heads. The preference for fighting in athletic competitions like hockey, football, baseball, basketball, as an incentive to crowd arousal, as opposed to skillful, balletic, choreographed, and disciplined play, is just another indication of the rub against the skilled players, who, by the way, as a group, do not suffer from a fragile masculinity, as perhaps the red-necks so.

There is a much more subtle and less obvious form of pandering to the violent among the news media, believing, (somewhat supported by the cultural evidence that conflict sells while compromise, collaboration and resolution does not generate high ratings), that real leaders have to be engaged in hard language and the growth of hard power if they are to be embraced a legitimate leaders. This stereotyping of hard power, elevating it, through such budget lines as the Pentagon that gobbles as much cash as all other departments combined, supported by the fixation with conflict, especially violent conflict, is another of the many distortions of healthy masculinity.

The universal disdain for anything emotional among many men, too, illustrates both a profound irony, and a tragic blindness. Naturally, in the execution of public debate and the strategizing around public policy, the factual evidence must hold a significantly higher priority than a person’s or a group’s emotional responses to the issue at hand. However, to deny the presence and impact of those emotions is to risk having them play an even more significant role than they would if they were acknowledged. None of us goes into any activity, including all professional activities like the court room, the operating room, the emergency room, the board room, the classroom, the sanctuary, the laboratory, and even the delivery truck, or the garbage truck, or the factory, without taking our emotional DNA, (linked to an agenda, whether conscious or not) with us.*

The masculine proclivity for public disdain of anything resembling human emotions in literature, film, television and, while a denial of our fragility in dealing effectively with those very emotions (especially as compared with our female partners, sisters, mothers, aunts and grandmothers), also renders us less open to learning both about their respective identities and their power, and about their subtlety and sophistication. Such a masculine umbrella over-riding the culture is a shameful indication of our deep and relenting inferiority, as passed on from our male ancestors, and effectively cripples, if not actually destroys, many relationships with our female partners. It says here that for men to learn to identify our emotions is neither feminizing nor weakening us; rather it is to enter into a world so complex and so turbulent and so awakening that our perception of ourselves, and our place in the universe can and will change dramatically, for the better.

Emotions do not have to be relegated to a functional factor in marketing (something men seem to want to do and to do rather well). And to participate inside our own emotions, and to regard them as just another facet of our identities that can be developed, grown, enriched and celebrated (in a positive manner), rather than waiting until they explode and sabotage our very lives, is a potential gift that many men will never accept, appreciate or engage.

We do not have to “work” at being different from our female partners; that is not something the universe (and especially women) have no trouble identifying. In fact working at it only demonstrates our unique and sad mis-perception and neurosis. Neither gender is “better” than the other; you will not find women today considering that they are, by definition, “less than” any man, and yet the world is replete with evidence that men consider ourselves much “less” and “less acceptable” than our female colleagues.

It is our very own responsibility to acknowledge that men and women, while different, are complimentary to each other, and not in some competition with the other gender. And while the emotional aspect of that responsibility might come more readily and easily to some women, there is the glaringly obvious that women collectively seem to be in an obsessive competition for wages, positions of responsibility and corporate and political power. So, it might be very difficult, if not impossible to parse the emotional from the political/corporate/pecuniary.

And, when we come to the off-hand, almost comedic, yet highly pejorative comments from women, the culture is flooded with them.

“All men are jerks!” comes quickly to mind, especially from women who have been painfully hurt by men.

“All men want is one thing,” is another of the proliferating stereotypes.

“No man listens to anything I say,” slides off the lips of women, especially among a group of women where there are no men to raise an eyebrow. And even if there were men present, it is unlikely that a single eyebrow would be raised, fearing the prospect of being labelled, misogynist.

“That dog has to be male; just look at the way he jumps around uncontrollably!” is another of the now-expected “jokes” that attempt to ridicule masculinity, however such ridicule might flow, both consciously and unconsciously from women.

