Since early days I had an interest and love of songs, song writing and the songwriters art. From David’s psalms where the tunes have been lost, to Bob Dylan, who epitomises the pinnacle in contemporary song writing and whose work has so far not yet been eclipsed. Many people have written good songs but few have produced consistently good material. Many of the singer songwriters I have admired have been women. From the soft and lyrical, country voices caressing words to the biting snarl of pent up rage. Singer songwriters like: Sinéad O’Connor, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pat Benetar, Bebe, Souad Massi, Coco Mbassi, Suzanne Vega, Charlott Dipande and others . Many of these write and perform songs which often display their deep dissatisfaction with the men in their lives and with men in general. Sometimes it is wistful disappointment in “He never will need me” to the savage “Malo malo malo eres ”. I was always curios why I, as a man, should be drawn to this material. Why would I choose to hear my gender mocked and savagely ridiculed? Why would I be drawn in the way that some men are drawn to the strand of pornography which show men being humiliated by women in feminine dominant sadomasochism scenarios . It took me some time to realise that I shared in this frustration in this disappointment with men and this inevitably meant with myself. I too was frustrated with the way we were and how far we fell short of what we should or could be. But to have a sense of disappointment you must have a standard or a model you can aspire to. You must have a vision of something better. What was it?
I had many male models to admire friends and colleagues and leaders in society and in the world. I had three older brothers who I looked up to and through whom I learned: the desire for exploration and finding out, the beauty of hard work and order and doing things well, the constant pushing beyond the obvious of what we were told to the other side of the argument, the cynics art of lifting the lid on pretentions and self-authority and, I had my father. On the long walk homes from Cleadale in the dark after visiting a home with tea and scones he would tell stories, or round the Raeburn in a morning, when there was time, he would read from the bible and excite us with tales of David or Paul. It was in the way he told the stories that I knew that he admired these men in their courage and commitment, despite all their obvious flaws. In the same way as he was excited and drawn to the lives of these men, I was most affected not as much by what my father said, as by what he did. His commitment was all the way. Once set on the path He was never half hearted. Even when he insisted on praying publicly and giving thanks to God for a meal in a crowded fish and chip shop, to the embarrassment of his children,you could not but admire someone who was not afraid of ridicule or shame in the eyes of others. He was not as the Scottish Paraphrase puts it “ashamed to own my lord or to defend his cause”. I often sung that in church uncomfortably thinking that I would be a little ashamed at times. He didn’t ever seem to be. Later I discovered the character Job, specifically; when he describes the kind of role he had in his community. Reading this through a 21st century lens, with our twisted sense of humility, it might seem a little arrogant, but pride would have been furthest from him when he longed for the days past that had been taken from him so cruelly:
“When I went to the gate of the city
and took my seat in the public square,
the young men saw me and stepped aside
and the old men rose to their feet;
the chief men refrained from speaking
and covered their mouths with their hands;
the voices of the nobles were hushed,
and their tongues stuck to the roof of their mouths.
Whoever heard me spoke well of me,
and those who saw me commended me,
because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to assist them.
The one who was dying blessed me;
I made the widow’s heart sing.
I put on righteousness as my clothing;
justice was my robe and my turban.
I was eyes to the blind
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the needy;
I took up the case of the stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their teeth.
Here I thought was an example, a model to follow. The respect he had was not because of his position or his wealth or his skills of gifts but because he rescued the poor cared for the orphans and promised the dying man that he would look after his widow. He took up the case of those who couldn’t and if this required boldness and firmness and necessary force against the wicked who caused the suffering he would not hesitate. He was neither a macho misogynist nor a soft in the middle new man. His was a life to emulate. Here was model to follow.
I very much welcome your highlighting this issue. I share your concern that misogyny is alive and well in our culture, as recorded by the Everyday Sexism Project (http://everydaysexism.com) and just this morning in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/30/an-open-letter-to-all-my-male-friends). I am interested, however, in how patriarchy intersects with misogyny. I am wondering if patriarchy could simply be the acceptable manifestation of misogyny? As long as our institutions (civil, religious and cultural) tacitly condone or actively decree patricidal structures I suspect we are likely to see misogyny flourish. Everything I have read and studied about prejudice and discrimination suggests that to eradicate it we have to be prepared to nip it in the bud.
I am also interested in your notion of a ‘soft in the middle new man’ and wonder how you define that? I haven’t heard the term for years, but my recollection is that the term signified a man who rejected sexist attitudes, didn’t seek dominance over women in the workplace or the home, was willing to take an equal shore of domestic duties and childcare and who was not aggressive, but caring and sensitive – all of which aptly describes my image of you!
While I like listening to Bebe, Pat Beneter et al I didn’t like reading the everyday sexism project or the open letter in the guardian. I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t find it uncomfortable reading. From the letter – “I’m not trying to make you feel bad for being a man. Believe me, I know there are good and awesome guys out there. But I suppose I wanted to explain a bit about what it’s like to be a woman.” Unfortunately, It does make me feel bad. From the project “Men have been raised and conditioned to feel as if they can do or say whatever they want because society caters to them, and it needs to stop. No, not all men are like that, but I’ve lived enough of my life in fear of what men might do to me to not trust most of them. If you have a problem with that, I couldn’t care less. I don’t owe you anything and I’d rather see you upset than deal with your BS.” That’s hard to hear or to swallow. The assumption, in all of this, is that because men are not the victims they are totally oblivious to it, don’t understand (can’t understand) and don’t really care (apart, that is, from some nice awesome guys). It ignores the fact that men might actually care, might actually listen and might understand and might feel the pain too. Almost all of the women who I know and who I am close to, have suffered some form of sexual attack in their lives – sometimes these have been extremely serious and some resulting in prison sentences for the perpetrators. To suggest that, because I have never been and may never be, at the end of this kind of abuse, I cannot possibly know, makes me out to be some kind of insensitive bore living in a self-created cocoon of indifference. I would suggest that if you truly love and care for someone else you feel for and share their suffering. Most of the time you would rather it was you.