Help us be better

Last week Gillette released an ad internationally which addressed the controversial – but topical – subject of men’s behaviour, with the tagline ‘The Best Men Can Be’. It’s a well-crafted ad and takes on discrimination and bullying, male violence and sexual harassment. I guess it’s easy to be cynical about a huge international corporation putting out an ad like this when ‘me too’ have made such messages on trend, but given the message I think that’s a bit precious. Many have chosen to be cynical, and many more offended.

It’s hard to understand how you can be so epically offended at an ad that portrays the best of men, and urges us to consider our behaviour – but then we are in the age of outrage.

While that still simmers in the background, an awful crime last week captured the imagination of Australians. An Israeli student, returning by tram after a night out at a comedy festival, was set upon near her home, raped and left for dead.

This, sadly, is not an uncommon crime, which is one reason it led to such an outcry, while the Gillette ad played out in the background. Here was yet another instance of male violence upon a woman. As with all of Melbourne I was deeply affected, disgusted by what had happened yet again. My instincts ran to the Old Testament. It seemed apt to me that her rapist and murder would be well punished by having a meat cleaver taken to his genitals. He has now been arrested.

In an earlier time this would have played out conventionally in the media. In the age of social media, in the wake of #metoo and increasing militancy of women this has gone to a whole new level. Women are speaking out, sometimes quite violently, decrying the unending cycle of male violence and voicing the oppressive fear they feel so often, and have kept silent about for so long. Fair enough, they demand an end to this.

Not all men take well to this. The #notallmen hashtag sprung up in the wake of these crimes, but the men using this as a defence miss the point – as I have previously commented on. We are all responsible even if we would never stoop to such heinous behaviour. Other men – the type of men who complain about the Gillette ad – claim to be oppressed, and make ridiculous representations regarding ‘men’s rights’. They have a twisted and entitled view of what those rights are, which is indicative of the problem we face.

I like to think I’m a tolerant and fair-minded man. That’s how I was brought up to be, as were many more of my generation. It might sound a bit flaky, but I approach people as a human being first, then as an individual. I have my bias, of course, and probably have some unconscious prejudice, but officially I give everyone the same fair go. As a heterosexual I look at women differently to how I see men. As a westerner I’m open-minded, but naturally I’m more comfortable in the culture I was brought up in (which is one reason I travel, to take myself out of that comfort zone and experience the culture of others). I don’t really care about one’s religion, and the colour of one’s skin seems irrelevant to me. Clichéd as it is, it’s what inside that matters.

When I look to engage in these discussions that’s my starting point, overlaid with conscious rationality – I want to be fair and objective, though my opinion is clear. My view is that we must talk about these things and so I don’t shy from these discussions, even if it can be a bit rugged at times.

Mostly I engage on Twitter and, as I seem on the side of the angels, my commentary is tolerated. Mostly. That changed a little last week.

There’s a very passionate woman I interact with on Twitter occasionally. She’s articulate and intelligent and unafraid to say her piece. I find little to disagree with, though I’m more temperate in my expression. Last week I replied to a discussion she was part of regarding an article which had been published saying that men had to ‘take sides’ in this struggle over male violence.

By instinct I was uncomfortable with that. For a start I think it’s unhelpful terminology. It’s the expression of extremists – if you’re not with us, you’re against us. It’s the language of the times, the binary extremes that won’t accept anything in between. I hate that about this era because nothing is as simple as that. And I pointed that out, we needed a more sophisticated approach to this. To be honest, something in me resented the demand to step to one side of the line or the other. I’m here already.

To cut a long story short she didn’t entirely agree and ultimately said it was time for men ‘to put up or shut up’. I opted out of the conversation at that point. I wasn’t offended, but realised that nothing I could say would make a difference at this point – and that’s the problem.

It’s probably too soon to have a measured discussion about this, but ultimately if this epidemic is to be defeated then abusing men and marginalising them won’t do it.

I think education and upbringing is key to a lot of this, but that’s a slow burn. I think many men are learning by observing the #metoo movement and having women open up to them about their fears. I think the government can do more in terms of education and promoting better behaviours too. I think change will come, much as it has in the general perception of the LGBTIQ community over the last twenty years. By and large homosexuality and its variants are no big deal now, when once there was a distinct stigma.

