WHAT ABOUT MEN?

A colleague works with women on peri-natal issues. This is a lot more than worries about a pregnancy. It includes miscarriages, relationship breakdown, intimate partner violence, parenting challenges, stillbirth, terminations, dealing with the medical establishment… the list goes on and on. All of life and death is here.

I am constantly amazed by her capacity to manage the demands of this work and her ability to not only offer thoughtful expertise and intervention, but to connect compassionately with her female clients. She achieves—every day—that delicate balance between professional skill and approachable humanity that characterises what I consider best in therapy.

But there is a cost. A few weeks ago she arrived home and slumped onto a kitchen chair. 

“How was your week?” her partner asked.

“So many dead babies,” was all she could manage.

This week she mentioned a psychologist’s social media group that strayed into the vexed area of feminism. Why vexed? Surely it is about equality and education and progress? Maybe some of the male psychologists were confused too. Several, my colleague said, reached for the petrol-pouring response, “What about men?”

What about men?

It is a confounding question. As a privileged, white, first-world male brought up in the Sixties, my psyche is polluted with the cultural debris of rampant sexism and, at a personal level, the emotional scars of male domestic violence. 

And there is more. Working in the helping professions for thirty years has reinforced how ubiquitous male privilege is, its impact varying from near invisible subtlety to systemic oppression. So in all likelihood my world view is tinted. Tainted, even. But here’s what I came up with. 

When should we ask ‘What about men?’?

When nurturance, connection and safety are as important as martial power, war, and territory…

When children see a model of mutual respect and compassionate communication between their parents…

When a week goes by without a woman being murdered by her intimate partner *…

When statistics show that violence by women towards men exceeds the reverse…

When everyone shudders at reports of rape and sexual violence…

When gender differences are considered a cause for celebration rather than a basis for discrimination…

When stereotypes of women (and men, for that matter) cease skewing everything from healthcare to employment options…

When girls no longer need to fear their sexuality is dangerous…

When sensitive boys need not feel shame about who they are…

When women do not need to embrace ‘alpha male’ behaviours to gain power and ‘respect’…

When centuries of controlling patriarchy are exposed for what they continue to be…

When the misogyny and manipulation of religion wither to dust…

When manufactured ‘ideals’ of female appearance no longer bring misery and despair…

When the designations ‘person’ and ‘human being’ are enough…

When this reflects everyday life across the world, then will be the time to ask, ‘What about men?’

By then, of course, the question will be redundant. 

Amen.

Orange-Speech-Bubble-Gender-Equality-Quote-Poster

* This figure is for Australia. The UN (cited in marie claire, Nov 2018) estimates that worldwide, the figure is six women per hour. A woman is killed by someone they know every ten minutes. Think about that.

COUCH

I’m sitting on the arm of the leather couch in our family room. Its brown skin is pocked with scuffs and scars; ribbons awarded for fifteen years active service.

In the house where I grew up there was no couch. The lounge room had two armchairs and a matching ottoman. It had two in-between chairs too, used by my sister and I when we were big enough, but no sofa. The family living in this house did not sit next to each other. They didn’t do closeness.

So I’m looking with affection at the careworn covering of our family couch. Careworn. Worn through care. We’ve sat on it to watch Thomas The Tank Engine and The Terminator. In the cracks between the cushions are layers of crumbs and debris that probably support several complex ecosystems. Life on the surface filtering down, nourishing those below. I hope the microbes are happy in their microbey lives; falling in love, producing little microbes, making beds out of skin cells and sporting fields out of lost shirt buttons.

This lilliputian reverie is abruptly interrupted by the impact of my fourteen year old son, hurtling across the room and rugby-tackling me so that we both collapse backwards onto the cushions. He’s done it a thousand times before, a game we’ve played forever. A decade ago I used to have to push myself backwards to achieve the desired result—a tangle of limbs and giggles and a victory squeak from the boy as he grinned down at his vanquished Daddy. 

But he doesn’t need any help now. Almost as tall as his Mum and more than half my body weight, the moment of impact has a combined mass of 140kg. So backwards we go, thump! Ha! So loud and deep was the young fella’s triumphant shout that I did not hear the crack of splitting timber. It was only later in the evening when we were siting in a line watching a bit of TV that I noticed I was sliding forwards. Not just bad posture; the sofa had developed a pronounced tilt. Inspection revealed a fault line gaping between arm and body, the latter having subsided to floor level as if finally succumbing to years of play wrestling.

I pointed out the collapse to the others. They both stared at me, seeking to gauge my reaction. Because I am not always OK around stuff being broken or damaged. In the house of my childhood objects were supposed to last forever. Breaking things through overuse was frowned upon, even growing out of clothes viewed with suspicion. Wilful damage was a capital offence. I once hid at the top of the back yard willow for three hours after breaking a garage window playing cricket.

A kind of reverse scarring results from this insistence that things have to last. An obsession with protection stifles exploration and kills spontaneity. Scarring is the inevitable by-product of use. It’s a result of life.

