Men who don't care and the women who love them

 

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Category: Relationships Date: 18 Oct 95


About three years ago in casual conversation, in the heady days of Prime Radio, a certain commentator looked at me in surprise: “I didn’t think you were married. In fact I thought you were a lesbian.”

 

Now this self-proclaimed messiah may have made one or two valid observations, but as the Americans say I can’t handle him. I can forgive him for sounding pompous, for alienating people, for making sweeping generalizations. But I can’t forgive him for being a bore and hopelessly reactionary.

 

It took me some time to grasp what he was saying, since I was at that very minute having difficulty concentrating on this tiresome man. He is one of those men who wonder why you keep your maiden name. I replied, “I’ve had this name all my life - why should I change my name if my husband isn’t expected to change his?”

“But it’s tradition,” they wail.

I ask them, “Why don’t you cook and do housework and mind the children after work - you know, allow us more time to wind down?” Again they hide behind the skirts of tradition.

In fact one man recently informed me with utmost gravity that many East Indian women feel that unless they are beaten, they feel they are not loved by their husbands. Then if you point out to them that many traditions are oppressive - apartheid was one, slavery another, female circumcision another - they balk, put you into the feminist box, throw it down the river, muttering, “We work hard carry the burden of the household; we just ask to be fed a solid meal; and for some respect; and they give us talk.”

 

Then you get called that dirty word - a feminist, read man-hating. Another bewildering accusation. I love men. My father is my hero, my husband an absolute dish, my courageous oozing-charm brother, my former Philosophy instructor with an enormous nose - a hideous Greek man oozing sensuality and a towering intellect, my brilliant mad-in-the-closet poet friend. I have never understood why it’s taking so long for more of us to sit side by side with men, as equals rather than, pen poised, expectantly looking up at them for words of wisdom. A friend told me today that she organised a seminar for the managers of a major company. All forty managers are men. The women are support staff. Women’s politics are thought out, they instinctively grasp social problems, are non-confrontational, incredibly organised and efficient. So men reply, “But you are powerful. Some of you rule the world. Look at Thatcher, Bhutto, Dame Eugenia, Pat Bishop, Diane Quentrall-Thomas, Occah Seapaul...” By the time you reply, “These women are aberrations and not the rule,” they’ve switched off. They say men who kill and abuse women do it because women have begun to destroy family life - they want to earn more than men. They want to rule men. They want to undermine them, make them feel insecure.

 

So they think our preoccupations are unimportant: sitting through the children’s homework, delight in the feel of silk, bawdy laughter with a friend, a run in the rain... Unimportant women’s stuff is really much more. Women tend never to lose the intuitive gifts of childhood. I have never been able to describe it, but it’s a certain freedom of spirit, an expansiveness, a resilient courage that helps us cope with death, sickness, unfaithful men, handicapped children, a capacity to penetrate into and enjoy the detail of life. Men can control the money, and they can use physical force, but they can’t control this spirit. So we read about women who’ve had their throats slashed, who are slapped up hard and then die, who are shot dead. Sometimes the children go too and are buried side by side with their mothers and the man kills himself. We won’t deny he must have been in mental agony; he must have felt frustrated beyond belief; he must have felt “less than a man” when he was horned or unemployed or rejected from society because he did not hold the necessary qualifications.

 

I think men would do well to find another way to feel like a man other than bullying a spouse or mother to make them feel a sense of power. I believe they would be so relieved if stereotypes of having to be strong and virile, the provider, didn’t burden them. Then he wouldn’t have to fake his qualifications, could put up with a horn and wouldn’t have to take out his sense of powerlessness with the world on the only ones weaker than him. If courage and gentleness and resilience were seen as “manly” qualities, he wouldn’t be so desperate.

 

Once men discover that we don’t expect or want them to carry the sole burden of minding the family, that a real man for a woman is somebody who is unafraid to be emotional, able to say I’m lonely or I’m scared, or I’m insecure, I’m confused, help me. He needs to understand that women are actually contemptuous of men who are so ill-equipped emotionally and spiritually that they have to earn more money or use brute force on women and children to feel a sense of power. Our heroes today are the men who change diapers and whose idea of a night out is getting drunk with his wife. Yes, we’ll drink and carouse with you.

