Men, this desolate truth, and its massive responsibility, lays with you

Yes, I’m a feminist. But you knew that, right?

I’m proud to admit it. There’s no shame in wanting equal rights for women and men, especially when there is so much inequality, much of it insidiously slipping beneath all our radars and the vast majority of it impacting women. But you knew that too, right?

But what about when people misunderstand feminism, thinking it’s an excuse for man-hypersensitivity or even man-bashing, and it colours the way we see men, their roles and value in general?

And then this affects the very minutiae of our lives, and those for who we are responsible? Like children; impressionable and sponge-like by nature, they learn by example.

I’ll admit to recently finishing Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl, which gives a fascinating insight into how sinister patriarchy is, right from pre-birth with how boys and girls are innocently expected to look, think and behave in respect to one another.

The book is profoundly awakening, and I’ve been looking at things in a new way, grasping more of the roots of why and how I see myself as the woman I do.

Which is why my views on feminism impacted my reaction to a staggeringly sad story I heard the other day – one that left me shaking my head, pondering if in fact the demonization of men could be caused by a misunderstanding of feminism.

Here is the story: A childcare centre in a once working class now gentrified, affluent but bohemian Perth western suburb was recently compelled to send letters home to all its parents explaining the benefits of employing male carers to interact with their young offspring.

Why, you ask? Because it employs two young men as qualified carers (because men make up 50% of our community and also aspire to care for and educate children in a professional capacity), but some parents had requested their child/ren not be cared for by men at the centre, while others actually withdrew their child/ren completely because they felt it inappropriate for males to be employed in the childcare field.

A pervading feeling of sickness still lingers with me after hearing such a terribly woeful indictment of our times. But even more confusing was trying to work out where we as a society could look to find the reason for this, and then hopefully, a solution.

The mother who told me this story has a small son attending the centre, and was just as stunned as I, loving that her boy had established such a great bond with these male carers; learning how to count in a foreign language, enjoying the opportunity to be expressive and playful with both male and female adult role models in an educational setting.

How must these men have felt upon hearing that parents regarded them with suspicion? Rejected, hurt, defamed? I certainly felt gutted on their behalf.

In Fight, Ford talks about the temptation for women to go overboard in sparing men’s feelings when it comes to advocating for equality, and I’m sure we can all think of many examples where women have endured unfair attitudes/treatment in the workplace based solely on their gender. Does this story fit neatly within these parameters – are these men being unfairly targeted due to their gender?

Such a hopeless yet accurate reflection of where we are currently mired in this gender equality stand-off has been the subject of much personal rumination.

Could it be the fault of feminism that men are being rejected, and children the ultimate losers, of this worrying and seemingly unfair trend?

Could it also be a result of the ongoing Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse and its damning findings, which do nothing for men’s PR, but are so vital for victims, closure and healing?

Are we in the relative calm before a perfect man-hate storm?

I relayed this story to a man and his response was forlorn, barely there, just sad. And it does leave you feeling kind of powerless.

But surely, when the well-rounded education and care of children is at risk, despite women still making up 95% of employees in the childcare sector, isn’t it time we encouraged and welcomed strong, positive male role models into the lives of more young boys and girls?

We are all in this together – in all our diverse forms.

Shouldn’t we be striving to make it normal to see men and women in non-traditional roles if they are doing a bloody awesome job?

And how did we get here, anyway?

Disturbingly, after an awful lot of thinking, I came upon the only answer there is.

Men, this desolate truth, and its massive responsibility, lays with you.

It is men who have been responsible for the extreme majority of child abuse down through the ages, a chilling reality that continues today.

To pretend otherwise, would be to give men the benefit of the doubt, a free go, letting them off, again – something Ford says we’ve all been taught to do, thanks to patriarchy.

This week at UWA, WA Chief Justice, Hon Wayne Martin QC, will host the Symposium of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention.

He is quoted on PerthNow – Justice Martin said there were “too large a number” of child sex abuse cases before the courts and it is a “significantly bigger problem than people who are not in the justice system would appreciate”.

“There is a perception out there that it’s stranger danger that is the problem, whereas in fact, most of the child sex cases we see in the courts are either familiar or institutional.”

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/wa-chief-justice-wayne-martin-says-child-molesters-need-therapy/news-story/4c878e1ed82fecadeaab034eb62e2d3c

This means children are being taken advantage of in institutions or within the circles of family and friends, where we would hope they are safe.

In the same article by Belle Taylor, clinical psychologist Christabel Chamarette says most child sex abuse happens within families but many abusers could be helped, and even stopped, with treatment.

“Paedophilia really only applies to a small percentage of men, 10 per cent at most, who offend against children who are fixated and have a preoccupation with sexual offending against children,” Ms Chamarette said.

We cannot blame mothers and parents for feeling uneasy about having their children cared for by men, as sorrowful as this is.

We can all learn from past mistakes, this is how we perfect the art of being human, but surely we can’t as a society, also think it’s ok to throw men to the scrapheap when it comes to childcare and education. And we definitely cannot allow men to continue not taking responsibility for owning up to and fixing this travesty.