I looked at the couch and at my partner and son, and smiled. It took a little effort. This couch has been good to us. It has opened its arms to a thousand cuddles, hundreds of rough-and-tumbles and we are sitting on it together now, despite the list to starboard. We continued watching tele.

Things wear out. People too. 

But love doesn’t.

EGGS

I

Trauma obliterates memory,

drowns feeling in a silent tide, misery deep.

A crown of thorns that sits just inside the skull.

II

Kind is warm, fleeting.

Compassion, connecting;

a current of tears.

III

One of my friends came out as trans.

I said courage, he said need.

I’m scared for him. And by her.

 

TIKI EVE

Some people are really good at casual social interactions. Sadly, I’m not one of them. I have to be convinced, cajoled or corralled into attending gatherings larger than four adults and even then it’s usually all I can do to avoid glancing at my watch with insulting frequency.

On reflection, my partner would probably substitute ‘and’ for ‘or’ in the previous sentence. Convinced, cajoled and corralled. I am just not that good at small talk.

It’s not that I dislike people. In low-density situations (preferably one-to-one) I relish human connection. In fact, I’ve made a career out of bounded intimacy. But parties aren’t my best thing, especially ones full of strangers. 

As we pulled up outside the New Year’s Eve party of a couple we’d never met, I glanced at said partner with a slightly troubled expression. Is this a bit odd? Rocking up to a tiki-themed NY party with a bottle of Margaret River Rosé and a garish pink shirt? She managed to roll her eyes and look lovingly amused simultaneously, which has a degree of difficulty of 4.2. I did wonder, she said mildly.

I knew the answer, of course. For the first time, a blogosphere entity was beaming from hyperspace into the real world. A fellow of diverse creativity, restless curiosity and a peppery reaction to intransigent stupidity, the source of our party invitation is also a prolific Facebooker, being responsible for more of my ‘Like’ clicks than anyone else during 2018.  (I recognise that last one, partner said in response to this observation. She does irony too). He’d also promptly and generously offered a sound production tutorial to a young musician friend and alerted me to one of the concert highlights of recent times: Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Pity we didn’t actually meet on the night. 

Walking down the driveway, a little ahead of Ms Lonely Keyboards and the boy, I felt a pang of anxiety, instantly dissolved by the warm greeting and firm handshake of our host. We both grinned. Good to meet you. Come inside.

As we passed through a jungle of exotic decorations—all tiki-themed, of course—I realised that we were, in fact, the first to arrive. Gulp. The hostess was jamming small coloured edibles onto toothpicks, her smile of greeting just a little strained. Preparations were still very much in progress. We were unfashionably unlate. Double gulp.

Well, one thing I do know is that if you have a task, you feel less at sea. Ms Keyboards knows that intuitively, probably because her work rate is about triple that of normal humans. Or perhaps just mine. Anyway, within moments she had taken over the toothpick business, freeing the hostess for something else. Our host was also into spearing; bits of chicken onto pointy sticks. A-ha! Let me relieve you of that job, I said. Stabbing diced dead animal is a culinary task within even my limited capacities. As people dribbled in, I cheerily said hello and promptly forgot the names, but it didn’t matter. I was on the team and the pyramid of impaled chicken was growing steadily. 

When our jobs were done, we adjourned to a little table on the verandah and enjoyed the summer night, the wonderful range of tropical set decorations and even the tiki-themed music. Our host joined us for a few minutes, which was nice. It didn’t matter that our conversation was interrupted by welcoming duties; that’s the role of host, isn’t it? To facilitate the enjoyment of others. These particular others were a friendly couple; Peter said, sotto voce, you’ll like David, you have a lot in common. Off he bustled, off drifted the new arrivals, off drifted Ms Keyboards to see if there was any food for the boy. I wandered too, noting that the barbeque was starting up. Another job! Within minutes I’d commandeered a spare pair of tongs and was rotating the very same kebabs I’d prepared earlier. And sausages too. And some things with pineapple on sticks. You can take this Hawaiian thing too far, I said to the host. Fortunately he took the crack with good humour. There is a bond that forms when you’re sweating over a hot BBQ; a camaraderie forged in smoke and sweat and grilled meat. It’s a primal encounter where you also get to chat and drink. Having a yarn confirmed all I’d gleaned from this new friend’s posts and our email correspondence. It was really nice, and if I hadn’t been concentrating so hard on not cracking the halloumi, I’d have noticed I was remarkably relaxed.

Later, after supper, I was chatting to the musician Peter had introduced earlier. That was great too; lively, funny, filled with forays into different topics and random jumps from sound compression to Steve Winwood joining Steely Dan for an encore. 

Later again, Ms K and I were chatting to David and his wife. So, asked David, how do you know Peter? I just met him tonight, I said. What can only be described as a guffaw exploded. Seeing you barbequeing together, I assumed you’d known each other for years. I grinned back. Couple of hours.

Which just goes to show that what the world really needs is more barbeques. 

Or maybe more Tiki parties.

LAVA BAR

Lava Bar constructed by Peter and photographed by Wendy