If this is to be resolved then men must be allowed a voice because we’re the group perpetrating this. Many of us now are advocating and stepping in when necessary to drive better behaviours, but it takes more than that. We need to own it, and while more of us are every day there’s a segment are being driven further to the extreme by the commentary surrounding this. As I commented to her the other day, those of us receptive are already listening, but those of us who need to hear won’t listen. There has to be another way.

My experience is that you have to work with recalcitrants to find a way forward. You need to give them a way out acceptable to them. Abusing them has the opposite effect. It closes their minds and makes them stubbornly indifferent. It incites these men to further misbehaviour. This is just human nature – work with it, not against it.

I guess the other thing I find generally discomforting about all this are the double-standards we turn a blind eye to. I understand that. Sympathetic to their pain and understanding their victimisation we allow for the language that expresses it. We have to move beyond that though. If you replaced the word man/men in a lot of the statements made with black or jew or muslim then there would be an outcry.

I understand why, but, like it or not, we’re all in this together. If men are to change we need the help of women, not their disdain.


Random perspectives

There’s been a bunch of things happen in the last ten days which have exercised my mind but which I haven’t commented on. More often than not I’ll never comment because I won’t get around to it, but today I reckon I’ll set my thoughts down to the lot of them and be done with it.

One of the big issues last week was the Mark Knight cartoon referencing the Serena Williams eruption at the US Open. As soon as I saw it I thought, uh oh. Very clearly it features a racist caricature of Williams, and anyone who doesn’t recognise it is either terribly ignorant or deeply racist. I can’t see any ambiguity in it, though Knight himself reckons it was drawn without racist intent.

There’s a couple of problems with that. To start with, Knight has history. Not long ago he depicted black gang members in very broad and offensive terms also. On that occasion, he drew the figures in scurrilous detail, while perpetuating a false stereotype of black youth gangs over-running Melbourne – which, as anyone sensible living here will tell you, is utter nonsense. He has drawn similar cartoons in the past, and though cartoonists are permitted some artistic licence – much of what they do, after all, is exaggerated and made a caricature – there must be sensitive to culture and history, which is where the second problem emerges.

I remember about ten years ago there was a huge outcry when a local TV program had a talent show in which some contestants got up in blackface. It took me a long time to get my head around that. Unlike North America, blackface has not the same resonant and racist overtones, and the contestants themselves likely did it as a bit of fun, rather than looking to perpetuate a stereotype. That was my view then, but it has evolved since as I, and we, have become better informed. It’s safe to say we’re much better educated on these matters now, which is why I knew it was racist the moment I saw the cartoon. Knight pleads innocence in this matter (and has since doubled down), but that no longer washes in this day and age, though I believe there are still many uneducated who are effectively ignorantly racist.

It wasn’t a particularly clever cartoon in any case. He’s a fine draughtsman, but he has none of the wit or insight of a Rowe or Pope or even a Wilcox.

There was a great outcry also over Steve Bannon being interviewed for 4 Corners. 4 Corners is a venerable ABC program. I’ll watch it most weeks, and it’s record of breaking news and catalysing change is unequalled in Australian television.

On this occasion, it was the left that felt by giving a voice to Bannon the ABC was condoning his views.

My instinct on this is almost the opposite. I recognise there are limits, people unworthy of airtime, or who are so dreadful that any exposure is poisonous. We don’t need to see them on TV. But otherwise, in the spirit of free speech and equal opportunity, as well as in the hope of being educated, my strong belief is that we shouldn’t be shutting down the voices we don’t agree with. That amounts to censorship.

I’m of the left myself, though I’d call myself a moderate liberal. I don’t believe in the extremes on either side, where it tends to get rabid, and I’m a great advocate for the democratic principles our society is founded on. That means allowing for a broad range of voices to be heard. Speaking for myself, I like to understand. I’ll often read opinions I disagree with or find offensive, but it’s useful for me to understand what their arguments are and how they think.

