A conversation on modern masculinity

“Hi there,” I start out my daily conversation with a groan. “Think I gave someone some bad advice. Oh and people are coming to see the house tomorrow. Great, what a day. Message from my mom that she wants to meet for drinks. Are you okay? You re so quiet.”

“Hi,” the Mentalist finally answers. “Yes I’m ok. What bad advice did you give? Go have a drink. Try and keep an open mind so she tells you everything before you react and look for conspiracy theories.”

“I much preferred when you told me to cut her off,” I answer annoyed as I hadn’t expected this answer. “But okay.”

“Tell the people you only sleep upstairs because you had a house full of kids but it really is an office,” the Mentalist goes on rapidly hopping through all my issues.

“I met up with my friend Amy,” I get to the heart of the bad advice matter. “Remember her? She’s not happy. I told her to be naughty, have fun. And maybe an affaire. What are you picking up on for this visit?”

“Yes cut her off afterwards if it doesn’t suit you,” the Mentalist reassures me about meeting up with my mother for drinks. “Maybe she’s had a turn of a forest in her life.”

“A turn of a forest?” I ask amused.

“Oh nothing wrong with that,” the Mentalist reassures me that my advice to Amy is kind of okay. “She could enjoy the flirt unless her relationship is not over yet. Turning over a new leaf.”

“She is married,” I point out not believing he would give me such a crooked answer. Then I go on about my mother’s turn of forest: “I don’t believe it one minute.”

“Oh well then yes, very bad advice,” the Mentalist has a turn of opinion. “My bet is Amy won’t admit what she is unhappy about.”

“Yes told you, bad advice,” I sulk angry with myself for not thinking better. Then about meeting up with my mother: “Anyway I am busy next week so meeting up isn’t possible.”

“Me neither but something is on her mind,” the Mentalist ponders. “So if she is rude remind her you are a big girl now and can live without her influence, thank you very much. On the other hand she might want to reinstate you to inherit her millions.”

“I don’t believe that one minute,” I laugh off that idea as my experience with my mother is that she is very stingy, not the generous type. “She just wants to pull me in again to have another whack at me.”

“No she won’t,” the Mentalist calmly sets me straight. “Ask her how you can be supportive instead.”

“And watch me run around desperately,” I continue sarcastically. “Okay. Poop. But next week isn’t possible.”

“Ah that Amy?” the Mentalist suddenly realizes who I am talking about. “No no, run away now, don’t get involved.”

“What’s wrong with tomorrow’s visit?” I am impatient to hear what he is intuitively feeling. “Run away from Amy? Really?”

“Nothing, why?” the Mentalist answers surprised I keep reverting to selling my house.

“Why?” I exclaim. “Because you said about the bed.”

“Well if she is toxic, yes run away,” the Mentalist replies and I know he is doing it on purpose to show me it is impossible to have a proper conversation with me. I have so many things on my mind and I want to discuss them all at once and simultaneously: Amy, my mother, the house.

“You think she is toxic?” I question him again. “I really like Amy.”

“Look those stairs appear dangerous,” the Mentalist won’t relent.

“Oh do they?” I remark more and more surprised.

“I don’t know her,” the Mentalist admits. “I think she was a photographer or something?”

“You are right, people are scared of those stairs,” I think back to the previous visit where the woman only got half way up the stairs, refused to go any further and hence missing the beauty of the loft, and coming back down the stairs backwards.

“Yes if you are pissed or need the toilet in the dark,” the Mentalist explains what people are thinking when they see the stairs to the loft. “Bad news.”

“She is senior vice president something at a bank,” I insist on Amy’s outstanding qualities. And then back to the house and the strange stairs: “I have never had that problem.”

“So why will she take a whack at you?” the Mentalist jumps back to Amy.

“My mother!!!” I emphasize realizing that the Mentalist was attributing the negatives to Amy instead of my mother. “Because that’s what she does.”

“You are sure footed,” the Mentalist says coolly, urging me not to be so judgemental.

“She needs someone to rile,” I snap. “Yes maybe.”

“Ah I see,” the Mentalist confirms my biased feelings. “Yes so be open minded and not aggressive. Just listen and then quietly say what you want to say in a very calm voice. That will get up your mother’s nose for sure. I haven’t met Amy, have I?”

“No you haven’t,” I confirm he never had the pleasure of meeting my friend Amy. “Meeting my mother is cack. But okay will do it. She probably wants Willem, that’s my guess.”

“Why have I not met Amy?” the Mentalist is racking his brain.

“You chickened out on the muffin breakfast,” I remind him of a dark and misty past.

“Oh. Pity,” the Mentalist says quietly. “Is she hot?”

“And you had a sissy fit because she has converted to Islam,” I remind him as I am sure this will refresh his memory instantly. “Yes she is very sweet.”

“Ok maybe she is having second thoughts and wants out,” the Mentalist has made up his mind what this is about.

“Who?” I am confused who we are talking about now. “Amy?”

“Yes,” the Mentalist acquiesces.

“She sounds like me years ago,” I remark on the resemblance. “Can’t get divorced.”

