Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Hello Neverland: White Knights

I saw a man stand up from his seat on the tube the other evening, and walk towards a woman who looked at him nervously. He was dressed a little scruffily but nothing that suggested he was destitute. As she cowered during that anxious moment, he motioned to his own seat and said:

"Would you like to sit down?"

The carriage was full and everyone in London keeps their heads down once they have secured a seat. However, she still cowered and shook her head, refusing to sit down. He smiled and shrugged, and went back to his seat.

I'll admit to having had my own preconceptions about him, and thinking he would maybe harrass her for change or who knows what else. I did not expect a moment of chivalry. I feel we have been conditioned to not expect moments of chivalry anymore.

It is a hard and touchy subject to write about, because hashtag activism abounds and I am told I am not allowed to speak from a position of "privilege". I am however, not writing about the experience of women faced with men. I am writing from the position of a man who I feel does not deal very much with being a man.

I have the least masculine job going, and I doubt I look like any sort of threat to anyone who would care to look at me. I've dealt with men my entire life like someone who is somehow looking over the fence, like a donkey would to a horse. I see a biological similiarity and that's where my similarities end.

My entire life has been in the presence and influence of women. I have worked almost exclusively alongside women, I have been drawn to books by female writers (Toni Morrison and Arundhati Roy are my favourite authors) and music by female artists. I like fashion, art, baking and cosmetics. I am left cold by football, beer and progressive rock music.

This may seem stereotypical, and I understand that many people of many genders are either way inclined, but in my daily life I am empathised and relating to women more than men. The male to me is the "other", someone I find hard to understand. Watching Disney movies growing up, I wanted to be Pochontas, not John Smith. I felt an affinity with Clarice Starling, Catwoman and Alanis Morissette.

Moreover, straight men were to be viewed with suspicion and a certain distance. It is something I have mostly managed to shake off growing up. Mostly. There is still a hesitation, a sense of being an outsider, of watching my step.

"Typical man", I can't imagine how many times I've said that. "Men are pigs". They are not to be trusted. They will attack you, hurt you, they have ulterior motives. It's hard not to get caught up in that way of thinking.

Yet I've travelled a little bit in life, I've been privy to plenty of conversations and moments in the lives of straight men, and men in general. I have been let behind a rope made entirely of steel and motor oil.

Now I know that men want love, that they cry, that they can be frustrated by all the same wants and desires as everyone else. That they have just as many issues with the way they look, and will go to just as many extreme lengths to attain that. They are just much better at hiding it, or sadly, it's seen perfectly acceptable to be doing these things. Nobody wants to be the chubby, lazy, funny guy in the room with a beer gut who loves to eat pizza.

I find it strange, this mentality of "nobody knows what I've been through, how dare you". There is a certain element of people being condescending, but shutting the gate on everyone, even those who genuinely want to share their own experience of discrimination and hurt, no matter their gender or skin colour or age, is not helping.

We all need to come to the table as people, there can't be a "you can't sit with us" moment, because all you are doing is excluding, that very thing you complain is being done to you.

White knights exist. There are many men out there who are good, hard-working and lovely men. Not every man is a walking erection set to "rape". I don't see the point of Blurred Lines parodies with men on leashes wearing nothing but their boxers. If all you're seeking is a revenge fantasy on an entire gender then when you're the one holding the leash, how are you any different?

Of course we need to higlight and talk about discrimination. Yet I also think we need to look at the men in our lives who are amazing, who have a little more integrity and intelligence than to stray just because the right piece of meat comes their way. That want to engage with their families and be honest and open and make something of themselves.

We are all guilty. We all say "typical man". We all contribute to handing a blue blanket and a toy gun as their first experience into the world. Of the ideal man being Channing Tatum in Magic Mike but also hoping he'll be sensitive, and pay our bills. We need to keep talking about the good men too.

I know good men exist because my father is a kind, generous, loving man. I know good men exist because my grandfathers were both great men in their own ways. I know because I have wonderful male friends and family members.

I know good men exist because I am in love with one of them, and I could think of nothing worse than to browbeat him every day as a lazy typical man because he doesn't do what I want at every moment. That's what pets are for.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


I went to visit my family in Spain, and we're all sat in the car at night from the airport to home. In the back of the car are the three most important females in my life. My sister, my baby niece and my mother. My father is driving, we are listening to a mix of female empowerment beats. From Mariah to Whitney and Beyonce, amidst the chatter in the car we have soundbites about being sexy and believing in yourself.

The roads are dark along the coast, curved and beckoning caution. On the left is the sea, and all the developments for rich tourists and ex-pats. The right side is much more rugged, giving way to mountains and no lighting whatsoever. There could be anything happening on those hills, there probably is.

We turn a corner and in a slow-motion instant I look into the eyes of a woman, sitting right by the road in thigh-high heels looking the most miserable I have ever seen a person look. Beside her, another woman stalks a space of gravel, dressed in leopardskin, lips clenched with a fight at the end of them.

Another corner, more women. My mother mentions those poor women, brought over from other countries with the promise of something akin to freedom. I can't get that woman's eyes out of my head, staring right at me through the glass. Me, in my comfort and warmth, with enough money for airline travel and presents and the luxury of having had time to find a job I really want.

I think about Beyonce and her promise of feminism, at how much her new album bothers me. All those body-positive lyrics juxtaposed with lines about diamonds and being smacked around by her husband. I think of all these foundations they set up, about Madonna photoshopped with the glow of the Virgin Mary in Malawi, who then flies back to one of her five mansions.

I wonder if they stand in their walk-in dressing rooms thinking, "do I really need another Louis Vuitton bag? Do I need to spend five million dollars on my wedding? What if I spent four million dollars and then gave one million to someone?".

I think of the reality of the situation, beyond all the advertising and charity singles, there is still a woman sat by a road in Spain waiting for a man to toss her 20 euros and do what he likes with her, again and again for every night. Or worse, for this woman to disappear into the darkness and for nobody to miss her. A comodity, a piece of meat, a walking ghost.

I am frustrated by the line between choice and enslavement. When is Beyonce submitting to patriarchal views on women in order to sell records, and when is she empowered to use her body as a tool to her own advantage? Then there are these women, who don't even have a choice.

What is Beyonce doing for this woman on the road? Then a thought hits me right across the face and I sink into my chair.

What exactly are you doing, Jonathan?

The answer is simple, I am not doing a thing. The harder question follows, what can I do? Right now, I don't have a clue. Yet nothing doesn't seem like an option anymore.