In the case of Bannon, I think that applies very neatly. He was the guiding philosophy behind the current American president, and his broad manifesto has many advocates around the world, including in Australia. I think that makes him a relevant opinion, even if toxic. So, on the one hand, I believe he was a worthy subject for the program, but unfortunately, that required a more rigorous interview than what occurred. Bannon, a savvy player, manipulated the interview to his advantage. I’m a great admirer of Sarah Ferguson, but in this instance, she didn’t hold Bannon to account.

The ABC, being the national broadcaster, has a responsibility to present a range of views and opinions. They get unfairly criticised by the right for being partisan to the left. Here they present a right-wing view and get pilloried by the left. Somewhere in this democratic principles are lost, which is one of my great fears these days.

As I’ve noted before, we live in a binary age when everything is either black or white, right or wrong, left or right. Our public discourse has become unsophisticated and hostile. There’s little nuance and often no acceptance of contrary views. This is true of both sides. It’s dispiriting observing the battles between the rival views, and though I’m inclined to a left perspective I find myself dismayed still reading intractable and inflammatory views in support of that.

Let me make this clear. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should lead their life. As a general rule, I’m not going to abuse someone who disagrees with me, exceptions possibly being rabid bigots and fascists. If possible I’ll sit and listen and then unpick contrary arguments – I’d rather debate than pronounce. I believe in individuality and fear that if we get our way we might end up with a society of drones. I believe in difference, which is where creativity springs from. And, regardless of my personal ideology, I’ll attempt to approach every issue with a rational mindset. Finally, I don’t believe anything is one thing or another – we live in a world of degrees, imperfect and flawed but amazingly diverse. Any other notion is nonsense.

Pathetic men

Volatile times these days, not the least in terms of the relationship between men and women. There’s still a lot in flux, but there’s a sense that it must inevitably result in something – something being a resolution perhaps, an understanding, or perhaps something to the contrary. I think that’s true across large parts of the world with the #metoo movement, and certainly true in Australia also.

It’s a disruptive time. The combination of recent news and awful events have cracked the old and settled ways. Women, who have been subject to harassment and mistreatment for so long, are speaking up and speaking out. Many men are confused by this. Some are hostile. Others, like me, become enlightened. As always when the first tremors of what may be a seismic shift are felt there’s a sense of turmoil. For me, and others like me, it’s a positive, though there’s a long way to go. For others they take it as a threat to their very identity.

#metoo set things off, but in Oz in the last few weeks there have been two events which have illustrated the scale of the issue.

The death of Eurydice Dixon caught the imagination of the public, as occasionally such events will. It paralleled the reaction to the murder of Jill Meagher some years ago, but, I think, with one significant difference. There was a huge outcry when Jill Meagher was stalked and murdered. The public was rightly outraged. There was talk about how it was a part of a pattern of male abuse, but as usually these things do it died away. It became a horrific crime. It certainly wasn’t an isolated event, but there wasn’t the momentum at that time to make it a rallying point.

The murder of Eurydice Dixon was horrific. It caused an outcry and created outrage. It was another instance of a male perpetrating violence upon a woman, but now the time was ripe for it to catalyse into a movement. In the years between these two terrible murders so many of us have become woke. The outrages of #metoo opened the eyes of so many to the perils women face on a daily basis. I count myself enlightened and thoughtful, yet I had no idea of the scale or depth of the issue. One reason for that is that so many victims, disillusioned with an indifferent society, accepted it as their unsavoury lot. Now they too have been activated: no more.

The murder of Eurydice Dixon then became a cause celebre, typical of what women have had to suffer but the tipping point at which the reasonable said this cannot go on: change must come. It forced us to consider what it said of us as a society, then forced some of us to consider what it said of us as men. That was confronting for everyone – as it should be – and I’m hopeful will lead onto changed behaviours. For some though, it was a bridge too far.

This leads us to the second event. In parliament last week an independent senator known for his extreme views basically called a female senator a slut, and accused her of misandry.

I reckon a few months ago no-one had much idea what misandry was – basically the other side of misogyny. Nowadays it’s become a popular rallying call for men disaffected by recent developments. I think it’s pathetic.

There’s good reason that misandry was such an obscure term: it’s a rare phenomenon. It exists I know, and to be fair there has been some pretty rugged commentary in recent months, but like every movement there are extremes. The ratbag fringe aren’t worth worrying about, and the undeniable truth is that misogyny is a thousand times more common than misandry, and much more dangerous.