Lord knows child care is bloody hard enough as it is without it being considered undervalued women’s business only. And we women have been fighting for an eon to have men be more active in the vital and rewarding role of nurturer, if not for the sake of children, for men’s own benefit – men speak of being more in touch with their own emotions as a result of more time spent caring for their babies and children.

Men, it’s time to step up. Abuse of any kind, of any gender, is unacceptable. It’s doing your gender no favours, and severely damaging the lives of mainly women and children. And that’s without mentioning the astronomic male on male physical assault rates.

Please redress this dispiriting balance, to put an end to this pain, these gender wars, so we can unite.

Before this planet implodes and returns to the space dust it once was.

Wolf whistle-ee bites the hand that feeds

HE wasn’t anything special physically, possibly even under par – but that could just have been his scruffy garage work uniform. Perhaps he scrubbed up ok in a suit at a mate’s wedding, or even after a shit, a shower and a shave, as blokes are wont to say.

But I would never make an ‘out loud’ judgement specifically directed at him to let he and everyone else within earshot know what I thought of his appearance – beau or bogan.

That would be rude, bullying, arrogant – lord knows I’ve tried to model behavioural traits that contradict these to my two daughters.

I didn’t know the first thing about his personality. He could be someone my mother would love, or a fraudster, or very sensitive about being thrust into the spotlight. So me making an ‘out loud’ physical judgement would only be telling part of his story, a story I didn’t know intimately enough to tell accurately. And it would limit him to one thing only – his appearance. And we all know that’s only skin deep and changeable, depending on the day, the mood, the circumstance, the lighting for gawd’s sake.

So why do some men (or women) find it necessary and acceptable to let a woman (or man), usually a complete stranger, know they look above par…attractive…hot…to them, personally, in a way that also sends a clear message to others with ears in the area?

And are there times, in this politically correct age, when the controversial wolf whistle is acceptable behaviour?

If I’m honest, hearing a stranger wolf whistle me when I was in my mid-teens was sort of thrilling…I may have felt differently had I seen the source of this admiration. It usually came from a passing car. Probably driven by a balding married man with middle-age spread; or a pimply late teen with P Plates on the floor beside a clinking crowd of empty stubbies. The beer bottles, not the shorts…

Somehow in my salad days, those whistles gave me an idea I looked acceptable in a public sense. That I wasn’t embarrassing myself with how I presented my very ordinary appearance. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the wolf whistle said more about the whistler than the whistle-ee. Perhaps those early ‘commenters’ had an inappropriate thing for young girls. **My skin has actually grown legs and is crawling all over itself!**

Inevitably, after a few years of sustained ‘comment’ I began to lose confidence, avoid or fear certain situations and cringe to my very core – my initial thrill had briefly turned to anger before nestling in plain old dread and humiliation.

I was 41-years-old before I stood up for myself, by standing up to my wolf whistler. My daughters were so proud!

As I arrived at my place of work, where I was a senior manager, I would park in the nominated car bay and start the 20m walk to my office’s back door. It was double the distance to the front door and in the rain, it felt triple that on those dark whistle-laden days.

As I made my way to the closest entry point of my workplace, I had to walk up to and past the open roller door of a neighbouring auto mechanic business. Men often stood in the communal access way, having smoko. I would nod and smile politely in greeting. It would be rude not to given I was walking straight past them in a relatively confined space.

This was all very normal and acceptable. Until. The wolf whistle. My eyes dropped straight to the bitumen as I walked more efficiently than ever to the door, willing it to be unlocked so I wouldn’t have to navigate my key into its sticky innards. The relief once I got inside that door was immense. It was a one-off. Incident over.

But no. It became an almost daily occurrence over about two weeks. And the whistler wasn’t shy. He would lean against the outside wall and blatantly make his comment as I came within metres of him. By this time I was worrying about it on the drive to work, I’d shared the story with a couple of close workmates, girlfriends, even my daughters. We all thought this bloke was an absolute tool.

It was making me miserable. I started to ditch the heels and wear flats, hoping to look less ‘womanly’, more homely, or at least less like the siren he thought he should activate.

One morning though, I was in a bad mood, some incident at home, and I was still stewing over it on the drive to work. The perfect storm. My dander was already up.

So I just let him have it, in my own understated, direct fashion.

As the whistle came, I surprised myself by changing direction and heading straight for him.

“Why do you do that?” I asked.

“I thought you liked it,” came his stuttering reply.

“No. I don’t like it at all. It makes me feel really embarrassed. Could you please not do it,” I stated.

“I’m really sorry. I won’t do it again. Sorry,” he blustered, visually shrinking before me.

“That’s ok,” I said, before propelling myself towards my destination and victory!

It never happened again and I’ve shared this story a few times, mainly as a way to subtly let men know women don’t appreciate being singled out with a wolf whistle and to let other women, particularly younger ones, know it’s important to step up sometimes, and say what you really think, without overreacting.

