Encounters with Masculinity

Encounters with Masculinity

Encounters with Masculinity

 

He talked a lot. His voice was booming and all that anyone could hear. It was loud and the other people in the coffee shop struggled to hear each other. They moved closer, so their bodies could physically block out the noise. His voice was insistent and demanding and it pushed through the bodies and annoyance, the coffee machine, the babies crying. On it went. It was starting to feel like hits over the head and punches to the stomach. He kept going, the women with him beaten into nodding and rolling their eyes at each other. One mouthed an apology to the other one.

At a conference on masculinity the man next to me says, “I’ve been sexually harassed too”. The rest of the table turn and look at him and I look at him.

“But why the word toxic?” says another.

“Eh?”

“Why toxic? Why not just masculinities? Why have the word toxic involved?”

“Because that’s why we’re here. That’s the topic we’re talking about…”

“I think this is where you’re going wrong…”

“I’m not going wrong”.

“If you didn’t use that word then more men would listen to you”.

“It’s not just a word, it’s a theory of masculinity that identifies…”

“I just don’t see the point of using it…”

“Toxic masculinity causes so much harm that…”

“But harmful behaviour is harmful, I don’t see why…”

I’ve drifted by this point, wondering what I’m doing here, what the point of this all this is. The women at the table inwardly cave. The conversation hadn’t even started yet.

“My problem with the word toxic is…”

And his voice arrived, uninvited, purposeful, through the orders for coffee and cake. It was Brexit or women or refugees or pensions or immigrants or children these days or the government or…He had so much to say. I sat trying to reflect on the silences. And on the silences, that are even quieter than that. Gaps where silence should be.

At the beginning of the conference the ‘code’ was delivered. But the code was just words declaring safe spaces without the methods of protecting those spaces and really it was about safe male space, which meant license to forget that the power to control the space is also power to silence and the power to harm.

“Women commit as much domestic violence as men”.

“No, they don’t”.

“Yes, they do”.

“No, they don’t”.

“Yes, they do”.

Later, I found out that this man had recently come out of an abusive relationship.

“Yes, they do”.

“But the figures show”.

“You’re being abusive”, he said from the audience. He meant it. He was feeling abused by my presence.

I don’t remember when it happened, that your own experience becomes the facts of everything.

I looked at the women in the audience and felt that I’d let them down. As harm spewed out. As I was mentally and emotionally doing the ‘abusive math’ akin to the ‘you’re a racist math’ and a fellow panellist demanded that I tell him who he is, as he listed his oppressions.  I honestly don’t know when listing oppressions, real or imagined became evidence of oppressions. I feel very stupid and lonely. The sun is shining. A young poet on the panel speaks up, disagrees with the older men and gives the women hope and I hope that the weight of that doesn’t change him or tire him or burst him into tiny bits of glass. I had to take a good look at the men in my life, abusive lovers, absent fathers, drunk uncles, fragile brothers, self-obsessed sons. The man bubble I’d carefully weaved around myself was ok, reflective, political, but still…And men keep going, leaving, moving away, sometimes violently, vacating spaces they didn’t know how to inhabit.

“I’m telling you…” his voice got higher and now everyone is listening and not listening and the noise makes people leave and the coffee shop owner has decided to offer free bits of cake she’s cut up and put on a tray and walks between the tables, apologising and offering small dry bits of compensation.

So, I need your permission to name my oppression? You think this progress?

“Men have always had power, right? And like the Dublin agreement, loss of power has to be negotiated. You have to ask us what power we’re willing to give up”.

Ahhh, he’s done it now, taken my voice and swallowed it without even chewing.

“Banter is bollocks”, says a man quietly, silence has cut through the noise. But the complaints continued, the men representing power, complaining about the loss of power.

I tried to explain ‘manterruption’.

“Oh wow! So wait, if I have an opinion and”. He stops. “Have I just manterrupted you explaining manterruption?

“Yes”.

“Now that’s funny… mantinue”.

As I talked about the effect of this much harm in a mixed room he responded, “but you’re you, you’re strong, intelligent, articulate” and I’m reminded of the time when a man tried to explain that only thin, pretty girls are sexually assaulted. Think that might have been in an Emmerdale story line once, I’ll have to ask my mum.

 

Artist Tatyana Fazialzadeh

 

 

The cake hasn’t done it and the place is nearly empty and I get up to leave and look at the owner and she mouths a sorry and he keeps talking and no one, including me has asked him to quiet down or stop talking or a damn thing. I take my silence with me.