Another oldie, on the theme of what it is to be a man.
In an echoing, empty subway
I fall back, so as not to be
perceived a threat by she who walks
alone ahead of me.
A second moves to pass me
I step well away to the side
that doubts that might darken her frightened mind
are, as far as they can be, denied.
Through choice would I never strike woman,
through choice would do no woman wrong,
I cannot despise them, nor trivialise them,
perceive women weak and men strong.
I’ll not play ‘It’s a man’s world’ games,
be thus prisoned, pretend to be free,
and the thrusting, assertive world of some men
holds no welcome – nor liking – for me.
If manhood must be one-upmanship –
emotions suppressed to compete,
others diminished one’s self to enhance –
then the prize of the game is defeat.
It has to be hateful, so much to be feared
by those we most need to be friends,
it has to be time to reject, now, those things
on which such a manhood depends.
True manhood must re-write the script,
must open eyes to a new way of seeing
that it matters much less to be one kind of man
than to be fully a true human being.
I am no longer young, though I’m a long way from old, and I have spent my adult life asking myself – and sometimes the world – what I call ‘the hard questions’.
Quick blast of theory: I’ve said many times that the most dangerous lies are the lies we tell ourselves. They’re often the most insidious, too – from the ‘one more biscuit’, ‘one more cigarette’, ‘one more drink’ won’t hurt lies of the dieter, the smoker and the alcoholic through to the ‘well no doesn’t always mean no’ and ‘women like it a little bit rough’ or ‘he keeps hurting me but he loves me and I know I can change him’.
They’re all lies, all self-deceptions, and I believe we accommodate them in part because to the human being the brain is an environment which, like any environment he/she lives in is one that we want to keep ‘comfortable’. It’s the furry gonk, the family photos, the plant in the isolated workstation, the cushions on the sofa, the carpets underfoot, hot food and drink at home, the choice of color on the walls, the hangings and the bedding. We adapt our environments routinely to make them comfortable and I believe the brain is little different.
So we tell ourselves self-comforting lies. If we’re rich and powerful we convince ourselves that poverty is not our problem, if we’re weak and afraid we convince ourselves that we are better than the person of different race or color, creed, gender or sexual orientation.
And the only way to get round this is to ask ourselves hard questions.The first of which always needs to be “do I believe this because it is true, because I have genuine evidence, knowledge that it is true, or do I believe this because – fundamentally – I want to.
The answers are not always easy to deal with. In the next instalment I’m going to share with you some of my questions and particularly some of my answers.
See you soon.
Not a young man, I noticed long, long ago that positive female role models were few and far between. Somehow I was exposed early to certain macho prejudices and learned to despise them, rapidly growing in the conviction that anything a man could do a woman could do – if she chose to – no less effectively. I decided that if I ever got to write, the females in my stories would be those I would want my daughter to read about.
I tried a children’s book which, in its draft form, a great many older female readers thoroughly enjoyed, but it was of a kind – my prospective publisher told me – that people no longer bought except as picture books, but it was in writing erotica that I seemed to find my real opportunity. I am wondering, still, if I haven’t taken some steps in the wrong direction.
The character Susanna, in my first novel, ‘Aphrodite Overboard’, set in the late 18th Century, describes her ‘assets’ as “a body barely twenty-one years of age and of comely proportions very appropriate to the latest fashions come from France”. She is blonde, has a blonde haired ‘quim’, and from the illustrations on the covers of the paperback and later ebook editions is clearly slender and lovely. I am not sure, now, how much I wrote her ‘slender’, how much it is assumed from other things in the text and how much it derives from our conventions as to how sexy heroines should look.
Zuri, the girl who will turn up in my second novel, ‘Islands’, due for imminent release, is black and African, is described by a male observer in the following words: “Even so one could tell even then that this was a girl who was normally plump and rounded and that her face, if not beautiful, was really quite pretty.”
Susanna and Zuri are strong, capable, courageous and intelligent women and, in their particular ways, sexually liberated women – the one because she’s given the opportunity to escape the conventions of her time, the other because those conventions have never been inflicted upon her.
I am not sure, at all, that I have managed in my writing to avoid following the conventional ideas of ‘beauty’ and ‘prettiness’ which Charlotte Bronte found troublesome so long ago, encouraging her to write ‘Jane Eyre’. I am not sure that I have not added to the conventional perceptions which currently drive girls and women to painful extremes in their attempts to emulate them.
What I would like to know – from women, for whom I principally write – is what their own ideal heroines would look like?