Everyone has agreed with me that this sort of wolf whistle is inappropriate. Except for one person. A former colleague, an English woman in her early 60s who said women should take it as a compliment, and that it was harmless. She said English men often did it and that they weren’t afraid to show their feelings or their appreciation of an attractive woman, unlike Australian men, who were more interested in their cars. While that sounds like a great theory, anecdotally, that is rarely how we are left feeling.

I can think of times I’ve wolf whistled my girlfriends quietly, but in a public forum, like when I’ve discovered them in the same aisle at the supermarket. And the look on their face is always one of embarrassment-slash-annoyance, until they see me. Then we smile and hug. This might be the only time it’s acceptable – among very real friends. When we know the whole story.

Howling with a heavy brogue

IF a man indulges in casual sexism in an unintelligible accent, is he really being an ignorant oaf?

Or consider this.

If a woman doesn’t realise she is the butt of a man’s casual sexism, does it mean she’s no longer a feminist?

Hard hitting questions, all.

This post is a confusing one for me to write – so I’ll just tell it as it happened, because, it was an amusing blip in my otherwise ordinary day.

It was a Monday. I’d happily survived another one and was walking post-work from the train station to where I park the car – about a five minute walk; I’ve convinced myself if I don’t have time for formal exercise on any given day, at least I walked briskly for 10 minutes. And used the stairs instead of the lift. And only had two chocolates at 3pm with a cup of tea.

Deep in aimless, western society thought…what should I make for dinner, damn I forgot to book the dogs in for a groom, again, that champagne on Saturday was really nice, what brand was it…I was pulled from my mental meanderings by a rogueish brogue.

Well. I didn’t know that’s what it was until my mind had caught up with the situation – someone was talking to me, or attempting to.

As I turned my head toward the train station access road beside me, I noted a white 4WD ute had slowed to walking pace and a male driver, dressed in hi-viz, was talking out his open window. Probably to me. Because there was nobody else around.

My thoughts began to speed up, I checked my surroundings wondering if he was slowing to give me a warning about some sort of nearby danger, maybe someone was nicking my car, but how would he know which car was mine, and why do we suddenly think these weird sorts of things?

There was only one thing to do.

“I beg your pardon,” I genuinely asked, looking for clarification of the impending danger.

“Yaprollydoneffennohowotyearrrr,” came the repetitive, slur-ry reply.

Now, I know the helpful grinning man was repeating his statement so I could better understand it, but it sounded just the same, only slightly slower.

As my brain worked overtime to decipher it, and matching it with his boofhead smile, I instinctively realised bodily danger was not imminent. Besides, there was a fence and a car between him and me.

And then it clicked.

“You probably don’t even know how hot you are,” was the helpful offering of life advice, in a thick Irish brogue.

And what was my brilliant reply?

“Okey doke.”

Brilliant! A wordsmith without the wherewithall to wield them.

Well, what was I supposed to say? And what was it all supposed to mean?

But, back to my first question – was this harmless gent a sexist oaf?

No. I think he thought he was giving me a compliment. Because, it’s a looong walk from the train station to the deserted car park and I don’t know how much more silence I could have endured without a reassuring ‘compliment’ from a stranger. Withdrawals already!

We women need reassuring that we are hot, don’t we. I will refrain from making a dad-joke about the weather at this point. (Ooops, was I being sexist then? Sorry dad.)

Was I being an anti-feminist by not calling him out as a sexist or in fact, not realising that’s probably what he was being? It only became clearer when watching this week’s hooha following Chris Gayle’s clumsy and inappropriate flirtation with TV sports reporter Mel McLaughlin. I’m a bit slow on the uptake some days.

I say inappropriate because it’s not nice to show someone up in public for your own entertainment. If a romantic relationship did eventuate from this shallow televised attempt, expect more of the same top quality respect for your feelings. Privately and publicly.

But, unsurprisingly, I digress.

In a nutshell, I was momentarily confused. I didn’t feel like a victim, because I don’t think our Irish friend set out to make me feel that way. I think Chris Gayle distinctively did. Ms McLaughlin certainly didn’t appear as a slaughtered lamb.

So, I am not an anti-feminist for just ‘shaking my head’ at the thoughtless things some men will do to communicate to a woman that they think they’re a bit of alright. I don’t think I needed to take any stronger action…I think my ‘okey doke’ will have convinced him beyond doubt of his stupid, sexist actions…pfffffttt!

But, seriously guys, what do you want us women to do when you offer an uninvited impression of our attractiveness? Scale the fence between us, clamber through your open window and plant sloppy, thankful kisses all over your dusty, stubble-pocked face, then use a hanky to wipe the spittle away and remind you to put your dirty work clothes in the laundry basket and not on the bedroom floor?

No. Well, behave then.

On another aside, we women don’t publicly voice our impressions of men’s physical appeal because from the moment we are born little girls are conditioned to behave politely and be sensitive to the feelings of others. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?

Blokes, it’s time to be awesome role models for the little men in your lives. It can’t just be mum’s job any more.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Picture: Norbert Rosing/Getty Images