Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Making peace with men

It was serendipitous that my visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum took place at a time when I was re-reading a marvelous book, Iron John by Robert Bly.

Although the museum collection caused me to recall the suffering to which "progress" and "development" have subjected hunter-gatherers, our modern way of life has created challenges for contemporary men too.

As Bly states, the relationship that has been most severely damaged by the Industrial Revolution is the one between father and son. During our hunting-gathering days and even during our agricultural days, fathers and sons used to work alongside each other. Think of the farmers, blacksmiths and carpenters who passed on their skills to their sons.

In an agricultural society, fathers work close to home. They return to their houses for lunch. Their wives and children understand what they do for a living and interact with them a lot.

But that changed for us when men went off to work in distant factories and mines, and later in offices. Their work became specialized, their family members no longer understood what they did for a living, and their wives and children saw much less of them.

Some men, who were forced to work punishing hours, were exhausted, and behaved like jerks.

Women resented being less powerful, but let off steam by disparaging men. One of the rhymes that I remember my mother reciting was:

Girls are made of sugar and spice and all things nice.
Boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails.

Once we were both middle aged, I told one of my brothers that I felt uncomfortable about having been elevated at his expense. I asked him how he had felt when he had heard those words. He said, "Like a piece of shit." I felt so sad when he shared that with me.

We see variations on this theme all over the place. For example, television ads invariably portray the dad as the resident idiot who doesn't have the first clue about cold medicine. Then the mom rolls her eyes before revealing the magic elixir that will fix everything.

I am sorry to report that there was a time when I was that smug mom. But I like to think that I have outgrown that attitude.

I know, from first hand experience, that some men behave badly. Yet, with that having been said, I am finding it deeply rewarding to be gaining a new recognition of the gifts that men have to offer the world.

The society that I want to nurture is one that is supportive towards men, women, children and, indeed, our planet. My membership of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community is central to that commitment.

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