I Dare You to Read This Without Taking Offence
Large change doesn’t come from clever, quick fixes; from smart, tense people; but from long conversations and silences among people who know different things and need to learn different things.
My son is over six foot. He wears a size 12 shoe. For all intents and purposes, he is a man. And that is not an easy identity these days. I have fought all my life for the rights of women in the face of what we used to call ‘the patriarchy’ and now goes by the name of ‘toxic masculinity’. And while it does a great job of identifying the impervious pollution of unconscious sexism and misogyny, I wonder what the impact on young men is, being thought of as part of a poisonous environment.
A while back, I was chatting with my son about one of his friends whose father left his wife after an affair.
‘It’s common,’ I said. ‘Lots of men cheat on their wives.’
‘Yeah, not real men,’ he said.
I like that about him – his clarity about what it means to be a man.
It’s an identity he’s been slowly forming through his teen years which has included him speaking up against racist comments (and taking a hit to the head for it) and becoming a vegetarian because he doesn’t want to cause suffering to animals. He’s been teased for his choices by his basketball team-mates, and still orders the falafel when everyone else is eating hamburgers. I find this ridiculously endearing because I know how much he used to love a good hamburger, and no-one would choose the falafel over the burger unless they are driven by something larger than appetite, more meaningful than instant gratification and sturdier than peer approval.
When my son shows signs of not being an asshole, I am proud. I don’t know if telling him this is patronizing, but it probably is. My feminist daughter thinks men get way too much praise for just being decent human beings, which is why the average guy generally thinks much more of himself than the average woman does. Of course, she’s right. She sees the world horizontally right now, but as a mother, I also see it vertically, and at times, even aerially. It’s a function of midlife – we get fly-vision.
I see the ‘and’ rather than the ‘or,’ and it’s with this perspective that I want to build a conversation around what it’s like for young men these days in the #metoo era. I’m talking about those who are outraged by violence, who would never, ever think about hitting or assaulting anyone (let alone a woman) and yet who are loaded with testosterone. I want to hear how it feels to be huge and hairy and sweaty and yet suffused with mindfulness and kindness (words that would make the average guy grimace given how enfeebling they sound).
I’m not making this a competition about who’s got it harder (we know women do), but I do want to speak for our sons, because no self-aware young man these days feels he has a right to have an opinion about anything anymore. I want to speak up for good men because there are many, and women need to remember our fight for safety and equality is not a fight against men.
Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.
I know half the folk who’re reading this will get pissed off, because everyone’s ready with their particular form of ‘offence-taking’ and opinion, and because these days social media lets us. And here’s the problem – offence-taking is a binary notion, where you’re right, so I must be wrong. But I’m a bit over all that, and I’d much rather we both just listen without anyone having to claim a victory. Rumi reminded us of the field beyond notions of wrongdoing and right doing, and that’s the venue for this dialogue.
Raising a son has given me a passport to a world I would never have had access to otherwise. I grew up with sisters, with an artist for a father. Until my son, I’d never watched a boy-sprout grow into a teen-wolf and then into man-form. I’ve been so committed to working for women’s voices that I have, at times, tuned out from understanding the harmonies that are necessary for us all to sing together.
No matter the righteousness of our intentions in one direction, we will always create collateral failures. This is the nature of all human endeavour, which ought to be the antidote to our hubris, and give us permission to change our minds. Our opinions, enthusiasms and devotions should shift as we grow in consciousness. This is what it means to become a true adult, something Toni Morrison calls a ‘difficult beauty.’
With my eye fixed on the longing to end all violence and to create a world where no one has a #metoo story, I also want to open up the dialogue, so we stop generalizing about ‘men’ and ‘women.’ We’re smarter than that and life is more complex than these blunt stereotypes. I want my understanding of suffering to include the quiet agony of young men who have committed suicide before anyone ever knew that macho-heart was breaking.
As a radical feminist in my youth, I want to say that I can’t imagine I was an easy mother for a boy to have. I was vehemently anti-violence which meant ‘no toy guns’ and ‘no violent video games.’ I had strict rules about how boys should behave, and my son stress-tested all of them. I read every book on parenting and then threw them all away. I regularly accepted my abject failure as a parent and resorted to praying when my strategies crumbled. It was only when I saw a therapist who told me to ‘untangle my story from my son’s story,’ that I began to understand that my form of parenting was a form of bullying itself, a way of castrating potential (anticipated) violence. This is a form of toxic expectation, just as bad as expecting our children to be gifted, heterosexual, religious or some other projection of our own unlived life or congested consciousness.
I want to take responsibility for my role in the world we have, to stop blaming others, and to unhook from my own tendency to slip into the victim-role when things are not going my way. I hope I can model this for my children so that they can both move forward in their lives looking for the ‘and’ rather than waving slogans.
I want the chance to speak to people who want to listen to what I know. And I want long conversations with people who know things I need to learn.
Joanne Fedler Media blog joins the global women’s campaign, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which starts from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) up to Human Rights Day (10th December). We would love you to share these stories on social media (using the hashtags: #OrangeUrWorld #OrangeTheWorld #HearMeToo #EndVAW), with your girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends and sisters.
During this period, Joanne Fedler’s book, Things Without a Name (10th Anniversary Edition), can be downloaded for FREE.
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Things Without a Name
(10th Year Anniversary Edition)
by Joanne Fedler
At 34, Faith has given up on love. Her cleavage is disappointing, her best friend is clinically depressed and her younger sister is getting breast implants as an engagement present. She used to think about falling in love, but that was a long time ago. Having heard one too many love-gone-wrong stories from the other side of her desk, Faith is worn thin by her work as a legal counsellor in a women’s crisis centre. Then one night, an odd twist of fate brings her to a suburban veterinary clinic where she wrings out years of unshed tears. It is a night that will slowly change the way she sees herself and begin the unearthing of long-buried family secrets so she can forgive herself for something she doesn’t remember, but that has shaped her into the woman she is today. Faith will finally understand what she has always needed to know: that before you can save others, you have to save yourself.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.