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Like most males of my generation, I did not find anything particularly wrong with the increasing avalanche of anti-male propaganda circulated via the media and radical feminist camp. It was not until I questioned the validity of such criticism that I began to suspect that the time of the female perspective as the only perspective had come and gone. Women across all cultures and religions have suffered immeasurably for thousands of years and are now catching up, but can we justify turning this abuse against men and making them suffer in the same way our forefathers caused women to suffer?
As a male who has grown up during a period of relative gender equality, and has tried to embody these qualities myself, I believe it is time we tried to curb excessive amounts of male-bashing.
While we tend to think of society under the influence of men, and males as one giant organism, we fail to appreciate that society is controlled by a minority of powerful men, who (for economic and political reasons), continue its oppression. With this view in mind, we can see that the system is not just opressive for females, but also for males, and that the current spate of male bashing (especially in consumer circles) has been used solely by those in power for profit and radical vengeance. In Fredric Hayward's article Male Bashing he comments that "products reflect the popularity of hating men". For instance, one owner of a greeting card store reported that male-bashing cards are her biggest selling line. A variety of Post-it notes contained statements like "the more I know about men the more I like my dog" and "Ther are only two things wrong with men. Everything they say and everything they do." Imagine if we reversed the connotation of the popular "All Men are Bastards" merchandise to "All Women are Bitches".
If we are to ensure equality, we cannot accept such breaches of basic humanity towards the psychological well-being of a part of society. With suicide rates among young males shown to be six times higher than among females, isn't it time we questioned the security and mental health of males in lieu of making such derogatory affronts?
Fredric Hayward further scrutinises male representation in American advertising, saying, "in a survey of 1000 random advertisements, one hundred percent of the jerks singled out in male-female relationships were male. There were no exceptions. That is, whenever there was a husband-wife or girlfriend-boyfriend interaction, the one who was dumped on was the male." Hell! There are guys out there who are downright jerks, but let's not forget that jerk isn't a gender-specific term. Both sexes are equally exalted at emotional cruelty.
Excessive male bashing will only lead to an angry and violent backlash from males as radical as their female counterparts (I need only cite the popular US group, Male Confraternity). Hayward states, "It is time to recognise that modern male-female dynamics have been far more reciprocal than feminist theory portrays." I could not agree more.
Warren Farrell, PhD., The Myth of Male Power, Random House Australia,
Thomas, David, Not Guilty: In Defence of the Modern Man, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1993.
How many of you knew that in 1986, more than half of all child abusers in the US were women? Surprised? How about this one: in 1992, it was reported that about a third of men, but a staggering 47% of women, had violently attacked their partners. And compare these two scenarios: a Michigan (US) court awarded US$100 to a man who had been sexually harassed at work, having had his bottom fondled by female staff who continually sent him sexually explicit notes. But female complainants have received over US$100 million for sexual harassment cases of similar severity. There's no doubt that these statistics and reports are provocative; they challenge the very basis of most people's assumptions about issues such as sexual harassment and domestic abuse.
These and many other astonishing reports are contained in two recently published books that have a common aim: to question the premises of much current debate on sexual relations. Simply put, they challenge the widespread idea that when it comes to issues such as rape, harassment, and child abuse, that women are always the victims, men always the villains.
I won't mention any more of the statistics raised in these books, as they speak loudly enough for themselves. It is interesting, however, to observe the differences between these two books, which purport to have the same aim.
Dr. Warren Farrell's pedigree in issues of sexuality and gender is impeccable. Founder of hundreds of men's and women's groups in the US, he is the only man to have been head of the National Organisation for Women, the US's largest and most powerful feminist lobby group. He has extensive experience in political lobbying and academia, having lectured in political science and psychology and medicine at US universities. It is a pity that with such glowing credentials, he has produced such a turgid, uninspiring and sometimes even irritating book. The Myth of Male Power has one main premise: that men's apparent public position of privilege is matched by private oppression and disadvantage. This is a valid point, as the book argues. But it's a pity he takes over 400 pages to make it. The numerous valid points he makes are lost amongst the somewhat negative, repetitive, even whingeing tone of the book. He thus badly lets down his own aim, of encouraging wider debate of the issues he raises.
