Being a man

Retirement. It’s a time that any philosopher – and who doesn’t want to become a philosopher when they retire? – can delight in. A time for taking stock of your life: for looking back, for looking forward, most of all I hope for living fully in this present moment. A time for reflecting on the meaning(s?) of life, and of death, of the universe, and everything.

And here’s one of the things I’m finding. That this time of reflection is calling into question many of the things I’ve been taking for granted for most, if not all, of my life. Like who I am, including just being a man.

Yes, just as the present time is a hard time to be a Christian, or to be any variety of religious at all, so too it’s a hard time to be a man. And I don’t mean that in the way that the anti-feminists do, who think women have things so much their own way these days, that it’s men who are the disadvantaged sex. That’s just a load of BS.

No, it’s in the light of all the recent news and discussions about the ways men have thought and spoken about women, have abused and exploited them in the workplace, in relationships, have treated them as objects for their own ends. From the Weinsteins and Trumps of this world, who think that abusing women is something they have a right to do because they have the power, right down to the wolf-whistling builders and gropers in crowded places. And probably, unbeknownst to many of us, even by us who have never meant to be abusers, but just didn’t know any better.

Just the other day we were eating lunch in a local restaurant. At the table behind me were four young people, probably no more than older teenagers. A boy and three girls, two of whom looked as if they may have been Indian sisters, and the other a blonde girl who looked as if she might have had Downs Syndrome. I noticed them because the boy was talking so loud I could hardly hear myself think, let alone take part in the conversation among my own (hardly quiet) family. He sounded as if he was on some kind of soapbox, as if he was actually haranguing these poor girls, pontificating as only an opinionated male can, setting out what he knew and believed as if it could not possibly brook dissent or contradiction. Alas, the words that stood out most from the stream of verbiage were ‘Scripture’ and ‘baptism’: as if to pour vinegar into my wounded soul, the noisy young Alpha male was also a ‘Christian’.

So where does this kind of attitude and behaviour come from? This youth was no hardened male chauvinist, cauterised in the fires of a long life of domination over women. He did, it’s true, look and sound like a boy who had ‘benefited from’ a private education. Was this the way his private school was teaching him to think of, relate to, and speak to women? Even worse, was it the way his church or Christian fellowship taught him that men should speak to women? Was it the way his father spoke to the boy’s mother and sisters, or to his female colleagues, and other women of his acquaintance? Had he just imbibed it from his peers, from social media or contemporary culture? Is it genetic, in our nature, or only in our nurture? Or, God forbid, both?

There was a degree of Verfremdung about the whole event, because this wasn’t some middle-aged hooligan or boor, but a member of a generation which, I would have hoped, might have been learning, or be being taught, better. So that I felt all the more embarrassed for my sex. All the more resolved: this is not how I want to be. And if I have been this way, I ask for the grace to change, and if necessary to make amends at least to some of the women I may have wronged.

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