The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

It’s dif­fi­cult to draw a di­rect line be­tween pol­i­tics and cul­ture, though the two in­flu­ence each other and rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent sides of the na­tional per­son­al­ity. Try­ing to de­ci­pher the cul­tural semi­otics, so to speak, of the Don­ald Trump cam­paign in the US could keep aca­demics em­ployed for­ever.

Noth­ing was quite as vexed as the Billy Bush video, which re­vealed Trump boast­ing of low­grade sex­ual as­sault on women. It is not my pur­pose here to con­demn Trump — I’ve done that lots else­where — but, rather, to re­flect on the cul­tural in­ter­pre­ta­tion these re­marks pro­voked.

Rather a lot of Amer­i­can com­men­ta­tors said Trump’s words, and his de­mean­ing at­ti­tude to women, re­flected the typ­i­cal 1950s men’s out­look. This is part, I’m afraid, of a typ­i­cal defama­tion of the 50s, one of the great decades of artis­tic and cul­tural achieve­ment.

A few linked Trump to the Mad Men TV se­ries about Man­hat­tan ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tives set at the start of the 60s. This slan­der of the past is typ­i­cal of our age, which knows al­most noth­ing about the past. And it is non­sense. A cer­tain per­cent­age of men have al­ways, and will al­ways, speak crudely and abu­sively of women. They are wrong to do so. It is part of the hu­man con­di­tion, the moral frailty of our char­ac­ters, the fallen na­ture of man.

The mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity is de­ter­mined on a fan­tas­tic mis­take in its set­tled con­vic­tion that the new way of re­la­tions be­tween men and women is in­fin­itely bet­ter than any­thing in the past, and that the past rep­re­sents only back­ward­ness and ex­ploita­tion.

In­deed the mod­ern of­fi­cial sen­si­bil­ity, the ap­proved ide­ol­ogy, is at war with hu­man na­ture in its dog­matic as­ser­tion that men and women are the same, and must be treated ex­actly alike. For while men and women are cer­tainly ab­so­lutely equal, they are not at all the same.

One of the many civil­is­ing in­stincts hu­man­ity owes to religion is chivalry. The in­tro­duc­tion of the de­vo­tion to Mary in the Chris­tian churches was re­ally the in­tro­duc­tion of chivalry as a cen­tral com­po­nent of the re­li­gious out­look.

The inane and deeply un­his­tor­i­cal mod­ern car­i­ca­ture of chivalry is that it re­duces women to a choice be­tween two highly un­sat­is­fac­tory iden­ti­ties — damned whores or God’s po­lice, in the phrase of a no­table book.

In re­al­ity, chivalry is a call to men to be­have like men, which in­volves tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own be­hav­iour and look­ing out for the wel­fare of the women and girls they en­counter. This is not to im­ply women can’t look out for them­selves. But it is to im­ply that men, like all other hu­man be­ings, have spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of virtue.

Much of the mod­ern and ar­ti­fi­cial push for women and men to be ex­actly the same seems to be a de­sire that women would be­have as badly as men — that they should drink as much as men, smoke as much as men, com­mit as­sault as much as men. I have never re­ally un­der­stood how that con­sti­tutes help­ful progress.

And of course al­most all men and women in re­al­ity live to some ex­tent the prin­ci­ple of chivalry. If you hear an in­truder in the house, do you send your wife to in­ves­ti­gate? We rightly pro­mote women’s sports, but we don’t want to see women bat­tered in the NRL in mixed teams.

And is there a re­spon­si­ble fa­ther in the world, who has sons, who has never said to them a sim­ple truth: it is never, ever, ac­cept­able for a bloke to hit a woman.

I am old enough to re­mem­ber the Chris­tian Broth­ers teach­ing us elab­o­rate codes of chivalry — if you are walk­ing with a woman, al­ways walk near the street to pro­tect her from any dan­ger that might come from the street. I re­mem­ber my fa­ther, though born in 1930 ab­so­lutely a man of the 50s, al­ways hold­ing the door for my mother. Was he com­mit­ting an of­fence against gender re­la­tions?

Men of my age tend to pro­fan­ity among men and po­lite­ness in mixed com­pany. These are not Trump-like char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Pope Fran­cis com­mented re­cently that the Catholic Church would al­ways have a male priest­hood. Christ chose 12 men as apos­tles and the church must pat­tern it­self some­what af­ter the Gospels. But these are ar­gu­ments you will sel­dom hear.

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