In contrast, there is David Thomas, author of Not Guilty. Unlike the American basis of Farrell's book, Thomas adopts a British-based, but much more holistic perspective - and where Farrell's background in academia and politics involves speaking to captive audiences who do not have the freedom to leave the room, Thomas is a product of the competitive and slick world of British glossy magazine journalism; (an industry which he notes, is one of the few that is dominated by women). Unlike Farrell's lacklustre style, here is someone who is used to having to entertain as well as to inform, who is used to fighting to keep an audience. Not Guilty is therefore a far superior book, combining rhetorical style with statistical argument. Thomas also uses personal anecdotes and interviews, thus adding a strongly human dimension to his raw figures and studies. Far from weakening the force of the book, this actually adds to the argument, making it much easier for the audience to relate to the book.
They are both books worth reading; both make powerful, convincing arguments that the current dialogue over sexual relations is bogged down and needs to be rejuvenated. However, in fulfilling their aim of giving a voice to those they feel have been denied a say in current debate, (that is, men), Thomas succeeds much more. For an academic essay that is grounded entirely in research, statistics and analysis, The Myth of Male Power works well. But for a book to actually read instead of quote, Not Guilty is by far the better.
The fact that the question even has to be asked reveals the answer. To be a guy today is confusing. It is to be playing out the most ridiculously complicated, two-faced, shit-kicking, derisive, apologetic and pathetic role in the universe.
You see, guys today are sweet and sensitive. We are understanding and sympathetic, but we haven't lost that oh so appealing internal strength and true masculinity. We are socially aware with a well developed conscience combined with a responsibility to be ferociously carefree centres of excitement. We no longer look at women on anything even approximating a physical level, but by happy coincidence are also far better lovers than we ever were before because of that undying sensitivity and deep-bred understanding. We don't open or close doors for anyone, but we still pick up the tab for drinks. We are lower inflation with higher wages, space age-polymers that feel just like "silk on your skin" and won't hurt the environment, the cake you can eat and come back for seconds. And we are under advice that everything we are is subject to change without prior notice.
Girls complain that guys spend too much time trying to play out expected roles and not enough actually understanding them. The reason behind that little gem is simple enough - because the people who invent the roles have no idea what they want in the first place. For the past ten years we've seen a plethora of demands placed on us, and then a cornucopia of attacks when we try to fulfil them. And of course we've borne it all with a poker face and stiff-upper lip. Why? Because, good sir, we are the villains, didn't you know? We young men, who have for the most part never in our lives done anything more significant than whip up a pretty reasonable omelett,e are simultaneously the oppressors of women, the scourge of minorities, the terror of environmental destruction and the bane of third world countries. Society in general has clued on that gen-xers' only identifying feature is a general feeling of persecution and hopelessness. Now add to that the fact that guys are also dealing with the unfocused, unsubstantiated but morally righteous diatribes of the evil half (and large proportions of our own camp who continue to defect), and the fact that - all crap aside - we are still expected to be the majority breadwinners in a society which for the first time is predicting a substantially lower standard of living for its youth, and you begin to twig as to why young Australian men have one of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the world, and THE highest rate of suicide on the globe. It's the reason why we walk around in a perpetual state of angst with the persistent little thought - 'am I doing this right, or did I just step into another steaming taboo and then put my foot in my mouth?' beating a woodpecker staccato into our brains. I'll tell you what it's like to be a guy in the nineties. It's shit.
You'll have to excuse me now though, I've got to go and wait outside the women's room until they decide they are ready to let me go and march with them (in the rear contingent of course) for International Women's Day. Afterwards I'll pop along to my landlords and see if we can work out some financial arrangement that doesn't include my sleeping in the sewers tonight. And then to make it a perfect afternoon, I think I'll just shoot myself. Sweet dreams all. David Leigh