The problem is that the status quo that so many men have benefitted from since forever is being threatened by women wanting to assert their rights. It’s a fault of our culture and education that for so many men their sense of identity is so tenuous that it must be asserted in masculine terms. Those terms are archaic and often toxic. For generations it meant that men could feel cosy in their false manhood and women knew their place. With the tide turning – women raising their voice and liberal society joining them – these very same men are feeling disempowered because that tenuous sense of identity is under threat. (That’s the problem when you root your identity in concepts rather than self). They hit out in response, they abuse, they elect to act out their corrupted notion of manhood, and look to put women back in their place – calling them sluts and accusing them of abuse. As I said, pathetic.

Of course it’s deeply unintelligent, as has much of the male reaction to recent events.

When women attacked men after the murder of Eurydice Dixon it was not individual men who were being abused but the state of manhood. I was not offended. I thought it a fair cop. If I am a member of a state that is notorious for being violent and abusive then why should I be surprised if I’m treated with suspicion? It’s a sorry situation, but hardly shocking. Sure, I’ve never done any of that and don’t think I could, but it’s not about me. Ultimately it’s about the women who have had to exist with that state, wary and often afraid and uncertain and sometimes harassed, victimised, and worse. I’m glad it’s come to the point that women are speaking up, and as a man it’s now up to us to change.

For me a lot of it comes down to education and how we raise our sons. There is some arrant nonsense about masculinity and manhood. To hang your sense of self upon such a warped concept can only lead to trouble. We need to raise our sons, as well as daughters, to be good people. Many of those attributes we know: kindness, generosity, compassion, courage, honesty, gentleness, and so on. The rest must come from within, and for me that means our sense of self must come from within ourselves, and not be derived by external concepts.

I don’t know if that will be easy to achieve, but I sense a change and I don’t think we can go back now. Too many people are woke now, too many people activated, too many conscious that change must come. The actions of old dinosaurs claiming misandry will only hasten that along because it causes outrage and is seen for what it is – nonsense. All we need is for some of our institutions to catch up.

All this I am across and fervently hope for. At the same time it asks questions of notions I have believed in without consideration. It’s a curious thing, but I’ll take that up in another post.

It’s not about me

Last night about 10,000 people gathered in a silent vigil at Princes Park. They were there because last week Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered there in the small hours of the night. Last week hers was a name few knew; today hers is a name renowned across the country, with vigils in Sydney and Canberra simultaneously.

The death of Eurydice has outraged and caught the imagination as sometimes shocking events like this do. She was a young comedian walking home after a gig. By all accounts she was a lovely, quirky individual. She was set upon in the dark in the middle of a vacant oval where she was raped, no doubt crying out for help and mercy, unheard, and died there, alone, the victim of a male persecutor.

It’s a terrible story and no wonder it has resonated, but it has echoed much louder than that because what happened to her happens to other women too with a terrible regularity, here, across the country and throughout the world, and for as long as anyone can remember. The vigil last night was for Eurydice, and it was also for every one of those victims. Enough is enough.

It has sparked much comment and commentary, with good reason. Much of it addresses the reality that the perpetrators of these acts are always men. For all it’s controversial. For women they’re sick of walking the streets feeling threatened and unsafe. For many men they refuse to be lumped in with the evil predators guilty of these heinous acts, or be associated with the toxic masculinity that so often leads to it. And for some of us we must sorrowfully accept that even if we might not be guilty ourselves we are a part of a male culture that makes it possible.

Little of this is terribly new, what’s new perhaps is the defiant rejection that this can be allowed to go on. This is why people gather, to show solidarity and to demand action.

Once upon a time I think I was probably one of those men who would refuse to be tarred with the same brush. I would never do that, could never do it, why should I then be reviled as someone who might? I’m still someone incapable of such things, but I understand how little that means to a woman who has endured sexism and harassment daily, who lives with the threat of even worse. They don’t know me; I am one of the group that oppress and threaten them. Like racism, like so many isms, this can only ever be truly judged from the perspective of the oppressed and disadvantaged.

