I like to describe myself as a “male feminist”, even though I’m not exactly sure what that means, or what my duties and responsibilities really are… but since there isn’t a rock solid consensus on what being a female feminist means either, I guess that’s just par for the course. While most of us can agree on the broader issues, like supporting equal pay and opposing domestic violence, not every subject that comes up for discussion is so cut and dry. I would also argue that, as a heterosexual man, my thinking on feminist issues is often clouded by my biological drives… and this image is a perfect illustration of my dilemma: On the one hand, I admire Tracey Emin as a smart, successful, brave and ambitious Artist, with a great sense of humour… but still, I can’t stop staring at her chest, and thinking rude thoughts. As a writer I want to create larger, better, funnier roles for women in comedy… partly because I believe in the principles of affirmative action, partly because I don’t really understand or care about the things “normal men” are supposed to, and partly because I’m attracted to funny women. Is that wrong? Does the motivation matter, so long as progress is made? And what difference does it make anyway, if no one’s buying my scripts? Hmmm…
Back when I picked up the book about Chick Flicks from a charity shop, I also bought a book about typical male/female behaviour, titled Why Men Lie and Women Cry. The title leapt out at me immediately, because it seemed so biased… as if all men could do was lie, and this made the women cry… but the back cover blurb explains that the “crying” referred to here is actually “emotional blackmail”, so I guess both genders can now feel equally offended by the implications? My hope, as I work my way through the book, is that it will help me to identify the supposed “feminine” and “masculine” aspects of my own personality, while also giving me an insight into a broader spectrum of human behaviour, which will then feed into my writing. My fear is that it will turn me into a hacky observational comic, relying on jokes about map-reading and remote controls…
The basic gist of the introduction is that in general, we don’t know anything about our respective “opposites”, and that any attempt to mate without consulting this mighty tome first would be pure folly. Which is fair enough, I guess, since they’re trying to make sales… but then why kick off with this little gem: “The gulf between the sexes, the misunderstandings and the conflict, even in the twenty-first century, are still as present in all our lives as they were when Adam first fell foul of Eve.” (p. 1) Sooo… we’re taking the Bible literally, and we’re blaming Eve for the fall of all mankind? Great start! The general tone of the intro seems far more sympathetic towards men than women… for instance, when they state that “being male today has become a tough call. Since the 1960s, when feminists became more vocal and successful, women’s suicide rate has decreased by 34% but men’s has risen 16%. Yet the focus is still on how hard a woman’s lot is in life” (p. 2). I don’t have any statistics to hand regarding the number of women who have been beaten, abused and/or killed by men since the 1960s… but I’m guessing it’s much higher than the number of men who killed themselves because they were bummed out by feminism!
That said, I can obviously sympathise, to some degree, with my befuddled brothers who believe that “men no longer know what their job specification is and there are no significant role models” (p. 3). I don’t really think there’s an easy catch-all solution to that one though, since the roles that individual men have to play should vary greatly, depending on their abilities and inclinations. Back when I was reading about the various conflicting/contrasting branches of feminism, the one that really stuck with me was so-called “socialist feminism”, which encouraged the promotion of homemaking as a valid and rewarding career choice, for both genders. I guess it comes down to how heavily you buy into the notion (reinforced in this book) that men are all “hardwired” to hunt and protect, and women to nest and nurture. With any couple, assuming they have a choice in the matter, surely it should be the one who’s capable of winning the most bread who becomes the bread winner, regardless of gender? Then, by default, the other partner’s role should be to support, feed and care for The Worker. I think it’s too easy to hide behind the argument that we evolved this way, so that’s that, end of story… because it overlooks natural variance, and rules out the possibility that we can all continue to “evolve”, on an individual basis. That said, having to clean the same house from top to bottom, week in and week out would drive me insane… but is that because I’m a man, or because I’m an arty-farty creative type?
The stated aim of the book is to act as a simple translation tool, to enable the reader to become bilingual in both “Man-speak” and “Woman-speak”, and I do believe it’s important to acknowledge that we all have different ways of looking at the world, and processing and expressing our thoughts and feelings… so I’m always grateful for any insight into how other people tick, both as a writer and as a human being trying to navigate a scary and confusing world. Apparently purchasing this book makes me “part of a minority [of men] who want to get a handle on how women think and behave”, and I am therefore worthy of “Congratulations!” (p. 10), so… um… yay me!
[Why Men Lie and Women Cry by Allan & Barbara Pease. Apparently the book was published in India, by Manjul (2003)… and sold for 195 rupees!]
Next entry: Chapter One