This morning, after breakfast was done and the dog fed, and after sorting out the chooks for the day, I, feeling the need for just a few cheeky extra moments of procrastination, cleaned the loo and the sink and the mirror. When done, I went into the garden and cut a small clump of pink geranium flowers, popped them in a little clear-glass bottle, filled the bottle with water, and set them out. There: a sparkly, sparkling bathroom; and it always makes me feel brilliant. Until I walk down to the writing-room with a strong mug of coffee in hand, turn on my computer and think, Oh Christ, I can’t remember where I’m up to.
The point of all this? Manhood. Or, at least, gender. The thing is I’ve spent much of the last few weeks (on top of much of the last four and a half decades) thinking – worrying – about gender. Along with most of Australia, probably. Gender, sexism, equality: this is the stuff that’s currently flooding our radios and TVs and websites and newspapers. But I don’t understand what any of it really means. Last week over at Verity La I wrote an editorial about gender equality in terms of what the journal publishes, and I introduced the piece by saying that I simply don’t know what makes a man and what makes a woman. Of course, we can talk in general terms, we can make observations based on assumptions. Even though gender isn’t always black and white, it’s actually the notions of masculinity and femininity that are the hardest to define. Is fixing a car a masculine activity? Is cooking chicken soup a feminine activity? Is tinkering in the shed with hammers and nails a masculine activity? Is, oh I don’t know, blogging a feminine activity? In the end the only rational conclusion is that these are just activities. But if anyone knows of a logical definition of masculinity and femininity, do feel free to share it.
Yet one of the core precepts of human life is gender and what this enables and entitles us to do between being born and kicking the bucket. In Australian political life, men wear dark-coloured suits with blue ties; woman wear whatever they want, more or less, though a pearl necklace, it seems, should be seriously considered if you’re in a leadership position. Men can say whatever they want, even swear (hopefully off-camera), but it wouldn’t be right for women (even off-camera). Men can be ruthless, but when women do the same we’re advised to approach with caution – she may be dangerous or mad, or even a witch.
The welfare of a child
Closer to home, I’ve been thinking about the welfare of children raised by same-sex parents. I used to believe that as long as, say, the son of a lesbian couple had access to a good father-figure (an uncle or high-quality family friend), then all would be right with the world. But what exactly is that father-figure meant to do? Teach the son how to kick a footie and do air-guitar to AC/DC? It’s just rubbish. So my thinking evolved to this: as long as the son has access to masculine and feminine influences (both of which could be found in his two mothers) then all would be right with the world. But does that mean one of the mothers has to be good at climbing onto the roof to clean out the gutters (a supposedly masculine trait) while the other has to be good at getting down on her hands and knees to clean the kitchen floors (a supposedly feminine trait)? It’s totally absurd. So recently my thinking has evolved to this: as long as the son is loved and protected and encouraged and challenged all will be right with the world; one day he might even climb the food-chain to be deputy prime-minister.
Best-ever novels, Fred Nile and the Australian soccer team
But here’s a thing: even closer to home, when I think of my favourite novels, you know, the ones that I’d rescue if the house was burning down around my ears, all but one (Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx) are written by men, and all of them (except, ironically, The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tobin) are about men finding their way in the world and, quite honestly, fucking it up as they go here, there, and everywhere. Further, as I pointed out over at Verity La, there is a distinct bias towards male writers in the work the journal publishes – and I’m the one who makes the decisions. Surely it goes beyond my personal sexuality (which, sorry Fred Nile, is genetic) to something sinister: in society, and in the way we move through and within society, men have an access-all-areas voice while women must know their place. Cue: the coach of the Australian soccer team and his completely and utterly ridiculous ‘private joke’.
Making crap up
It’s pretty handy that as Australians we live in an environment where these matters can be discussed so freely and openly (though I’d be brave to the point of stupidity to chew this stuff over with some mates down at my Goulburn local). It’s also interesting that these issues have been brought to front of stage by a female prime-minister who is, rightly or wrongly (perhaps both), and consciously or unconsciously (perhaps both), using her gender to bolster her government (which has, it should be said, achieved a lot despite almost crippling political and economic circumstances). But it would be good to reach the chapter – I thought we had already, but clearly I was wrong – where actions are just actions: they don’t have sex or genders. Like picking pink flowers for the bathroom. But it’s likely this is me just being a bit of a fairy. And, as always, making crap up.