Shifting the goalposts

I think this article is right on the money. I have to say I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of months about what women have had to put up with from men. I’ve spoken to women friends who have told me very matter of factly how they’ll cross the road as a matter of routine to avoid the possibility of catcalling and wolf-whistling, and how so often they’ve had to shepherd amorous men away from themselves or each other. What I’ve learned is that, like racism, most sexual harassment should be judged on how it’s received, rather than how it is intended.

That’s a shift for me. I suspect many of the episodes we discuss are the result of clumsy or ignorant men, but that’s not an excuse anymore. Up till now – as my friends affirm – most men aren’t called out for this boorish behaviour. It’s as if women have been conditioned to this unpleasant behaviour as a fact of feminine life. It shouldn’t be. I may be upset at the time, but I’d much rather be told so that I know than allowed to perpetrate such behaviour again and again. The reasonable amongst us deserve the opportunity to reform and redeem our behaviour.

In any case, this article goes to the root cause of a lot of that behaviour, and I agree. For me, it all goes back to education and upbringing, and what it means to be a man. I can say this with some authority because I have been subject to these same forces, and the same forces have shaped and developed me. Much of my behaviour is a product of that – I’m a masculine, hard-driving, aggressive character, attributes which have been admired amongst the brethren since I can remember; and I’ve been a womaniser, and encouraged in that with a nod and a wink by the brotherhood (what a double standard that is). Fortunately, in my case, I’m also self-aware enough to overlook those attributes. I can see how silly they are more often than not. I can take the mickey, and have moved long past the point where they define me as a man.

The problem is for many that they don’t get to that point. Instead, their childhood innocence is gradually corrupted by the expectations and demands of a male society. Any sign of being sensitive is viewed as weakness (when, in fact, it is a strength), as are many of the notions we associate with gentle reflection. When it’s challenged, as it is more frequently these days, many men react with hostility because it feels as if their very self is being attacked. It’s not surprising so many react with violence – it’s binary age we live in (something else that needs changing).

The better educated, the more intelligent, may escape this, but the rest become conditioned, much like Pavlov’s dog. These are learned responses, and the solution is to change the learning. That must be society-wide, but also down to parents and the education system actively guiding our children to a general belief in respect, regardless of difference. We need to shift the goalposts from what it means to be a man to what it means to be a human being.

That doesn’t undercut our maleness. It’s still there, but it shouldn’t be something you need to prove or validate. No-one doubts my masculinity, but I’m much prouder of being a decent human being than I am a formidable one.

Aggression is not strength; strength is having to the confidence to be your true self, in being selfless, kind and sensitive. Strength is being above judgement and possessing the generosity of spirit to embrace other ways and points of view.

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