So I’ve been thinking more about the issue of trust. I’ve been thinking about my brother’s recent visit, and his life as a husband and father. I’ve been thinking about my dad, and about friends I know who are fathers, and sons of friends who are young men embarking on their adult lives.
And I’ve been listening to Blur.
I’ve been thinking about how I unravel when I feel observed or judged, how uncomfortable I feel when expected to exercise my physical presence and to display confidence. And then I think: at least I’m not a man. As a woman, I can unravel and indulge my emotional reaction and have a good girly meltdown followed by a cry and a walk with a girlfriend to agonise and to receive assurances and hugs. I can unpack my angst like the weekly shopping and get it all out there, out of my system and into the cupboards.
Do the men I know get to do that? Or are they expected to hold their shit together, to stand up straight and speak up and sound like they know what they’re talking about and make a name for themselves and earn a good salary and leave their mark on the world like dogs pissing on trees? Men carry the personal burden and the social pressure to build a trophy life that can be displayed to the world as proof that they are good men, strong men, capable men, unflappable unstoppable un-mistake-making men.
Men are often willing to commit suicide rather than own or embrace their frailties and fears. I can count on both hands the number of men I have heard about who committed suicide (friends or fathers or husbands of my family and friends) and that in itself is scary. Not a one off, not even twice – but several. And here’s the thing: I worry about the men I know, about the expectations they carry around inside them. In retrospect, I grieve about my own father and the life he lived, in which he worked himself to the bone to get that trophy life of a successful career, and a wife and children, and a house and a lawn, and good tires on his car. But I don’t believe he was a contented man at peace with his life, and I don’t believe he died wholeheartedly. I believe he died with his heart still seeking the reward for all his efforts.
Feminists are often wary of bringing men’s experiences into feminist discourse. Their reasoning is that men hold public platforms quite enough already and to divert attention from women’s experiences will hijack the conversation and the locus of energy. It’s a fair point. I’ve been in those types of conversations myself and it can feel as though my own entirely valid perspective is being sidestepped and discounted by a louder and more confident voice.
It goes back to trust: trust between men and women and between women and men. How do we regain trust with one another and start working together to create a culture of human diversity and compassion? Blur can tell you: we all of us need to admit that the trophy life, it’s just so overrated.