It’s a very sad state of affairs but, as I said, not terribly new. I recalled the other day a time about 25 years ago when I would often walk the streets long after dark. I had a lot going on inside and to simply walk in the dark by myself was a way to get my thoughts in order and soothe my busy mind. Occasionally I would come across someone else on the streets, and sometimes they were women.

I had an instinctive understanding of the situation – late at night, no-one else about, and a big, brooding bloke stalking the streets. For a woman it was potentially a dangerous combination, and though I didn’t like it I would cross the road or go another way to avoid her and ease her mind. I felt shabby doing it, and almost angry. It was like an admission of guilt I didn’t deserve – yet I did it anyway, knowing it was the right thing to do.

This is where we are today. I tweeted a reply to something the other day and it has been shared and commented on since. I wrote as a male, admitting that as such I represented a potential threat. I’m not that man I said, but – and this is the critical aspect many men overlook – it isn’t about me. Or any individual man. It’s about what we have come to represent as a collective and, more particularly, it’s about the fear that we have come to engender in so many women.

It seems petty to get my knickers in a twist about what some are saying about men. Some of it is pretty general, even offensive, but I get the gist of it. For too long we have got away with it and been allowed to get away with it. The perpetrators might get locked up, but the conditions that allow for such perpetrators to emerge go unchecked, and so it goes on. It is a cultural issue that all of us must take responsibility for, but particularly men. As long as we continue to deny and defend, as long as we condone by our silence and inaction, the responsibility for those very few who commit these crimes will be borne by all of us.

Why, as a woman, would you think any different? We must be respectful of the legitimate fear held by women. Those who gathered overnight are right: enough is enough, we must do something. As a man I think the best I can do is accept and admit to this, to call out those who transgress, and be a role model for all.

In the absence of strategy

In the news the last few days has been reports about how China wants to build a base in Vanuatu. It’s caused consternation and controversy and the Australian government has spoken out about it for the obvious reason that a base so close to our mainland – and so far from China – poses a potential threat. And it won’t be an isolated incident.

I rolled my eyes when I read the news. I was totally unsurprised, but experienced a sinking feeling. For me it’s another example of the Australian government’s short-sighted incompetence. This situation could never have developed had we not dropped the ball so badly.

Foreign aid and foreign assistance has been steadily dropping for a few years now, particularly to the Pacific islands. This follows on from the decision a few years back to stop radio and television broadcasts into the region and through Asia. Many a time on my travels I’d flick the dial and come across a familiar accent broadcasting familiar news and views. No longer. This was very popular, not just with expats, but with locals too. All this has been ditched, along with the cuts in aid, for economic reasons.

What price a few million dollars of extra expenditure? Well, now we know. Into that vacuum the Chinese with their expansionary policies have rushed. Once upon a time we exported culture and influence, which was the intangible benefit of our investment. Once we stop making that investment our influence has retracted, and the previous beneficiaries now look elsewhere. Enter the Chinese.

It would be nice to say that none of this could be foreseen, but you have to presume there are some very highly paid people in government departments who would have warned about this. God knows there were voices in the media who did that. Unfortunately the government – and I’ll point the finger at Morrison (and Abbott to a large extent) – chose to ignore those warnings.

Now there is a mad scramble to undo the damage but seriously, I don’t know how that can be achieved.

This is what infuriates me so much, the blind short-termism and the total lack of an actual strategy.

Had there been a proper strategy appropriately championed by the minister, and with a PM a bit brighter than Abbott, then Australia would be continuing to influence and embrace the region – China could never have got a foothold.

Unfortunately this sort of thinking – or unthinking – is not uncommon. The government is rife with it, with energy policy being another prime example. It also happens in the corporate world. I fight an uphill battle every day trying to suggest that the initiatives we take on should be a part of a broader strategy. There is a bigger picture we should be adding to.

In my experience in my present job is that it’s all pretty random. To a large degree that’s structural, with no capacity for a guiding principle. It’s also people, a form of ignorance combined with opportunism leading to misdirected effort. The result is that a bit happens here, a bit there, nothing in concert, with wasted and unnecessarily duplicated efforts, and occasionally contradictory elements.