 

So why would one man call me a feminist, another a lesbian as a form of insult? By the way there is nothing wrong with being either, OK men? A feminist, as Rebecca West said, is simply somebody who refuses to be treated like a doormat. And a person’s sexuality is not anybody else’s business. It’s odd but men who take up all kinds of causes - racism, prisoners on death row, a hurricane relief fund, blank out what’s staring them in the face. Then they scan the newspapers. Here’s what they might very well come across this week alone.

“This year, combating violence against woman was a central issue in the Beijing conference. It cut across cultural and geographic boundaries.”

“According to one survey more than 58 percent of Japanese women reported physical abuse by a partner. In India, police record thousands of “dowry deaths” each year in which young brides are killed by their husbands and in-laws because their families paid insufficient dowries. And thousands of cases remain unrecorded, untold, leaving the murderers free to marry again and demand greater dowries.”

“In the United States about one-third of all women murdered die at the hands of a husband or boyfriend.”

 

In Trinidad, a man who suspects his wife of having an affair sharpens his wife’s kitchen knife and murders her and their children before killing himself. Last week another woman died after she was “slapped” by her husband. Another woman was lured and raped. Now men will read this, but half an hour later, mention “violence against women” and they will expostulate “not that damn feminist talk again!”

 

They will say of the OJ Simpson trial: “For once justice was done in America towards a black man.” And that could have been the case. We all have reason to distrust a system which is used for racist ends. But again we encounter this complete blanking out of the indisputable fact that a woman, regardless of her colour, was severely battered and possibly murdered by the accused. But OJ’s lawyer Cochran saw himself as part of a historic struggle. He thundered to a mainly black and Hispanic jury, many of whom have undoubtedly witnessed the ugly face of racism. “This is about civil rights for every African American.” That was unfair. It was hitting below the belt. It was evading the real issue of spouse battering. Besides, Simpson was an American hero, a Hall of Fame running back, a Hertz pitchman, an actor, a celebrity and only irrelevantly, a black man. How could race be the central issue here? OJ Simpson was married to a white woman, lived in a mostly white neighborhood, was a member of a mostly white country club and counted as his close friends innumerable rich white businessmen. But Cochran asked the jury to strike in the name of a Brentwood millionaire, a mighty blow against racism. In fact, Robert Shiparo, Simpson’s original lead attorney angered his co-counsel by telling reporters that he didn’t think the case was about race at all. Fuhrman who said he found a bloody glove behind Simpson’s home which matched a glove at the murder scene was undoubtedly a racist. So the jury was asked to focus on one racist cop instead. Cochran effectively blanked out Nicole Simpson. Fuhrman was on trial, and the jury voted him guilty. Nicole Simpson’s battering and death became the side show. The prosecution had witnesses, ‘911’ calls, photographs of a beaten Nicole Brown Simpson. Nicole told friends that if she were killed, OJ did it. She predicted her death and left evidence of the abuse in a safe deposit box, a message the prosecutors said intended for the inevitable jury in a murder trial. They voted not guilty. But a strike against racism here was a blow to battered women.

 

So bright young Harvard students will cheer for OJ’s triumph. They will not see OJ in his true context, that of rising statistics of spouse and children battering. The odd thing about it is many of these men are funny, bright and affectionate and really like women, but if you use words like battering and equal rights, they switch off. So let’s look for another vocabulary between us: let’s try to determine how we might both be more fulfilled by developing our potential to its fullest. Just think, then women can take the financial pressure of support off the men. And men won’t feel that they have to base their manhood on some caveman provider attitude. It will be OK to be unemployed for a while, OK to be down and out. We’ll support and love and respect them through bad times. We’ll trade skills. We’ll teach them about that inner light of strength in adversity, resilience, nurturing and laughter, and they will encourage us to enter the world of banking and finance, science and politics, with confidence. We’ll talk and shout and laugh at each other, but we won’t kill in frustration. We’ll communicate.

 

In Washington I heard of the Million Man March. This male only event has two goals - “creating a picture of black men that defies negative stereotypes” and encouraging “black men” to “atone to God for the way we have treated our women and girls.” I wish that march was extended to all men of all races, to men worldwide.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur