My personal story
R: So, yeah, I grew up in this house with my mother and my sister and my older brother. My father, my mother and father are divorced. My father lives about 2 streets down there, my mother and father would cross the road to avoid each other. And, me and dad weren't terribly good and I grew up primarily in this house. And most of my sort of 'formative years', so to speak, were here with my sister and my mum. And through that, my mother and my sister had very, very, very strong opinions about men and about the ways in which their lives have been impacted by virtue of being woman. And it had really powerful effect on who I wanted to be as I grew up. But also there is sort of this disjunction between how I, how I, I think they taught me to perceive the gendered world and how I actually have experienced it. And of course some of those; my mother and sister are very adamant about sort of gender equality and bringing it into sexism and stuff. Of course and that's the, you know, when I grew being: 'I really don't want to be one of those men.' But that is part of that. You know, I learned that sort of all men are terrible, they are oppressive, you know, and those kind of things. And of course...
I: A very negative view of men?
R: A very negative view of men. And I think I internalised that quite a lot to have quite a negative view of myself at the moment. And, of course, as time has passed, I realise that, yes, you know, I don't dispute for a second that this is a... you know, a patriarchal society and that, you know, I read the patriarchal dividend, but, at the same time, I feel very ambivalent about how the issue has become framed as a sort of 'war of the sexes' if you like.
I: And how did that affect you identity as a boy, growing up and having two women around you who were very negative about masculinity?
R: Well, I think, I suppose, I think to some extent I think I probably felt quite bad about myself. But I think the more powerful thing that came from that is: 'I'm just not gonna be one of those', so misogynistic, women hating oppressive men. I'm really not going to be that. But, of course, the world doesn't do you with the opportunities necessarily looked at times, I think. It is very difficult to sort of... I don't know, I find, I have sort of in-built anxieties about what am I being complicit in in my behaviour and I find it quite difficult to take part in that sort of 'men's chat'. You know, there is a group of us at the university who are all men and we work in the same office and sometimes the conversation goes to that sort of very sexuality oriented conversation. And I think to myself: 'why, this is not something that I even, I don't even have an affinity with this sort of thing. Why is it broken down to this sort of base level of discussion about sexuality and what not. And actually I'm not even sure that those guys particularly think like that or feel like that, but it just happens because that is the way in which people are supposed, men are supposed to interact.
I: So it is really sexist talk?
R: I wouldn't say it is really, it is not the sort of... I mean, yes, it is implicitly sexist, but is it not explicitly sexist. And, you know...
I: And you feel awkward with it and you think maybe the other men do, too? But yet again, you think that is part of masculinity and that's why you do it?
R: It's kind of: I'm not quite sure what strategy to take in addressing it in those kind of situations, but I think it has to be addressed. And I suppose, I mean, I just don't see myself defined by my sexuality and I certainly don't think I am as sexual as I am supposed to be as a man. You know... and certainly it doesn’t occupy the bulk of my thought. And yet you would think from these kind of interactions that all men are, that's all we think about. And so when you bring up the thing if once when you sit there at University and, of course, it is full of young people, right, young women and young men. And quite often you sit there and then again some girl walks by and someone says something like: 'oh, she's nice blablabla' and I just think to myself: 'it hasn't even entered my head!!'. That this person, I haven't even registered that person. And I'm left with this, I don't know how to interact with that. You know. And yeah... yes, to me that is sexist, the sort of objectification of that person walking by. But it is more implicitly sexist than it is explicit. I don't know, sorry, I'm wandering of...
I: No, no that's fine. Actually, in other interviews, I also heard other people say that they feel sometimes men have to - are sort of asserting their masculinity by saying derogatory things towards women. As if pushing down somebody else, pushes you up, as a man?
R: Yeah, I mean, I would, I would... I would never do that, I don't think to a woman I just... I carry with me far too much guilt about my gender. So that I feel sort of almost instantly humbled.
I: But is it something you recognize as happening amongst men? Sort of 'downsizing' women to 'upsize' themselves.
R: Yeah, I think so, I think it is possibly also about downsizing other men.
I: Like a competition?
R: Yeah, perhaps… I think that most men are so tremendously insecure about their identities that they just don't know what to do. And I think that there is sort of... there is a consciousness there amongst men that perhaps they don't match those masculine ideals. And that's okay, but it's still permeates the culture enough that in a non-reflective kind of way it gets carried on. But I don't know if it is about, I don't think that there is, yeah, I'm not sure, I'm not sure about... I don't know, I mean, for other men, yeah, I think that they just. But not all men are the same, are they? That's the problem. So, in the university that sort of attitude is very different. It is sort of, if you start wandering around town and you see people of all different kinds, then you do see kind of very explicit performance of gender roles. You know, you see woman trailing behind with the baby while the man marches on ahead. And clearly there is something going on there, but I'm not sure that they are that reflective on that role necessarily.
I: So, what kind of man do you want to be? How would you shape your masculine identity?
R: I suppose I, the sort of man I would want to be is more about the sort of man I don't want to be. I don't have a clear vision of what to be.
I: Might that be one of the, let’s say, paradoxes that men entered into, indeed, there has been a women's movement who has had very negative opinions - as you say, your mother and sister - about men, about what they shouldn't be, but that there is now a sort of vacuum that there is not a definition of how they should be? Or an expectation?
R: I mean, I think that is a big problem and I think that in some ways, I mean, I understand why my mother and my sister feel as they do. I'm not trying to say that their sort of anger is illegitimate. But I think there needs to be an engagement around issues of gender equality. Which are not about these two-binary competing sexes: one has the power and the other doesn't. I mean, that is not going to bring us any closer to any kind of positive resolution. But, yes, I mean, I suppose, I’d like to be the kind of man where being a man doesn't really matter that much. I mean that would be the, I'd like to be upright towards other kinds of axes and identities, but I don't know what that would look like.
I: And is it something you can talk about with other men?
R: Again, it depends upon who the man you are talking to is. I mean, I have, perhaps at the university there is more of a sensitivity towards these kinds of things. Partly because I think there are some very dynamic, very driven women within the department who sort of manage to permeate the department with a kind of consciousness and sensitivity, but I think outside of that it is more difficult. A lot more difficult. I don't know if enter people's heads? Or whether it is just not right for them, you know, that they don't think it is appropriate to bring out that kind of thinking into the public area. And I don't see that sort of men, sort of idealised masculinities any more or less strongly perpetuated by men or by women in that outside world. The other day I was here and my sister was visiting and a friend of hers came around and said to me: 'did you know that women are more oppressed than disabled people or black people?' and I went: 'oh, all right, okay!’, and, you know, what a thing to say because she was going on about the next partner of my sister or something. And I said:' oh, alright, that is really interesting, did you know more men die in the workplace than women?' just as a way of sort of trying to engage her and she says 'that's because all men are stupid!'. And I thought to myself, you know, this is not a [non understandable word: streaky] woman, she's clearly really engaged, you know, again it's I understand where that feeling comes from, but that feeds directly into the kind of oppressive discourses that maintains the situation!
I: Yes, obviously, I mean, if she takes the right to say that men are stupid, then how can she be angry at men who say that women are stupid, because she is doing the same.
R: Clearly, and I find that really frustrating. But, I don't know and I worry about that in terms of the sort of the gains that were made, in terms of gender equality. We have a very powerful women's movement, the sort of being lost in this kind of competing idea, I mean, I don't know.
I: Do you see things when you compare to your childhood when you grew up and now... actually when your parents divorced, how old were you then?
R: Oh, three of four years old. I don't remember them together.
Gender did matter