I have just finished reading Clementine Ford’s new book Boys Will Be Boys – and boy, are there some truths in there to work up a fine head of steam over. After pumping a generous amount of it through my veins, I’ve still got enough spare to power a locomotive! Which is exactly what Clementine wants, of course. She wants people to get angry enough to agitate for change to the gender status quo. It worked on me – but I’m primed for change, anyway. Those who haven’t yet looked much into the female/male equality imbalance in the world, will surely get a great big gigantic shock at some of the ugly truths Clementine exposes about the violent and vitriolic behaviour that men can display towards women who challenge them, or are deemed not worthy of respect. You know – party girls, ‘sluts’, poor women, disempowered women, disenfranchised women, and those who call out men on their behaviour. A lot of us, really.
Around about now, in any given circumstance, there is usually an indignant “what about women” cry from both men and women. Let’s be clear – women can, and do, behave badly, too. It shouldn’t be ignored, because it can be damaging to the recipient, sometimes long-lasting. The reason there is more focus on men’s bad behaviour is simply because the imbalance of political and cultural power in the world is still on their side, and they can wield that power with wide-ranging unfair and devastating results to both women and men. Plus, men physically maim and kill others in far greater numbers than women do when they’re behaving badly. So the bulk of attention goes to where the greatest threats to safety and life chances are. Simple logistics.
And guess what else? This might come as a surprise, but we know it’s not all men! One of the things feminism brought to me, was a heightened appreciation for good men. Not perfect men, or men who always do and say the right things, but men who just don’t have toxic patriarchal ideologies seared into their souls. When we talk about ‘men’, it’s the GROUP called men, not every individual within that group. For those who comprise that group, it can feel personal, but it’s not. I f it becomes personal, I daresay you’ll know. If there’s a better word to describe the group, I’m listening.
In her book, Clementine shows us how patriarchy gives men a bum deal, too. Not in the same way it gives women a bum deal, but a bum deal nonetheless. Apparently, men are confused. They don’t know how to be men anymore, they say – which really means that what they were taught about being a man around women, is not actually the sort of man women want them to be. All the behaviours they’ve been taught were okay, are now not okay. And all the behaviours they were taught to expect from women are no longer a given.
As well as being confused, men are often afraid that if we don’t have patriarchy, then we’ll have matriarchy, and that might disempower them like patriarchy does to women. Well, we’ve seen how a power imbalance works, and it sucks bigtime, so I can’t see us embracing another one. What will we have when patriarchy gets dismantled? I don’t know, because if we ever had it in Western culture, it sure never made it into the history/herstory books. Our current times are cutting edge.
Even so, we still have a culture that is determined to hold onto the focus on men’s needs, and women’s behaviour in relation to men. Men have needs to be addressed – i.e. the ’need’ to not be held back in any way from realising their future potential, and freedom to experience life to the full; the ‘need’ to express their youthfulness in what ever way they want, with a slap on the wrist if they go too far; and of course the big old ‘need’ for sex. Women, though, still get messages to behave in a way that doesn’t detract from their likeability; not do anything at anytime that “asks for it”; and understand that men need sex, which women are there to provide. Fulfilling their future potential is just a nice-to-have optional extra. It’s a classic scenario in rape accusations and trials, that there is much angst over the matter of the man’s future potential and prospects being negatively impacted if convicted. Whole communities get behind the boys on the sports team who have been accused of rape, to wail about the potential damage to their futures, whilst savaging the girl/s who have dared to accuse them. The girl’s future, and her lost opportunities, is never of importance. The boys’ futures are everything.
Clementine’s book is not a nice read – it’s not meant to be. But if there’s one thing all those who have ever wanted social change understand, it’s that asking nicely for change gets no-one anywhere. It’s unfortunate that it always has to be fought for, and fought hard and loud for, so by extension the messages have to be hard and loud. It usually means being labelled a man-hater if a woman is vociferous against patriarchy – and that is one of the less offensive monikers that abound. But anyone who puts their head above the parapet gets shot at. Hiding behind it, though, extracts a different, and possibly higher, price. In contrast, men seem to be able to talk about women in a hideous way, and do hideous things to them, yet they’re not labelled as women-haters. Why is this? Turns out that if the hideous talk is in the form of a ‘joke’, and women are his preferred partners for sex, then some how that exonerates him, even if he beats them up. Go figure.
We need to have conversations about men’s violence, and the damage it not only does to women, children, and other men, but what the ripple effect of it is to the whole family, community, and country. We also need to have conversations about how we don’t want our boys to be raised and encultured with violence as the norm. The only way to get these conversations going is by loud and ugly truths that rattle cages – and Boys Will be Boys doesn’t hold back.