If it’s a bigger picture then some are working on a landscape, others a portrait, and some an abstract. There is no coherence, sense or overarching purpose. That sums up our government pretty well, too.

Why it means so much

Cricket Australia made the first of their announcements this morning following their investigation into ball tampering. My first reaction was disappointment at the tepid response.

My very strong view is that CA must be transparent in every aspect of the investigation and findings, and be brutal in its penalties. As they say, justice must not only be done, but seen to be done. The Australian people demand it.

What we got instead was news that the three players at the centre of this scandal had been stood down and were returning to Australia, and their replacements announced. No penalties were detailed, and Darren Lehmann continues as coach. Nothing was revealed of the investigations findings.

Cricket Australia is in a difficult situation, but they have to give more than this. I understand how the penalties may not be determined yet, but what is the process? And what have they discovered? What was the chain of events?

As for Lehmann, I can understand his survival only in terms that he has been allowed to coach on for the final test before announcing his resignation. Even so, I think it is a weak response as there appears no out for Lehmann – either he knew and he’s guilty; or he didn’t know when he should have; and in any case this occurred under his stewardship and symptomatic of a culture he has enabled. I’ll be gobsmacked if he’s not gone after the next test (rumour has it Ponting was approached to take over, but refused as he has too many commitments).

I want to comment on why this is such a big deal. Cricket is one of those sports more than others that pays heed to the spirit of the game. That’s the headline, but the fact of the matter is that there’s always been controversy, and some of it pretty ugly in recent years, including match fixing and other instances of ball tampering. That this has made a bigger splash than most is because of the deliberate nature of the offence, and because it is Australia, and the Australian captain, involved.

That explains the rampant schadenfreude around the cricketing world. Must of the reaction this has been unseemly rejoicing at Australia’s plight. While I’m disgusted by the cheating some of the published responses by notable ex-cricketers (particularly English) have been pretty disgraceful. It’s understandable though, because Australia has had this coming.

Australian cricket has been a combination of brutal on field attack – either with bat and ball, or verbally – and a kind of superior puritanism. Australia might play hard, and celebrate, but we would never stoop to the level of other playing nations and actually cheat. That was not in our make-up, and it was an attitude that pissed a lot of people off. Now of course it’s been revealed as rank hypocrisy, and there’s a queue around the block of those looking to sink the boot.

This is much of the reason it’s had such a profound impact in Australia too – we believed that we were above that. It was an Australian sporting mythology we all bought into. The Australian way was as hard as nails, but never less than fair. We were incapable of such behaviour because our culture wouldn’t allow it, or so we all blithely presumed. The betrayal and hypocrisy cuts no deeper anywhere but in the heartland, and hence the violent reaction.

In a lot of ways I find it heartening. Condemnation of these acts was near universal. Almost everyone felt shame. Even the Prime Minister felt compelled to comment – what other place would that happen? The Australian team on the weekend put victory over morality, but it’s clear to me that for the Australian public – who love to win as much as I do, and expect it – would rather lose a game than stoop to such depths. In fact victory seemed irrelevant – I was one of many who advocated that Australia should declare their second innings without facing a ball.

What it tells me is that the actions of those few in the Australian cricket team remain totally at odds with the Australian national ethos. I’ve wondered at that sometimes in recent years. Others commented quite reasonably how ridiculous it was that we get worked up over a cricket game while we turn a blind eye to our treatment of refugees, and other national disgraces. It’s not that we as a people don’t care, I think we’re largely oblivious, for which our politicians particularly, as well as our media are complicit. We’re lazy about it in a way we never are when it comes to sport. That’s not meant as an excuse – it’s our responsibility as citizens to be informed.

I think we have some evil politicians, but I’m certain the average Aussie remains a decent human being. He shouldn’t be decried for being roused to passionate anger about a game of cricket; what we need is the same level of passion for those other issues which speak equally to the national character.

Ultimately it is threats to the meaning of that character that have provoked such a spirited response. Rightly or wrongly we define ourselves on a sporting image. That was betrayed by a few individuals and left our reputation in tatters. Quite rightly we’re outraged by that. Our honour, for that’s what it amounts to, is worth more than a tawdry victory in a distant test match.

And this too is why it must be made good.

