According to the dominant media stereotype, men are either inadequate, violent or both, says Steve Garrett. So how do we go about feeling proud to be a man?
—This is article #81 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Last night I watched an excellent French film (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) that focussed on the struggle of the central character, a young mother of two, with depression and self-confidence.
Her husband was in a supporting role and as the film progressed, and her behaviour became more challenging (including telling him he couldn’t really love her and would leave her, after he’d just spent two weeks pretty much taking care of her and the family), I found myself waiting for the seemingly inevitable moment when, conforming to the predominant media stereotype of men as inadequate, violent, or both, he would either desert her, hit her, hit the kids, have an affair, start drinking – not because this is how I believe most men would behave, but because that’s how I’ve become used to seeing us portrayed.
I was just waiting for that inner wincing as the male character is represented playing down yet again to one of the limited stereotypes: heroic but dumb; sensitive but useless; strong but hyper violent; ordinary but boring; rich but sadistic; handsome but narcissistic; talented but unreliable etc.
To my amazement and relief, her husband stood by her, admittedly not without frustration at times – but this was a realistic film not a fantasy. He kept his belief in her through the hard times, and was ultimately rewarded by the solid love of a recovered and empowered woman who fully appreciated what a ‘real man ‘he had been.
Proud to be a man
I was proud of him, and proud to be a man who hopefully could behave somewhat like him under similar circumstances, although I suspect I might well have fallen short. It felt good for once to have a positive male role model I could believe in and admire.
In contrast, the men on the streets of New York caught on film in the recent viral You Tube video ‘cat calling’ a women as she walked through the downtown reminded me more than anything of naughty boys shouting out insults to irritate grown ups who they knew would never catch them.
How sad that the men in this video didn’t have more respect for themselves, never mind respect for the women they were shouting at, or in some cases stalking. I know that, even though it happens to most women when they are in public, it is still only a small proportion of men who are so desperate for female attention that they will resort to accosting a stranger in the street, and I do actually feel some sympathy for those men if they really can’t find a more mutually rewarding way to connect with the opposite sex.
I also understand why it’s more than an annoyance, like avoiding potholes in the pavement, for the women who have to put up with this kind of unwanted attention, because those shouts express certain culturally prevalent male attitudes and feelings in relation to women that can (and self evidently sometimes do) turn into the kind of attack that some men may need to make in order to reassure themselves that they are in fact ‘real men’
(Btw it’s hilarious to see how some men respond when the catcalling tables are turned, as has been done to great effect in several recent videos clips; in particular, a group of ‘female construction workers’ are fabulously creative with their filthy innuendos, and the blokes they’re ‘harassing’ don’t know where to put themselves).
What has any of this got to do with how I feel about myself as a man in 2014?
I guess it’s all confirmation that, that as fully fledged members of the human race (despite what some of the more strident critics of our gender would like to proclaim) we inevitably have a mix of the good, bad and the indifferent in our midst, so that any type of male behaviour we or anyone else goes looking for can be found.
The ony thing we can do, is live out the model of manhood which is true to what we feel and hold important, stop being concerned with whether or not that conforms to culturally sanctioned ideas of ‘manliness’, and confront and challenge negative generalisations or attitudes about ‘what men are like it’ whenever and wherever we encounter them.
That way, little by little, we will remind ourselves that we are worthy of respect, and reassure the women and children we share the world with that they can mostly trust us to behave supportively towards them and to do what we can to change the attitudes of that minority of men who might pose a threat to them. (This, by the way, is what I call FeMANism)
—Picture credit: FaceMePLS
Steve Garrett runs the website FeMANism (for men passionate about equality).
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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