A few years ago me and a group of my guy mates went on a big night out. Lad culture was all pervasive and despite being thoughtful and shy, I used make sexist jokes about “pulling sluts,” suggesting the word was ok because it was being used ironically. Now of course I was wrong and part of me knew this because I wouldn’t have dreamed of making the same conversation in different company, but I was also young, frustrated and confused. The group mentality of a geeky lad pack offered a kind of camaraderie, security and comfort blanket for those failed chat up lines.
At the time I really fancied friend of mine. Naturally we’d met up to go clubbing, hitting every bar possible along the way. It had been a good night by all accounts, but come half 12 my friend had drunken a lot and come close to passing out so I opted to walk her home. It wasn’t a long journey, but she needed support walking and was leaning a lot on me heavily. It was difficult getting her home. Really drunk people don’t balance well, they sway side to side. Luckily I ran into an acquaintance that helped me carry my drunken friend to her street. However before leaving me to help my friend into her home she warned me: Nick do not to take advantage of this situation.
I found the suggestion of me have bad motives a little frustrating. In my head I was doing a good thing and I went home straight after letting my friend into her house. However on reflection the concern of my acquaintance was right. Lots of women get assaulted at university and the perpetrators are often their friends. In trying to get my friend out of a venerable position, I’d put her in a different kind of venerability where I was the risk. When I think back on that night, I feel this tinge of worry. Is there a chance I might have behaved differently?
Men are born into a society in transition hung over from hundreds of years of sexist ideology. We benefit from inherited privilege and are told it is the natural order of things. This ideological hangover of inherent sexism affects our thinking patterns, habits and sense of humour. Feminism may be a movement about redistributing cultural and political power away from patriarchal institutions but it is also about personal development. Recognising our own inherit sexism is just the first step but acknowledging this makes it difficult for men to claim to be feminists in our daily lives. On that night I though I was a saint for walking my friend home, but actually being a good friend and not taking advantage of people when they are drunk is the bear minimum in life. Being a feminist about changing your attitude and unlearning inherited prejudice.
So I’m not a male feminist. This is not what a feminist looks like. I’m still culturally hung over from patriarchy, I still subconsciously treat women differently to men and at times my habits and attitudes are probably part of the ideological net holding back progress. But I’m confident that if I’m not a feminist I’m also not an asshole and am doing my best to be self-reflective. A male feminist isn’t something I am, it is something I’m trying to be. Unless you (reader) are some alt right, men’s rights person in which case: I am a feminist, smash the patriarchy.
This Christmas I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night writing furiously to a long forgotten friend who I’d years ago had a short fling with. What started as some pleasant reminiscing had erupted into a torrent of shame, hidden feelings and personally exposing confessions. I was writing compulsively, unable to rest and unable to stop.
Like all great romantic moments, my compulsion to write was over shortly. What didn’t end shortly was my feeling that a lot of people are like me, lonely dreamers who read too many books, spend more time in their own heads than the real world and are slaves to moments. People who crave deeper meaning, don’t have many partners and therefore are forced to find meaning in other in other things, in moments.
For most part finding romance in moments is a good and life enhancing thing. Less is more, you learn to take joy and find fulfillment in the simple things; nice dances, personal gestures and brief connection. In the small exhibition in the Byard’s Brain museum dedicated to extinct relationships, no old love however bitter goes forgotten or despised. The problem with enjoying moments, however, is they don’t last. You find yourself perhaps reading romance into times when it didn’t happen. Romantic moments after all in order to survive must live in a vacuum, while human relationships need to evolve change and die when their time is due.
Holding on to moments makes rejection a much bigger danger. It doesn’t just destroy any chance of future connection but delegitimizes and perhaps destroys the moments you did have. People who you don’t actually know that well can start having a disproportionate power and impact over your life. Worst of all, there is a danger of not taking risks with people in the real world to preserve the sanctity of the romantic moment living in the back of your head.
As a student of history I can confidently say that a romanticised past isn’t an accurate one. I can also confirm that when you pedestalise something it becomes much harder to reach. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy times in our life which at least if only through retrospect, make us happy. It also doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with enjoying a short sweet connection. The important thing in life and romance is to balance your own story with the requirement to treat yourself with kindness, treat others like human beings and drive your own progress by taking risks. Needless to say, I never did send that letter.
Yesterday, when walking home by the river I felt a strong urge to sit by the bank. I wanted to look out and take in the scenery. In my way was a three foot high fence. I pondered the fence for a little. I knew others had scaled it. Walking past that way before I had seen the grass marked black from campfires and discarded cans of beer. I stared at the fence knowing I could climb it. Knowing no-one would stop me.
Rather than climbing immediately, I reflected on the purpose of the fence. The river was near a residential area so this fence was probably there to stop children running into it. It was not erected to keep responsible people like me out. But at the back of my mind was this niggling fear that someone in the nearby houses would see me climb. Maybe they would report me to the police for fence jumping. Maybe they would come out and shout at me. Of course, all this was nonsense. No-one would care if I sat by the fenced off river. But still, I feared the consequences of breaking the rules.
Ideology is a lot like this. The physical barriers such as gates, fences and police, that stop us doing things, are backed up by much more powerful habits of thinking. The fences physical power to stop me entering the space by the river is much weaker than the psychological signal that the area is forbidden. As I am not someone in the habit of breaking rules, jumping the fence involved an internal mental struggle with the representatives of authority that live and lobby in my own head. The reward was freedom but the risk was to my own security.
Accepting security and routine is not always a bad thing. In our lives we often don’t fight for things we want, in order not to disrupt the other things we like and already have. Pursuing happiness can adversely affect your sanity and relationships with other people. Worst of all is when what you think your fighting for doesn’t actually exist in reality. We after all can make a habit of projecting onto people and object our own ideals and fantasies. Maybe I was projecting a false image of freedom onto the other side of the fence and the fight for it was at best not worthwhile and at worst disruptive.
Now of course, I don’t want to tear down river fences and risk children falling into the water. But I do see that state intruding into my head, and find myself a slave to habit and conformity much more than I would like. Living with this is perhaps just the cost of living in the world; the cost of being part of society. That is why sometime we just need to jump that fence, sit by the river and smile to ourselves while screaming internally fuck society! Yesterday, however, after pondering the fence for a little, I didn’t fuck society. I stayed on the path, crossed the river and went home.