Male Violence

Why are we shocked by the high levels of male violence in society, when the celebration of male aggression is woven throughout our culture and modeled at the very highest level?

I suspect I possess emasculating levels of personal ambition and drive, but I must confess that I have never wanted anything badly enough to thrust another man’s face into a muddy paddock to get it.

image: www.dailytelegraph.com.au
image: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au

I’m not entirely claiming the moral high ground here. On the day that H&M opened their first Australian store, I had a momentary lapse in composure that saw me reach across the face of a competing shopper, to secure the last available Cotton Stretch tee in the V-neck of my preferred colour. So I am perfectly attuned to the emotional turmoil that might give rise to an act of such naked aggression.

For those unfamiliar with the classic ‘spear tackle’ maneuver, it is an attempt, within the context of a jolly football match, to gain a competitive advantage by driving another man’s head into the ground at spine-snapping velocity. It’s all in good fun of course and the offending spear-tackler need fear no greater forfeit than a small fine and a two-match ban.

Now, as much as I abhor acts of physical brutality, I have developed a necessary threshold of tolerance for the insistence of two grown men to beat the living shit out of each other, with the following provisos:

  1. It is fully consensual
  2. I don’t have to watch
  3. No third parties are physically or psychologically harmed in the process

Ah, but there it is! If you’re as sharp as me, it won’t have escaped your observation that the average football stadium seats between forty and sixty thousand people at capacity. If a quarter of them is under fifteen, that’s ten thousand kiddies witnessing the spear-tackling shenanigans of their cherished idols.

One thing I know with certainty is that little boys study bigger boys with the concentration of a portrait painter scrutinising his subject for every last crease and contour. They learn that a mastery of prescribed male behaviour is a goal of unrivalled importance and the wages of transgression may be relegation to a social world populated by girls, geeks and homos.

If only I’d learnt earlier in my school career that a life surrounded by girls, geeks and homos would have been infinitely more uplifting than years of trying to squeeze an irregular-shaped me into the square hole of socially-prescribed boy culture.

But I’m veering off track. The point is that boys desperately seek male role models to guide them in their existential quest and no role model is more deified in our popular culture than that paragon of manhood, the bronzed, mythic figure of the footie hero.

Why are we shocked by the high levels of male violence in society, when the celebration of male aggression is woven throughout our culture and modeled at the very highest level? Why do we expect the undeveloped male brain to understand that actions lauded in one context are outlawed in another? On what basis do we trust a young man, schooled on the turf and the terraces, to possess the emotional intelligence to safely regulate difficult feelings when at home?

Ok, you’re right. I’m in no position to lecture. Somewhere in Melbourne there is a casual shopper still traumatised by flashbacks of that day in H&M, when a thrusting forearm momentarily obscured his vision and thwarted his attempt to secure the last available Cotton Stretch tee in the V-neck of his preferred colour.

The Politics of Penetration

The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

image: www.telegraph.co.uk
image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

When a man feels controlled or dominated by another man – usually his boss – he feels ‘screwed’ or ‘shafted’. If he needs the job badly enough he’ll ‘bend over and take it’ and when he can’t take it anymore he might just tell his boss to ‘get fucked’. Because apparently ‘getting fucked’ is the worst fate we can think of to wish upon another human being.

When did the potentially transcendent act of sexual penetration become a battlefield of male ego and the ultimate symbol of aggression? And who decided that the act of giving oneself sexually to another was an expression of weakness and defeat? Surely the acceptance of our ultimate vulnerability is a strength, a triumph over fear and insecurity.

But man’s pathological penetration panic is primordial (reader warning: More gratuitous alliteration to follow). At the head of the food chain, your average fit, able-bodied male has no natural predator, other than – ah, yes – another fit, able-bodied male. And he would sooner be violently beaten to within an inch of his life by another bloke, than tenderly caressed by him. If I weren’t on a linguistic crusade I’d say that’s just a little bit fucked.

Penile penetration paranoia (Ah, there it is!) lies at the very root of homophobia, which is endemic to mainstream male culture just about everywhere. The clichéd mantra of the straight man in a gay bar – “keep your backs to the wall, boys” – did not evolve, let’s be clear, from an observance of Feng Shui.

Paradoxically perhaps, the act of giving oneself sexually to another, when entered into with affection, respect and informed consent, is indeed an act of emotional strength. It demands of the receiver the courage and self-assuredness to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be seen as such. Perhaps if every man could just once in his life experience being consensually dominated by a trusted intimate partner, he might have the opportunity to truly understand the rich complexities of trust, vulnerability, submission and the relinquishment of power.

Otherwise, I fear that our cultural conceptualisation of sexual penetration is disturbingly bound up with the exercise of power and, too often, the abuse of it. If being penetrated is the domain of the weak and the subjugated, what does this say about the way men view their own sexual relationships? Are they ‘screwing’ and ‘shafting’ their sexual partners, just as they have been ‘screwed’ and ‘shafted’ by the boss? Do they experience their partners as ‘bending over and taking it’? Can sexual penetration ever be completely extricated from issues of male power and dominance?

Our cultural obsession with intercourse promotes the silly idea that this is all that people do in bed. And perhaps many men would be quite happy with that. And yet, women with whom I’ve spoken on this issue rate it pretty low on the desirability scale, compared with a range of other acts of sexual intimacy. So, beyond our youthful years of exploration and procreation, is the place of penetration in a respectful and mutually satisfying intimate relationship grossly overstated?

Winter Crept In

image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com
image: hazaraasylumseekers.wordpress.com

Winter crept in while we slept.
With stealth it skulks, that cunning frost.
A dark new season draws first air
Then vomits forth its bitter breath.
It oozes in with silken tones,
Through cultured airs and hands concealed.
It seeps through television screens,
A blossom-scented noxious draft.

Or was the bleakness always here?
Did we not exorcise the spite?
The child of privilege and fear
That sponsored genocide of black, by white?
Was it hidden in our nation’s soul,
Still and silent, yet intent?
And when did this parasite awake from sloth
To unleash such malevolence?

Was it at the century’s turn,
With children stole from mother’s breast?
And then again in ninety-two
When razor-wire replaced kind hearts?
Perhaps it stirred much later still
As Cronulla sands were stained in red.
Then frolicked in the Tampa’s wake,
entombing innocents in salty brine and bitter lies.

But must we don the lambskin coat
That hides our wolfish skin beneath?
Must we hunker down and bear
These frigid and polluted winds?
Or might we, in good time, disrobe
And cast away this bloodstained shroud?
And face our history’s bitter squall,
Once more wise and kind, not proud.

Yes, Winter crept in while we slept.
I don’t believe it is innate.
But fear did leave the door unlatched,
That paved the way for hate.