The air is thick with it. A choking, cloying, cloud of guilt. A dense fog of shame and self-doubt.
Men are gasping for clean air, for vision, for direction. We are looking outward, at the explosion of revelations and accusations of sexual abuse, misconduct, and harassment towards women. Looking in, we are evaluating, assessing, judging ourselves.
“Where am I on the spectrum?”
“what is ok to say?” “What Can’t I say? “Is this flirting or is it harassment?” “Am I a ‘good’ man?” “Have I always treated women with respect, dignity, and honesty?”
“Or am I a ‘bad’ man?” “Have I ever left a woman feeling demeaned, abused or frightened?” “Ever scanned her body with lust in my eyes and pure animal desire in my loins?” “Have I ever ‘persuaded’ or coerced her to let me into her deepest enclaves?”
What every man knows, if he is honest, is that within us, we all have the capacity, even perhaps the tendency, toward sexual control, conquest, domination, and subjugation. The very idea of it releases chemicals and hormones into our bloodstream.
To what extent we are first, conscious of these visceral forces and secondly, how well we are able to transmute them into gentle intimacy, sensitivity and respect, is the extent to which we can call ourselves ‘good’ men. It is a very fine line to walk.
We want to feel our masculinity, our power, our potency. We relish the fire of desire burning within us. We want to release the beast that would ravish and consume innocent beauty.
But, we as 21st-century men, are not merely animals; subject to the blindness of instinct and passion. We have evolved to become more than our primordial drives. Hidden, even deep in the dungeons of our darkest thoughts and fantasies, what we truly seek is connection. Closeness. Love. In the pure heart, the sentient being of every man, we yearn for intimacy. No boy is born abusive or violent. We are all in essence subject to the same needs. To be seen, touched, adored, loved, desired, accepted.
So what is the difference between a good man; kind considerate, respectful, gentle, trustworthy and a bad man; abusive, manipulative, controlling, aggressive and violent?
The answer is strategies. Good men employ strategies to get their needs met and so do bad men. Some strategies make women feel appreciated, respected, well treated and loved. Other strategies make them feel abused, used, controlled and in danger, but it is all still strategies.
So then, why would any man choose strategies that would hurt, frighten or disrespect a woman or a man for that matter to whom they are attracted? Why would a man consciously attempt to coerce, demand, force or threaten in order to get his needs met.
The current generation of middle-aged men, myself included, were brought up in a culture that tolerated if not occasionally promoted the idea of racial prejudice and sexual misogyny. We grew up watching ‘Carry on’ films where women were objectified and abused as part of the script. This is what is being acted out by so many men now because we are still using the strategies that were modeled to us at a young age. This in no way lets us off the hook. Responsibility for our actions is ours as are the consequences.
Things were different in the 70s, its true. Values and behaviours that we now take for granted were not commonplace. Not just in the realm of sexuality but also in racial equality, homophobia, xenophobia, respect and care for those with disabilities and so much more. I sometimes watch TV clips from 70s comedy shows that would, and could never be even conceived, let alone written and broadcast today.
There has been an evolution. Society has become more sensitive and more discerning. We now ask more of ourselves. We demand a higher standard of self-awareness, of values, of behaviour. Just as slavery and apartheid went from acceptance to first condemnation and eventually abolition, our society now demands that as men, we raise our game. That we know we are now subject to a higher bar, a higher level of self-awareness and self-regulation. What was ok is now not ok because that is how we grow as Human Beings.
I was able to grow into adulthood and learned to not mistreat or abuse women. As a boy, I did not slap girls on the butt at school or pull their bra straps. Even though it was ‘ok’ then. Some girls even appeared to like the attention. But I could not bring myself to do it. I actually felt like a weirdo because I was too shy to ‘flirt’ in that way.
I was raised by my parents to be a kind, respectful and gentle person so, no matter what fantasies fly through my head, my behaviour to women is and always will be, considerate and kind. This is what I have passed on to my two sons. This is why they also are kind and loving to women. And this is what it all comes down to. Teaching our sons what a good man is. Modeling what a good man does. Setting the example based on an evolved future, not an anachronistic past. Good men become good fathers. Good fathers raise good sons who then become even better men.
As the media splashes out condemnation and accusation, deriding the ‘awful, disgusting, perverts’ that have now been so heroically ‘exposed’, let’s not just scream at them to be better men. They were using the strategies they thought best. It was all they had and for some, all they will ever have. There are millions of Harvey Weinsteins and Louis CKs out there that nobody hears about. Men that go on abusing and harming women day after day, unseen and unhindered. Condemnation cannot be the final response. It must be a clarion call to awaken and empower good men to become good fathers, good women to be good mothers and together raise good sons. That is the solution. That is the evolutionary path. Let my generation be the last one that fails to provide the right strategies to their young men.
If we can be good role models, leading by example and make integrity, honesty, and respect, the drivers of our values, then eventually, we will see the end of women suffering at the hands of men.