And then there is the “no raised voices” mandate in the new workplace, since, it is believed, and universally accepted that “raised voices” are a form of bullying, verging on assault. We are to comport in a many fitting to the most anal fourth-grade class, commanded by an insecure, neurotic and repressive female pedagogue. It was a great surprise, and an unforgettable moment in my young life, when, as a friend and neighbour passed by desk, in such a grade four class, I reached out and gave Roger a gentle, and eminently friendly poke in the shoulder, saying “Hi” only to be commanded to the front of the room, where two lashes of the strap were administered on each hand, along with a lifetime of ridiculous, unmerited and unjust embarrassment.
 This was only exacerbated when, returning the joke, Roger appeared in our yard, and asked, in front of my mother, “What did your mother say when she heard you got the strap?” Naturally, hearing of this for the first time, she dished out an unforgettable unjust bar-soap mouth-washing over the kitchen sink.

And yet, upon reflection, after decades of voluntary and involuntary review, counselling, therapy and journaling on my part, it was that mother’s contempt for her father, transferred to her husband and her children that so shaped my early perceptions. Dangerous, malicious, vindictive and passionately inflamed women, ranging from the sneaky and deceitful to the blatant and proud have found all attempts to listen, to empathize, to “enter the shoes” and to support women, both in minor and in major turbulence that have backfired.

Some women have found their need for absolute control, especially in public, and openly collaborative situations, so gripping that when words like “I feel parented”  at their imposed, enforced agenda on the group, shot through their bodies like a electric shock. They picked up their papers, exited, and then sought blind revenge through manipulation of other compliant females.

Some have even gone so far as to send cards reading, “You destroy my image of men!” as if to say that my “masculinity” is so upsetting because it does not conform with the stereotype. Others, after opening up and disclosing some important and personal feelings, and then realizing what they had done, were so anxious that they turned on me, as if I were the problem. They had never before been so ‘open’ with a male, found the experience simultaneously supportive and scary, and preferred the latter as their ultimate interpretation. It was not, I believe, that they feared public disclosure of their emotions through a breach of confidence, but that they had been put under a light with a male. And yet, that may well have been part of their discomfort.

Others have openly sought relationships, who, when those attempts went unreciprocated, then turned on me in a vindictive revengeful manner, as if to punish me for what I considered my honest and professional “No”. Other women whose desperation and fear and aloneness became evident only after months of a very different “presentation” of their personality, became so viscious that they even openly declared, “I want to destroy men, and have become very good at it!”

We all must refuse to be content with the headline stories of men abusing women, without also wondering about what has become known as the “back story”. My father endured decades of abuse silently for the most part, and also passive aggressively, given that he either feared his spouse, or considered himself “less” than the other, a position from which too many men begin their private understanding of their relationship with women.

Only if and when men drop their need to be heroic, and need to rescue, and begin to assert our legitimate needs and desires, in open, honest, non-manipulative ways might we expect to see some move toward levelling the playing field between the genders.  (Women too might consider their part in the patronizing rescuing dramas with “weak men” in their view, in which they become enmeshed!) Patronizing,  trashing, dominating or competing at the emotional level will only exacerbate the relations between the genders. And, acting upon belief and perceptions of stereotypes (especially ones based on the other’s neurosis, thereby ironically and paradoxically exhibiting our own), by both genders will render each mere stick-persons, or cardboard cut-outs of their humanity.

Only through a process of becoming emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, physically and spiritually healthy, whole, well and self-respecting will both confront our respective fears, traumas, broken relationships (and we all have them!) and begin to break down the walls of both misogyny and misandry that threaten to imprison millions around the world. And only if and when we “are” fully able and willing to accept, respect and honour ourselves, will we begin to accept, respect and honour the other gender. This open war between our “shadows” cannot end well.

*In fact, the sanitizing of the emotional realities, (and there are many!) from the workplace has done much to exacerbate the tensions there. In this instance, we have willy-nilly thrown the baby out with the bathwater. While not all comedic exchanges in the past among co-workers was free of gender bias against women, much of it was simply good fun. And its removal as the result of a kind of scorched-earth cultural complicity, as if we are all supposed to imitate lawyers before judges, has rendered much workplace conversation stuffed into the box of technical competence, and safety rules and regs. This depersonalizes and eviscerates all “humanity” from the workplace, as if it were both dangerous and enmeshing by definition. What a boom we have complicitly generated for the “employee assistance barons” and their clinically certified minions!

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