“Yes she can but with great difficulty,” the Mentalist is getting slightly aggravated with this story.

“She doesn’t even think she wants to,” I observe. “Just like me back then.”

“She can’t have an affair,” the Mentalist insists I understand this point clearly. “If she does and gets caught she will be stoned to death.”

“She is Belgian,” I shrug off his argument.

“So what?” the Mentalist lets me know that nationality is not the same as culture.

“She says he’s not a guy you can leave,” I am feeling more and more alarmed as I recount our conversation. “I can read between the lines.”

“Belgium will investigate her death only,” the Mentalist says sadly what happens all too often.

“I told her to be naughty but no sex,” I could just kick myself for having said that.

“So she is being abused too,” the Mentalist concludes from what I am telling him.

“No,” I don’t believe it one minute.

“Yes,” the Mentalist insists.

“He hit her once years ago,” I tell him it was a one time only. “And he has threatened her.”

“And still does,” the Mentalist retorts.

“Before,” I correct him. “Well she’s unhappy. There is no way out, right. Can’t she just make her life more fun as is now?”

“Well I am sorry for her,” the Mentalist says quietly. “She must have known this before she got involved. She can do what she likes so long as she doesn’t get caught.”

“Yes but couldn’t get out, and didn’t really want to either,” I think back some 20 years ago wondering if there were any signs back then that I should have picked up on. “Hmmm…”

“Then she must now sleep in the bed she made,” the Mentalist resigns.

“Yes I guess,” I conclude as indeed there seems to be nothing I can do.

“Let it be a lesson to you,” the Mentalist warns. “Don’t marry an Arab. Very bad news if you do.”

“What advice should I give?” I ask him ignoring the last. I am obviously marrying Wim who is an atheist.

“To seek help if she can trust the Imam,” the Mentalist confides. “Leave and go home to her family. Sue for divorce under Belgium law. Or ask for a transfer somewhere far away and take her kids and disappear.”

“That’s not going to happen,” I think in desperation. “Her mother died some years ago. Think she still has her father but not close.”

“Pay a hit man to whack the guy,” the Mentalist offers.

“She has a brother but he is very immature,” I go on wondering what exactly I know about Amy. “Noooooo. He’s not that bad really.”

“Buy some serious drugs and call the police and accuse him of possession,” the Mentalist lays out his not so brilliant plans.

“Haha well… noooo,” I refute the nonsense. “Not framing anybody.”

“I thought he was worse than me and that’s pretty bad,” the Mentalist laughs now too.

“Haha yes definitely,” I confirm. “Why, what are you like?”

“You think of something besides flirting which will get her burnt with acid or stoned to death,” the Mentalist urges me to think for myself. “You know me better than most.”

“Okay you are bad in your genre,” I admit for the little I know of the Mentalist, who I know lives as a recluse. “How does Debbie handle you?”

“Gently,” the Mentalist answers tongue in cheek.

“I want her doing hobbies, fairy and fun stuff again,” I remember the fun Amy, the one with the bubbly aura. Not the shadow she has become of herself. “Like I said, naughty but no sex involved. She said it’s not fun if there’s no sex. Yet she has always been the good girl. Anyway not my battle.”

“I see,” the Mentalist gets the bigger picture. “I agree.”

“So you are nice to Debbie?” I want to know what goes on behind the scenes now.

“No of course not,” the Mentalist teases me.

“You are!” I laugh again. “You must be. Else she wouldn’t stay.”

“I guess so,” the Mentalist answers, pleased to hear that I know that a woman won’t stay with a man who doesn’t make her feel good. “Are you nice to Wim?”

“Yes I am,” I am proud to tell him I know how to treat my man well. “I aim to be generous and considerate. And respectful. He has his hands full with my social inabilities.”

“What, are you turning over a new leaf too?” the Mentalist pushes my buttons in good humour.

“Yes,” I answer earnestly. “Wim is a good guy.”

“Great,” the Mentalist gives me words of praise to reinforce my good behaviour. “Well done.”

“I do learn from mistakes,” I acknowledge where I went very wrong in the past. “Very slowly.”

“Yes you do,” the Mentalist observes. “Like I have said before, you are rather bright for a blond girl.”

“Haha I feel you are getting naughty again,” I tell him off before he starts uttering scandalous things again. “Time to go. Have a wonderful evening.”

“See you soon,” the Mentalist bids me good night.

“Go and tease Debbie a bit,” I tell him as I can sense he is feeling a little cut off when he was so ready to tease me.

“Ok,” the Mentalist recognizes a good plan when he hears one.

As women we need to understand the cultural assumptions which are made about what it means to be male and how masculinity is judged. If we stop for a moment and examine the contradictory expectations that our men grapple with, be it in relationships or even at work, we might not be so ready to judge them as harshly. In turn, I aim to bring up my sons as a true feminist and create a thoughtful and non-judgmental environment to encourage my boys to think critically and with empathy. And for my daughter, I wish to set the stage for her to know how to work with men.

I invite you to think about your conversations with and about men. If this challenges you, then all the better. Where are your blind spots? And how can we encourage the men and women around us to become more creative in identifying their gender roles.

Love,

Fiona

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