Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Crisis of Masculinity

As the sordid details of what Donald Trump has done to women over the years emerges in the public domain, as we are enmeshed in the zenith of the controversy that is his Presidential campaign, and as we reflect on what kind of people his supporters must be - to watch and hear detail after detail of his vile misogyny, his deep hatred of women's agency, his naked distrust of gender equality and all the implications that flow from it, and ponder our place in the universe at just this time, I do need desperately to step back and examine with a critical conscience this crisis encapsulating us, this crisis that we seemed to have taken steps to move on from in the west, only to realize that we are as ensconced in it as our caveman ancestors were; which would have been an exaggeration if not for a guest on a television show yesterday explicitly supporting Trump's misdeeds by saying that the history of civilization could be renamed, "Who Gets The Girl".

I grew up in a conservative society surrounded by strong women who seemed to exude a strength that I admired, but knew I would never possess to a similar degree. Everything in my experience pointed to the validity of a woman's agency, that girls could be as ambitious as boys, that sports were as accessible to both genders, that you would challenge a woman on her assumptions with nothing else to go on but your belief that she was less worthy as a woman, only at your existential peril.
When that changed, I really don't know, but I do remember my mother telling me a number of times while growing up that there was a difference between men and women, that certain assumptions could be made regarding propensity and character according to gender, and that we would be naive to assume otherwise.
These were certainly shocking to hear at the time - coming from a woman who determined who she would love and marry, what she would study, how many children she would have, what businesses she would open and when they would close, and how exactly she would deal with the death of a husband who left her with three little children and very little else when he died of cancer when she was thirty-three.
Even later, in team sport locker rooms, and male-only meetings, I did hear overt misogyny that I assumed reflected a dark shame at something the proponent of such talk needed to be relieved of, and never imagined that it was more pervasive than a marginal male persuasion that was restricted to the inadequate, in ways I wasn't really going to be bothered imagining. Every time I heard an overt appeal for what I supposed was juvenile camaraderie, to join in banter ascribing all sorts of fantastical notions related to the 'purity' (or the lack thereof) of women in our society, that 'they' must know their place, that social breakdown was imminent if traditional gender roles were overturned, I always brushed them aside thinking that this braggadocio would last only so long as it was disabused of in an inevitable enlightening encounter with a woman that I didn't envy the proponent of. I remember that I did also imagine that the things I was hearing, and the attitudes that were being disseminated, were a reflection of a society in the death throes of a tiring social conservatism. As a migrant, I have now left that society behind and live, work and breathe in a world where women are ubiquitous; in every career, in every facet of human experience, in every social encounter... and when they are not, the absence is anomalous; to be fought against, to be campaigned for, to be rejected together. I do have a daughter now, and am married, thankfully, to a woman who will rage against the dying of the light, certainly, but also at any subjective disappointment in her life that may not be a reflection of her professional abilities or her personal agency. I am grateful for that because it reminds me of the women I have always known and grown up with and therefore feels familiar, but also because I know that there will never be a time when I will be allowed a laxity in the opinions I hold, or a compromise I make, when it comes to defending and actively supporting the rights of women everywhere.

But there is this question of the Trump supporters, and all those men (and women) all over the world who dismiss the severity of his actions and view them as reflective of a rightful alignment of the place we should allow women in society. And joke about assault. And condone the sexualization of young girls. Where does that end? Where does it begin? What is its use-by date? Is it really related to the perception of the relative uselessness of men in a world where women can do as well, if not better, than men in traditional occupations?
In my opinion, all of that is superfluous. If we cannot regard the people we live alongside, and love, and share meaningful moments with, on par with those we don't; who have nothing more in common with us than a historical notion of superiority based on muscle power or anatomy or sexual submission, then there is certainly nothing wrong with the world at large.
There is something deeply wrong with us.

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