A strange thing occurred the Easter Saturday as I walked my dog Milly to the beach. A young man, 25 years old, asked if he could join us. (Milly and I) I said no, as I value the silence of the dawn. But he was persistent, asking me questions, until we walked for over an hour. At some point he asked if he could invite me to dinner. I didn’t say yes or no…we did discuss age difference (he is my daughters age)…but it was a sweet conversation. Towards the end of the walk he was more assertive with his desires. Something had switched for him and I felt like prey. By the end I asked him to leave…and leave me alone, not in an angry way…but firmly.
This made me think about the typical relationship. There is a ‘getting’, an extraction from most relationships. Men generally want to get sex. They want to get it with single minded focus. Women want to be seduced. Slowly. They also often want to be rescued/saved….swept off their feet. Which is a pretty heavy thing to load on a guy. (I am generalising..some women want the instant physicality of sex.)
I am of an age where if I want sex I am not going to go for random bad sex…I want mastery..a man who loves to love woman, and knows how. They know how to seduce…to conduct foreplay over time…they know how to read the signs…build the momentum…take sweet time.
Here I was, being desired (I think) by a young man, which might be nice…yet by the end of our walk and talk the conversation slipped from simply being with each other and enjoying a conversation to one where I felt like an object of extraction. At least I was clear enough (that is what you get, hopefully, with age) to tell him that I was not interested. And he was smart enough to walk away.
I have been contemplating the male/female dynamic for some time. I have recently become aware of my inter-generational anger towards men in general. For centuries of being discounted, abused, burnt, ignored, unseen, unheard…for my value of mothering, caring, domestic work being left off any balance sheet…for being paid less, retiring with less…having to fight for every inch of my place at any table…
I know what it is to be seen as an object. As something to be fucked and discarded. I know now what it feels like to be entirely unseen as a women in my 50’s. Where most of the men my age only see those women 10/15 years younger…or even younger still. Where the men who do see me are 20 years older than I.
None of this is unusual.
However, when I saw the extent of my rage…not at any one man in particular, but at the entire race of men..I saw clearly that this was not a rage that would change things. It was a rage that would continue to fuel the fire.
My work for the last 20 years has been predominantly with men…long form intimate conversations with men where I have had the privilege to hear their thoughts to a degree that they may never have shared with anyone. From these conversations I know their pain. I know their isolation. I know how lost they are in a world where the mans clearly defined role has been completely disassembled…and there is no new role in its place. The confusion of women wanting the strong man, but needing them to be vulnerable. Of women wanting independence, yet still wanting the man to pay…Of women wanting to no longer be objectified as sexual, yet wanting to wear sexual clothing….of the very confused messages of our media…
I know the pain and isolation of the man trying to establish his identity through all of this.
I know as well that the system our world is operating with currently…you know…the monetary, capitalistic, winner takes all system we have…the one that by design and in order to work has to make a large number of the population slaves…be that by colonizing time and making us trade hours for money…or literally enslaving people…or…not including the ‘externalities’ of such costs as unpaid women’s work, the caring jobs… ‘cheap labor’ (as well as the environmental costs…this list of externalities is long…almost any business would not be able to ‘make a profit’ if we did include the full costs on the balance sheet) is designed to do exactly what it has done. Make an increasingly smaller number of people get all the spoils whist the rest of us, men and women included, fall under the bus. However, the spoils usually go to the man…and the occasional predatory women.
Our culture has created, and reinforced…and still does…the great divide between men and women. It is no one person’s fault. It is the design of the system.
Therefore to be angry at men is an inappropriate response. Anger towards anyone is a projection. Rather I can be angry at the system…at what it is doing to humanity….men and women.
At the same time I can clearly state that I am a sovereign being…I will not be extracted from, ignored, abused, objectified. We are all…women and men alike…under the cultural influence of this game, most often without even knowing we are doing it. To patronise is often done as a culture reflex…not as intent. We are taught in the playground and at home to continue to propagate this behaviour. It is so much a part of us…all of us…that we hardly see it…until it becomes extremely loud.
And mothers…mothers and fathers simply do not know they are continuing to train their kids to play this very old and no longer useful way of being.
We are all sovereign beings. No one person/child should be exploited. No one child should have to not respect the other. All children need to learn both the full suit of domestic duties and how to fix/build things.
Tom can cry…and Mary can get really angry. This is human…not about gender. It is about the full range of human emotions.
Our inability to see how we exploit each other…how women subtly dismiss a man because of his apparent inability to provide…and how a man wants only to get between a woman’s legs…to treat her as his commodity…these are all paths that we need to undo. To stop. To end. Our addiction to youth, and our complete disregard for women of an age…(see Amy Schumer’s excellent skit about the age you become unfuckable as a women..I can’t post the link because it is not available in Australia!!!)
As a women, my practice is to replace my anger with compassion. At the same time to no longer allow anyone, male or female, to ignore me, dismiss me, undervalue me…not from a place of rage…simply by pointing out…I am here. I have something to say. I will be heard. As a women my practice is to continue to create a space and time to listen to men…not to fix them, or judge them…but to witness them in their fullness. Isn’t that what all of us want? In the end? To be fully seen?
I do not know the full motivation of the young man walking with me on the beach. I suspect in the first instance he was lonely. Maybe bored, as he said he was. Just to walk and talk…without agenda…that would have been fine. When the dynamic changed…when he saw me as a potential conquest…everything changed for me.
In my wisdom (I hope) of age…any relationship of value is built on a platform of friendship…mutual respect…and mutual desire. We dance together, or not at all.