BAD TIME TO BE A MAN

HOWARD JA­COB­SON’S bril­liant es­say on mas­cu­line tox­i­c­ity

The New European - - News - BY HOWARD JA­COB­SON

Mas­culin­ity needs help to res­cue it from tox­i­c­ity; only women can save us now

ac­com­plice, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence you can only have at sec­ond hand. But this time, as Ka­vanaugh seemed to un­furl his very na­ture to the world, we were able to pic­ture for our­selves what it would be like to shrink from a dom­i­nat­ing and in­sis­tent will; to be mocked; to lie trapped be­neath an un­yield­ing force.

A bet­ter judge of him­self, some­one more ac­cus­tomed to gaug­ing the im­pres­sion he was mak­ing, would have kept the rag­ing beast on a shorter leash. That he didn’t, or couldn’t, should be enough in it­self to dis­qual­ify him from the na­tion’s ju­di­ciary. In­no­cent or guilty of as­sault, he struck me, as he struck a re­tired Supreme Court Judge and hun­dreds of Amer­i­can law pro­fes­sors, as un­fit by virtue of tem­per­a­ment for high of­fice. What, even in a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion? Well, now we know a lit­tle more of what a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion truly means.

I would wish some­times that women would give the word ‘pa­tri­archy’ a rest. I don’t mean the con­cept, I only mean the word. It’s bad pol­i­tics. You can hear the uni­ver­sity in it – gen­der stud­ies, year 1. Out­side the academy, it doesn’t pay to be too aca­demic. Be too aca­demic and that’s Trump re-elected for an­other term. Pa­tri­archy with the def­i­nite ar­ti­cle – ‘the pa­tri­archy’ – is even worse. It con­jures a se­cret so­ci­ety whose mem­ber­ship is the en­tire male sex.

I have never watched Game of Thrones but I wouldn’t be sur­prised to learn it fea­tures an axe-bear­ing broth­er­hood called The Pa­tri­archy, whose ma­raud­ers com­mu­ni­cate by se­cret hand­shake, like the ma­sons, man to man. But here again I choke on my own de­ri­sion.

Look­ing at the Repub­li­can forces mus­tered in de­fence of Ka­vanaugh, their minds locked, their teeth bared, their eyes as red as those of wolves in the night, that was what I saw – The Pa­tri­archy. This is not a good time to be a man. Only women can fix us now.

Men! What to do about us? That’s not a ques­tion I ever ex­pected to hear my­self ask. I have not, I hope, been a fatu­ous de­fender of my sex. My gen­der, right or wrong, is not a prin­ci­ple that’s guided me. But I have rid­den out at times – as pre­pos­ter­ous as Don Quixote – to de­fend our good name.

If that meant ar­gu­ing with women, well ar­gu­ments are good for all sides. Ar­gu­ment is the breath of life. There is a kind of merry war be­tween Signior Benedick and Beatrice, says Leonato in Much Ado About Noth­ing. “They never meet but there’s a skir­mish of wit be­tween them.” That was me: a merry war­rior, en­joy­ing the bois­ter­ous give and take of wit.

Not al­ways how this or that Beatrice saw it, but it was how I did. So am I sen­ti­men­tal about my­self ? Yes. Or rather, I was. Now I would like to un­say much of what I said.

In the mat­ter of gen­der I have of late lost all my mirth. It hasn’t been a good time for men. I don’t ca­pit­u­late to the pol­i­tics when bon­fires are be­ing made of mis­cre­ants’ work. It’s one thing giv­ing up on one’s gen­der, it’s an­other giv­ing up on one’s pro­fes­sion.

Dif­fi­cult as it some­times is to ad­mit, you can hate the man and love the art. Some hor­ri­ble peo­ple have writ­ten won­der­ful books. If art were noth­ing but the ex­ten­sion of who we are and how we be­have we wouldn’t value it as highly as we do. But in art we over­leap our na­tures. That which we make when we are deep in the labyrinth we call art, when pow­ers not our own di­rect us, will al­ways mat­ter more than what we say and do when we are our mere, ba­nal, above-ground selves. So don’t throw out the baby with the bath wa­ter. Throw out the baby, keep the bath wa­ter.

Leave the vexed ques­tion of art’s im­per­son­al­ity out of it, how­ever, and yes, this is not a good time for men and I am not the merry war­rior I was.

I had thought I had supped full with hor­rors. After the el­e­va­tion of Trump I be­lieved I would never again know as­ton­ish­ment and hor­ror, out­rage or dis­be­lief – fill in the words your­self or we’ll be here a long time. A lot of them be­gin with a d – dis­il­lu­sion­ment, de­spon­dency, de­pres­sion, and yes, all right, dis­dain.

