Thursday, October 30, 2014

That Beautiful Man Problem

I've been thinking a lot about this beautiful man problem that I mentioned in an earlier post (poem). The general gist of it is a feeling of shame about enjoying male beauty in an age (millennium) where women must fight for equality with an ever vigilant eye. What good could come of discussing this issue at length? It's not necessarily important unless maybe to serve the purpose of praising the good guys who are drowning in a sea of bad. Then again, that scenario may be too generalized and too stark for the contrasting shades of our humanity. As for me personally? I am of course a feminist. By that I mean I believe women are men's equal in all ways. We deserve all fairness. Respect. Autonomy and so on. But, I must admit, I am slow to waking up to the true pervasiveness of the patriarchy. I didn't know it was a thing until relatively recently. I couldn't have known because for most of my childhood men were mysteries. I remained gently snugged in to a world of women. It was all I knew. Sisters. A mother. Grandmothers. Aunts. Cousins. All female, but one, in my immediate circle. And we all seemed to be getting along just fine. If there was a man around, it was usually in the distance. For example, I had a grandfather that lived in a different country, which was really big deal to me as a kid. He might as well have lived on the moon. I had an uncle whom I saw maybe once or twice a year. My mother was a single parent. People of the male gender never really entered my periphery until I was in my teens and at the best of times, I viewed them from afar and with something close to disbelief. They did nothing for me. They did not seem very real. Then, one day, I awakened to my attraction to them. It is all very much explainable, I am sure. I am sure it was all biological, in other words. Even so, I doubted for a long time if there was anything under the surface of these things called boys that could be comparable to women. I didn't really think they held the depth of personality that women are capable of. I was, in other words, a sexist. I doubted women very little. The abilities of men, I assumed, were a joke.

Last year I wrestled with the whole enterprise of feminism in many ways. I felt like I had been late at my arrival to a very important train. While I was busy believing men were a side note to life in general, true battles for equality were playing out all around me. Everywhere there where women in my community who were struggling to be heard, to be respected, to be free. So when I finally became conscious of this problem through a course on the psychology of women (yes, that's what it took I'm afraid) I became a dedicated disciple. I think about it all the time. I read about it. I talk about it. I occasionally act upon it.

Here's where I should insert a little blurb about my marriage. After all, I've been married for 13 years. We've had our fair share of growing (up) experiences and as I assess the situation I am rather proud of the dynamic that exists between my husband and I. It seems fair enough to me. Even so, lately more than ever, I seem to give my husband one hell of a run for his money at the slightest hint that he could possibly be taking me for granted, which, in truth, he has never actually done. It's comical because he's been in tune with and aware of these issues from an opposite perspective. It was just him and his mum in his early years. He knows where he needs to stand in reference to the female gender. So when I confront him with a particularly heightened sense of self-protection, he just looks at me with those brown eyes of his and I know he worships the ground I tread upon. We have no struggles with equality and if we do it is I who is on the pedestal just a little bit. Or, at least I see it that way.



In regards to feminism in general, however, what happens when you have something good you want to say and feel about men in general? How should and could we do it while maintaining status and integrity? Women with fathers will have probably already sorted this out if they are somewhere near my age (mid 30s). They've gone through their father worship or father hatred or whatever else women feel about their fathers. Not so with me. When I think of my father I see a blank space that I fill up with pictures I make up myself and they usually reflect my personal state of mind at the time. Sometimes he is a hero nobody could ever bring down. Sometimes he is my friend. Sometimes he is a loser whom I want nothing to do with. Which persona is the real one, I'll never know for sure. With all that aside, what happens when you occasionally have the feeling that men (some) are not so bad after all? Where does my feminism fit in to this situation? I mean, it's automatic in the sense that the goal is equality, but it is more than that I think.  I think the point is to bring men down to our level. To see them eye-to-eye. To perhaps even show them where they've gone wrong as a species if at all possible and sometimes I think it is not. Maybe that's what has me thinking. Maybe I am finding beauty in the concept of neither height nor depth, but in common ground. Not revenge or punishment or anything like that but in the equality of a type of humanness that is different from my own. I wonder. I've heard very little discussion about this perspective. I am sure there is plenty out there, but I haven't come across it yet. I wonder what the general consensus is. In essence, I am trying to figure out what exactly makes a good man tick.

I bring this up because this the beautiful man problem has been an ongoing theme in my life this week. I've been binge-watching the television show Hell on Wheels. I don't know why I started watching it, exactly, but I did and I am glad I did (I won't get into the plight of the women on this show because, as you can guess, it's deplorable). I've seen some seriously awe-inspiring moments within the characters of this show that have revealed a whole new level of the beautiful man concept to me that I fumbled around with a lot this week. I encountered this theme again when I read the novel Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

"Cullen Bohannon" (Anson Mount)

Through the main character, Cullen Bohannon, in Hell on Wheels, I've seen some ridiculous exoduses out of impossible situations through his larger-than-life ingenuity. I've seen his swagger and charm and bad-boy attitude. I've seen violence and gunslinging. We have all seen this a thousand times in various ways in the entertainment industry and could set our proverbial watches by it. Big deal. But what made this character seem more than the stereotypical cowboy/badboy was the fact that moment to moment there has been a gradual and palpable ascension of character. There has a been a shift in thinking and reaction. Consistently, this character exhibits personal growth. I am on season 4 right now and I've seen Mr. Bohannon's character change and morph again and again and it only seems to become more solid and believable as time moves on. As events unfold. It just about rips my heart in two. It's beautiful to me.