Human grace

Hand-wringing about masculinity, manliness and what it means to be a man is a popular pastime these days, and an interesting read. It’s very much a sign of the times, and symptomatic of many of the issues highlighted by recent headlines. It’s a complex, messy topic I think is fundamentally misunderstood, and ultimately mislabelled.

For a start, what is manliness? A lot of the problem is that many men define it in terms that very easily become toxic. I would argue that notions of masculinity have been corrupted by a culture removed from the heavy work from which concepts of masculinity arose originally: pioneers and explorers, adventurers and men bravely blazing a path for their family. It was a simple doingness, men willing to take on the challenge without shirking from it, men – and women – who possessed a stoic strength and determination to keep on going. I think compassion sits in there too, kindness, human grace. All that has been lost along the way because the opportunity to live so rawly has become rare. Instead, when some men – not all, and men I would argue less secure in themselves – come to assert themselves as men they choose to do so with bravado, by being aggressive, by being controlling, by imposing their will, not to mention in displays of physical posturing. Above all else, it seems to me such men define themselves by external elements – against other men, certainly in comparison to women, and by ego enhancing proclamations, rather than by inner qualities.

As an outsider it is silly and transparently feeble, but it also false. False to the original ideal certainly, but false also when it’s so narrowly defined as a male attribute.

I have two things to say about that. So-called manliness can be possessed by women too, and often is; and ‘manliness’, in terms I recognise, is about being brave and honest, no more than that. I think it is essentially humble, with no need to assert itself – in fact, any need to assert itself contradicts its existence.

That’s the problem today though, the almost obsessive need to assert itself, the manifestation of which is often ugly.

It’s a curious age we live in. I’m old school because I was brought up in a different time. It seems a simpler time now because there was not the same focus on manliness, probably because it was a more self-reliant age when such true virtues were more prevalent. There was no need to proclaim something that was virtually taken for granted (albeit in an age that was much more basic in other senses too, if not more socially rustic).

It’s become more today because many men are confused and poorly educated about what it means to be a decent human being. We live in a much more fluid time where traditional gender roles have been given a stir, causing some to question their place in society. Rather than accept the fluid dynamics and multiplicity of benefits society derives from it, fragile egos feel obliged to challenge it because it defies their masculine identity. What was muted becomes loud, in inverse ratio to insecurity.

At the same time, the world is crying out for many of the virtues traditionally associated with manliness. There’s no secret that there’s a drastic shortage of real leaders. What we used to term as ‘character’ has become a rare commodity. The only people who act with any decision are the toxic, ugly, and often stupid – the Trumps of this world, and Putin. It’s no wonder they draw a crowd because they mirror the virtues the insecure cherish. (The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity – Yeats, The Second Coming).

Where are the decent, humble leaders who will yet stand steadfast on principle and for just cause? We yearn for that, and so in its place come myths of manliness.

Referenced in the article above is Jordan Peterson. I’m actually reading his 12 Lessons to Live By right now. I’m only a few chapters in and find myself agreeing with chapter headings, but lost in the mumbo jumbo and mysticism he clutters his elucidations with. I think it’s a messy book, and while it has interesting elements it gets carried away. I haven’t read myself some of the comments attributed to him, which I think are nonsense, but symptomatic of a movement these days to elevate such notions of self into mystical realms. I think that’s dangerous and pretentious, but it describes much of modern masculinity as it strives to express itself.

I’ve been saying for years that true strength is in being humble and true, in allowing vulnerability and expressing compassion, in being yourself completely and without shame. I can’t say I’ve yet achieved that, but I believe in it. Unlike exclusive notions of manliness these days, true strength is inclusive. Call it what you will, but I would contend that someone like Obama is much more manly than Trump will ever be – and so too many women.

I’m a proud man, and in ways, I suspect I’m a bit of a throwback, but I think we have lost a lot when we define these qualities purely in gender terms. I’m suspicious of some of the new-fangled ideas, but in the end what we’re talking about are human qualities. Times might have changed, but there’s always a need for strength, fortitude, honesty and courage.

This is the lesson. We need more people willing to stand for something, and boys more capable of understanding the true grace of being a worthwhile human being. We are human beings first, men and women second.