By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
PATRIARCHY HERE, PATRIARCHY THERE, Patriarchy, patriarchy everywhere. It’s bad enough having to listen to feminists going on about the horrors of the patriarchy and hearing how it’s to blame for everything from making sure women are underpaid to driving men to suicide because they don’t talk about their feelings. Now we have to put up with blokes doing it as well. It’s the male version of white liberal guilt: you’ve got to feel guilty about something these days because if you aren’t the victim you’re the oppressor and need to grovel away your privilege. Otherwise you’re out of the Righteous Club and the nice people won’t talk to you.
A while ago Robert Webb, the comedian, talked about how he discusses the patriarchy with his daughters — or “the trick”, as they call it in his household, after Esme (aged 6) mispronounced it “patricarky”. All very sweet but what on earth is anyone doing introducing such leftist nonsense to their young children? Webb justifies it as alerting them to the “oncoming tide of gender nonsense…they’re going to have to spend their lives wading through.”
Yes, it’s that bad. After four decades of increasing cultural feminisation and the expansion of numbers of women in the workplace, education and the media, we’re still submerged in ‘toxic masculinity’ and outmoded beliefs that there may be real differences between the sexes, according to this worldview.
Webb’s animus against the very notion of masculinity springs from his own unhappy experiences as an adolescent, with the early death of his mother and the subsequent problems with his grief-stricken and alcoholic father. He says his personal problems stem from the attitude imposed upon him by society that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings, that boys should be tough and boisterous, like sports, not cry and so on. All of these sound fairly familiar and old-fashioned to me – but more spoken about than enacted. Many of us growing in up the postwar years were uninterested in sports and useless at playing them at school, or preferred less physical entertainments, such as reading books, or different kinds of physical activity. And many of us were known to cry at various times or to share painful emotions, without being laughed at, without being bullied. It’s a straw man argument, taken from the same shelf as Brexit voters wanting to take us back to the 1950s or re-establish the Empire.
Now it’s true we weren’t encouraged to emote constantly and talk about our feelings, and our own preference in that was, I believe, a natural one. Whatever we may have absorbed from society, either directly or unconsciously, we prefer to tackle things in our own way. All this advocating of expressing emotions comes from women (I’ve never met a man who has told me to open up about my feelings) because that is what seems to suit their psychology. Women prefer talking, men prefer action.
This message, repeated so often that it has become one of those pseudo-truths beloved of the media, is always produced without scientific evidence; just as there is no scientific evidence that getting men to open up emotionally all the time results in better psychological health for them. There is a difference, I would acknowledge, in severe situations such as death and the grief and possible depression that can follow it, and lesser anxieties. Some traumas may be ameliorated by talking, others may not.
The problems that Webb describes in his own life resulted from extreme circumstances and he obviously still feels aggrieved about them, hence his often spiky and angry tweets about people who propose a different way of looking at things. His endorsement of Richard Poplak’s hit piece on Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life, is a good example: “Easily the most enjoyable review I’ve read this decade. Peterson is your thinking idiot’s idea of a public intellectual.” I’ll assume that Webb knows nothing about Peterson except for the second-hand reports from his detractors, but that clichéd jibe is not improved by making the idiots “thinking” or adding the word “public” to intellectual. It’s ironic that Stephen Fry, one of the same tribe of luvvies as Webb, has also had a similar taunt directed at him. Would Webb consider the saintly Stephen on a par with Peterson? Doubly ironic now, given that both of those gents appeared on a platform together at a Munk Debate on political correctness.
In terms of the logic of Webb’s position it is the swift and automatic leap from the idea of not expressing feelings to the acceptance of the concept of patriarchy, with all its other ideological baggage, that is annoying. Perhaps there are very good historical reasons — evolutionary, biological, socially practical — for the existence of these despised gender roles. After all, they didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere care of some nebulous association of domineering men determined to keep the women down. And perhaps this uncritical acceptance of the all-embracing construct of patriarchy (to use the left’s own terminology) not only avoids confronting the complexity of existence but also severely aggravates the relationships between the sexes.
It’s something Dan Snow, the historian, should consider as well, since he has admitted he lies to his daughters about the “grim realities” of gender relations. Visiting an aviation museum with his family he felt unable (or embarrassed) to explain to his daughter why it was men flying the spitfires and not women:
Having to then explain to her why all the pictures of women are of them in ball gowns or in formal dress looking quite wooden and all the pictures of men are of them rampaging around having a great time, being heroic and climbing mountains, shooting things, being soldiers. That is something I struggle with. Now at some stage she’s going to learn that I lied to her and she’s going to find out that women weren’t allowed to do active front-line service so I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’
He could have put this is more truthfully: “pictures of men rampaging around, having a dreadful time, being cowardly, dying on mountains, getting shot, being cannon-fodder”, etc. I have to admit it is beyond my comprehension that anyone should “struggle” with explaining this to a child. Snow is a historian, so he should have some grasp of the context. It’s a pity he lets that knowledge be trumped by this readymade ideology. But he’s right in one way: his kids, whom he describes as unconcerned about the brutality of the human species, will learn soon enough that the world is a lot tougher than they thought – and not because of the bloody patriarchy, either.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.