This is our truth, tell us yours
The genesis of this article was a tweet by a friend yesterday. She was at the rugby and wanted some French fans to man up and stop whinging about English players infringing the laws.
On Friday someone else on Twitter was urging a politician to grow a pair and address a moral challenge. No-one needed it explained to them what a pair was; it was accepted that courage resides in the testicles, just as my friend defined being a man as not complaining in the face of perceived unfairness. As one of my transgendered friends put it, will she be less brave once the surgeon has helped her with the next stage of her transition?
So I sat down to blog about this, and discovered this article in today’s Grauniad. The ending is pretty much as I’d like it to be; “We men ask ourselves and each other for the following: the right to be vulnerable, to be uncertain, to be wrong, to be intuitive, the right not to know, to be flexible and not to be ashamed.”
But what does that mean in practice? Can we be men in a society that defines manhood in specific ways as it insists we man up or grow a pair? Jem and I have a running joke, that, like Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee, we are brother and sister but with a tendency to incest.
We lunched together on Friday; an unromantic, gossipy lunch in a small Greek place we know well. Besides the waiters and chef I was the only man n the room – the ladies who lunch were tucking in with style. Somewhere along the way Jem moved me almost to tears by loaning me a book to help with a problem I have. Like a good tough guy I managed to man up and not show too much emotion, even though I knew it said something about how we relate to each other. Reading Grayson Perry, and thinking about what manhood means in the world we occupy, what if my relationship with Jem is more like sisterhood because of our refusal to be stereotypical boy / girl? On Friday we had more in common with ladies who lunch than anyone else; we could have been some deeply empowering movie about how sisters support each other, if you ignore my genital configuration.
The challenge for men like me, and Grayson Perry, is both how we explain why the world makes us this way, and how we relate to feminism. I don’t have an answer to that, but I know it’s not biology. We also, however, have to proceed with care. For men to demand equal rights in parenting for instance, we have to be aware that most of the time, right now, when women experience that demand it’s in the context of divorces where men regard capturing the children as an economic tactic, not a debating point about gender roles. If we demand anything, as men, even the right to be unsure or vulnerable we have to do it with a sense of context. We can’t make the mistake too many men have, of asserting that they are new men and must be regarded as free of the baggage and burdens of our history. In short, we have to reflect on our pasts as well as the future we’d prefer to see, and do it with humility and an awareness of the journey our sisters have been on as well, even if, like me, we regard patriarchy as a symptom not a cause, and biological determinism as a cul de sac.