I have to admit every now and again I turn into a crusty old git, who is very worldy-wise, been there, done it, seen it, got the T-shirt. My close friends would probably raise an eyebrow at such a statement and whisper in my ear, 'when are you not like that?' illustrating what good friends they are by doing so.
Last Friday I wandered beside the choppy waters of the Southbank to attend the 'Being A Man' event. Organised by a woman, a line up of 'celebrities' and professors, held in the snooty arty centre of the self-important city of London. A conference probably dominated by the middle class middle aged white moaning classes. Moi, jaundiced and prejudiced?
With my well rehearsed opening gambit 'I've attended more men's conferences than you...since the 1980's...Robert Bly...blinking djembe drumming...where's the practice not the theory.' I took my place in the crowd, cocked my ear and listened.
By listening, particularly on that first day, I lowered my defences, and as I did so my heart opened. By the afternoon when Camila Batmangheldjh started talking I was in tears. Tears of gratitude more than anything else. Tears because I was being taught new things, being shown new perspectives. When it was Akala talking I became elated and couldn't contain a huge smile.
A lot of what was shared is still fresh in my mind, so it will have to percolate and mature before I can express it meaningfully. One of the concepts was simple yet eye-opening. When a man cries because he is hurt, he isn't accessing his feminine side, he's just being a man. When a man cares for his own children, he isn't babysitting, he's just being a parent. When a man shows his vulnerability and talks openly about it, he's not being feeble, he's just being brave. These need to be common place sentiments, so common place that we no longer remark on them, that applies to women as well as men.
The other concept I learnt was more about culture than masculinity, but I think equally valid. Wikipedia terms a gang as 'being a group of recurrently associating individuals or close friends with identifiable leadership and internal organization, identifying with or claiming control over territory in a community, and engaging either individually or collectively in violent or other forms of illegal behavior.' A number of ex-gang members were present and they spoke eloquently and forcefully about their experiences and life-styles. We all sympathetically nodded our heads without actually being able to truly understand such circumstance or experience. They described themselves as having been members of 'the underprivileged gang'. This statement was followed by a pregnant pause, and then the bold adage. 'Actually, you all do know how it is to be in a gang, because you too are in a gang, the over-privileged gang'. Re-read the above quote from Wikipedia and apply it to the UK and our supposedly civilised culture.
To summarise, we live in a cultural norm of privilege which is so entrenched it has become invisible to us. But it is very visible to those we have excluded from our gang. We have ignored the poorest parts of our population because they don't fit to our norm, and we don't really offer much help, other than to tell them to pull their socks up and become like us. By doing so we have abandoned our most vulnerable people, and dishonoured the responsibility which comes with being in the over-privileged gang.
The responsibility of all human beings is to treat everyone equally, this ideal of meritocracy has consequence for the over-privileged. We will have to give up some of our privilege in order to make the balance. Are you prepared, capable, and ready for that?