"Mr. Rochester"

And again, in Wide Sargasso Sea, we get the backstory as to why Mr. Rochester has a woman holed up in his country estate in England. We learn how all of that played out. I thought the author nailed this story to a point of realism that has truly gotten under my skin. I am a little awestruck, I must say. I guess in my mind the thought that chugged away the most as I read this book was that it could have happened this way. There is truth to this side of the story that is much much stranger than fiction often achieves. Much stranger and much more sinister in its reflection of realism. Mr. Rochester was not charming in this story. He isn't precisely charming in Jane Eyre, either. But, he is who he is. He does not apologize for his human nature and in truth, I don't think it would occur to him to do so, not really. He waxes sentimental about his self-loathing, but it still not apologetic. It is almost innocent. And in Wide Sargasso Sea it seems to me that Rhys understood this dimension in Rochester's character as well. She reveals it through various aspects of his behavior and he reveals it again and again when he determines he will take possession of his wife (by locking her up) on the principal that it is his right and privilege to do so. I liked that somehow. I know... How could I? Did I like the fact that his wife was being treated like a commodity? No. Did I like that she lost all rights and access to her home and her freedom? No. Never. What I did like--what really took me aback-- was the way in which Rochester exhibited emotional pain over doing so. He really would have preferred his wife to be his lover, companion and friend above all (didn't he?) and it pained him greatly to exercise his so-called rights as they were prescribed in the Victorian era. Am I right? Or have I missed a crucial aspect that proves this to not be the case? If my interpretation could be considered valid (and I think it is) then I believe what I am trying to say is this: I found a depth of character in him that revealed how vulnerable men are to their status in life even while they wrestle with love, hatred, right and wrong. I think if it had been the norm during Mr. Rochester's day that he seek couples therapy or maybe read a book or two about specific psychological differences between men and women, maybe he would have tried that out. Maybe, if it hadn't already been the societal rule for him to take his wife's wealth and all her earthly rights if she didn't behave exactly as expected I think he may have done a little better by her and maybe he would have even been able to make his marriage work, in the end. I think he would have been a prime example of doing better upon knowing better. I am not excusing his behaviour, but what is (and was and will be) wrong for us was not wrong for him and he laboured under the prescribed ideal of right and wrong. It doesn't show great fortitude in terms of human rights and equality. He was not necessarily a progressive man (or was he? He wanted to shun social conventions completely by the time he fell in love with Jane, after all). But he had a heart and a desire to be a better man above all, or so it seemed to me. I liked that.

Ah, but Bohannon and Rochester are fictional characters. Here's something about someone who is not a figment of someone else's imagination: I am now referring to this Jian Ghomeshi business. This is yet another topic I don't feel like I need to discuss too much because every opinion possible has already been put forth as far as I can tell, but I will give my opinion here anyway: something very strange and ugly has occurred in the life of this man. Women get tagged as being ugly in the media all the time, but it is usually because of our looks or our attitudes. So in the interest of equality--what's fair is fair--I will say exactly what is on my mind about him: it is an ugly ugly thing for a man to want (or need) to punch a women (more on this topic here) to help him get his sexual kicks. It's a pretty damned ugly thing to want to do. I don't have a problem with people who are into alternative lifestyles of any kind (unless others are getting hurt by it) but I can say that reading these allegations drums up some pretty nasty imagery for me. This is well beyond any limits that I had ever wanted to exist between myself and the host of Q. Upon reading about these allegations I immediately pictured this guy whaling on some ninety pound starstruck twenty something girl and I wanted to puke. I did. I hate that I have that image in my head and I don't care if all of this proves to be some kind of joke (I don't believe it is a joke at all), I will never ever be able to look at that guy the same. Ugly. Ugly is all I see and feel when I see his face or hear is name. I generally try to see the good in others. But in this case, it's just plain sad to be associated with that kind of ugliness. He is guilty of something more heinous than kinky sex. He beats women. So often I hear of these sorts of things and I am tempted to sugar-coat it because, after all, usually the women who come forward with these kinds of accusations are viewed as sinister self-seekers. I don't want to be viewed in that light and I don't think there is a woman on the planet who actually does. So, we remain submissive to the general assumption that it is better to remain quiet. And society always want to blame the women in these cases: Everyone thinks so-and-so is such a nice guy. He couldn't possibly be like that. She must be crazy. I've heard it all all all before. But I am going to stand my ground in this case and call a spade a spade. It is terrible, disgusting, and ugly. This kind of ugliness obviously exists in a profound way on the inside of Mr. Ghomeshi, which is the worst kind of ugly there is. Nothing beautiful happening there at all.

And so it goes...

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