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.

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Ode to Barry

Train travel. People say they hate it. I thought I would dislike parts of it. But I’m going to miss it. All of it.

Maybe because it symbolises employment. For the past year I’ve made an almost weekdaily (don’t you love it when I make up words) journey to my place of work…which will soon evaporate due to an inevitable end-of-contract reality. And so too, my return train journeys from one side of our city’s pretty, ancient river to the other.

Recently, after almost a year, I began to recognise some of the same faces I’ve been sharing those carriages with. Imagining their stories. Wondering if they recognised me and our travellers in common.

It occurred to me that it perhaps took longer than it should have, to recognise these kindred passengers. What sort of jobs did they travel to each weekday? Did they enjoy their work – was it their vocation or just a paycheque? What calorific secrets hid in their lunch bags? Didn’t he have dreadlocks last week? Wasn’t she wearing that suit yesterday? Wow, that must be her new grandbaby, and proud daughter! I can really see the family likeness. How sweet.

Will they notice when I’m no longer there, commuting beside them, quietly but observantly. Would they recognise me in a future shared cash register queue? Would I be able to place their face, or would I go on wondering for weeks about its familiarity, as I have done with one particular woman I’ve noticed twice on my journey home. It was the set of her Botoxed lips, the angle of her chin, her straightened shoulder-length hair. I still can’t work out why she looked so familiar to me, or where I’d seen her before. Why did I feel like I knew her?

I’ve pondered why people stand the way they do, why the boozy breath, are those shoes even comfortable, does he know what a great dad he is, that bag must be heavy, can the river get any flatter or shinier this morning, please stop raining, this must be a learner driver!

In true introverted style, I’ve struck up just two in-transit conversations in the past year – both in the past two months. For the first, the train had largely emptied and two women – one from Albany, the other from Melbourne – sat right behind me chatting about how friendly people in Perth are. So, without hesitation, I turned around and said hello, coincidentally proving them right! I enjoyed their anecdotes and shared my observations of how friendly and accommodating the people of Melbourne had been to me the previous weekend.

Another chat was with a 20-something man as we both admired the gorgeous innocence of an infant girl, hair sticking straight up and clear blue eyes focused intently on her grandmother’s animated face. We spoke about his nieces and nephews and how he was their favourite uncle. And we touched on how quickly babies grow up and out of our arms into walking, talking dynamos with their own agendas, in record time.

In retrospect, I guess more conversations would have been better. It is amazing how silent a completely packed train can be at peak hour. Everyone is very polite, aware of their impact on fellow passengers, knowing the journey will come to an end sooner rather than later…just grin and bear it inside your own little bubble, even if it does rub against that of several others.

Except for the odd one or two train riders, who carry on conversations that entertain everyone else whether we want to partake or not…

From face to face D&Ms to mobile phone whinge sessions, I’ve heard my fair share, and still marvel at how some people just don’t care if others hear the intimate details of their dinner menu, disrespect for each other, contempt for former partners or the details of their drunken weekend shenanigans.

When my phone silently vibrated with the terrifying prospect of another wanting to talk to me while in transit, I held my breath until it stopped. There was no way I was going to reveal lamb and rosemary sausages, cheesy mash, steamed vegetables and honey carrots, was my chosen comfort food for that wintery eve.

Getting onto the train each day has been like re-joining the human race anew every 8-12 hours or so. It’s been levelling, I’ve never felt unsafe. I suppose it’s become comfortable, like a familiar neighbourhood.

But the most inspiring experience has been the friendly smiling face of Barry, the endlessly nodding Transperth man who greeted and good-byed me at the start and end of every day.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more constantly genuine public servant. Known to all simply as Barry, he would routinely chat to passing commuters about the weather, the day of the week, how long it was until the weekend, smoothing our ride into and out of yet another working day where the tide of humanity is largely faceless, anonymous. He welcomed the company of eccentric bus and train spotters, guided unfamiliar fare payers and trained colleagues all while cheerily nodding to his passing fan base, all thankful merely for his presence.

There were the regular newspaper readers, book addicts, mobile phone interfacers. Then there was my usual parking spot, only available prior to 8am, my preferred side of the train where I was guaranteed the longest river view possible, and my habit of trying to count the abundant black swans on Lake Monger. It’s been an absolute pleasure to go on this ride.

Which must be why violent attacks on mass public transport nodes, rip our communities to the very core, attacking our sense of personal and societal safety for evermore.

I really hope my next job allows me to catch the train, it’ll be like a homecoming.

PIC:

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1845: an early English steam locomotive. (Lambert/Getty Images)