Dis­dain for the man but equal dis­dain for those who didn’t feel dis­dain for him them­selves. This way mad­ness lies, of course. Peo­ple will never judge as you do. And it is ar­ro­gance to be­lieve they should. But Trump! At whom even that solemn body the United Na­tions laughed aloud. Trump!

We must un­der­stand the frus­tra­tions that drive de­cent peo­ple to make in­de­cent choices. When you are at the hard end of ev­ery­thing, when the cognoscenti con­de­scend to you and the pow­er­ful pre­clude you, is it any won­der you’ll make a cult of a clown? Who­ever den­i­grates those who have den­i­grated you, be­comes a hero.

What rough beast slouches to­wards Beth­le­hem, asked the poet Yeats in his poem The Sec­ond Com­ing. Many of the un­der­mined around the world can­not wait to hear its tread. But can a sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment ad­e­quately ex­plain their im­pa­tience? Why choose the fry­ing pan as the only al­ter­na­tive to the fire? Why leap from one in­stance of mas­culin­ist thug­gery into the em­brace of an­other? For they are still, al­most with­out ex­cep­tion – th­ese jest­ing, some­how-or- other demo­crat­i­cally elected ruf­fi­ans – men. And they must an­swer to some­thing vot­ers of both sexes should be ashamed to crave.

To the mys­tery of why a sin­gle, sen­tient hu­man be­ing would cast a vote for Don­ald Trump must now be added an­other: how any­one could have watched Brett Ka­vanaugh’s de­fence of his good name on tele­vi­sion and not thought ‘this man should never be a high court judge.’ I am not, no­tice, say­ing he did as­sault

Pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Blasey Ford.

It is pos­si­ble – of­ten it is nec­es­sary – to be­lieve two con­flict­ing tes­ti­monies at the same time. It isn’t hard to see why many found Ford con­vinc­ing.

Some peo­ple have that about them that in­vites trust. You can’t see where, on their face or per­son, a lie might be con­cealed. Even in an age char­ac­terised by gross gulli­bil­ity, no shame at­taches to be­liev­ing her. But it doesn’t fol­low from that that her me­mory couldn’t, in one way or an­other, have let her down. Ka­vanaugh might not have done what she de­scribes him do­ing. What was ex­tra­or­di­nary about his tes­ti­mony, how­ever, was how plau­si­ble, in gen­eral, he made her ac­cu­sa­tions seem. If she vividly de­scribed en­coun­ter­ing an over­bear­ing man, he still more vividly en­acted one. One could only too eas­ily imag­ine how, even as a boy, a man so bel­liger­ent and thin-skinned, pos­sessed of so grand a sense of en­ti­tle­ment, and so ac­cus­tomed to get­ting his own way, might have brushed aside any at­tempt to deny him.

To be ab­so­lutely clear: this doesn’t in­crim­i­nate him. I am speak­ing only of the im­pres­sion of ma­raud­ing male­ness he was un­able to con­ceal. Hav­ing been ac­cused of be­ing one kind of man he was nat­u­rally at pains to show an­other. He pulled out all the stops, de­tail­ing his sport­ing prow­ess, his aca­demic achieve­ment, the es­teem he en­joyed, the friend­ship of good women, God, fa­ther­hood. He blubbed, he sniffed, he gasped for air. Pro­fes­sor Chris­tine Blasey Ford wasn’t to be the only one who showed emo­tion.

Here he was, a grown man mak­ing grown men weep with him. But en­ti­tle­ment will out. With ev­ery sniff and gri­mace, it wasn’t sor­row or con­fu­sion we wit­nessed but petu­lance and men­ace, as though a prize bull had been cor­nered and in its fury knew only to kick out. The over­rid­ing im­pres­sion, from start to fin­ish, was not of a mod­er­ate per­son an­gry at be­ing falsely charged – and God knows, that would make the mildest of us an­gry – but of a bel­li­cose and par­ti­san princeling whose hith­erto un­chal­lenged right to ev­ery­thing was sud­denly in ques­tion. How easy it was, there­fore, to reimag­ine the scene Ford had al­ready painted, with a man of that sort – I only say a man of that sort – in it. The im­po­si­tion of male weight; the re­fusal to take no for an an­swer, when ‘no’ is a word he’s rarely heard; the laugh­ter at a weaker per­son’s strug­gles; the in­dif­fer­ence to a woman’s wishes or ter­ror.

Women will tell you there’s noth­ing all that un­com­mon about such an event. For a man, un­less you’re a cul­prit or an

Photo: Win Mc­namee/getty Im­ages

DE­FI­ANT: Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh tes­ti­fy­ing to the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee dur­ing his Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing

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