Friday 24 January 2020

A public apology for being a man

It appears there has been what Flann O’Brien would describe as a transfer of the 'mollycules'
It appears there has been what Flann O’Brien would describe as a transfer of the 'mollycules'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

I am ashamed to say I am sick. I mean that literally. I am ashamed. Men in general are embarrassed to admit they are sick. Unless they have something serious. But your common or garden cold or flu or virus? No man dares to try to claim victimhood on that. My current malady started with a head-cold of some kind. But for me the central issue with a head-cold tends to be that it gets into the gums and they become worse than usual. I am, as you will know, a martyr to the gums, not that I like to mention it. Even very expensive and protracted surgery recently has failed to solve the problem. So now I am deciding I need to live with it. At night I will wake up with the gums screaming. With a head-cold, it can become difficult to think of anything else. Whatever the sinusy connection there, the gums go into overdrive.

The head-cold is gone-ish now and I am left just with the gums and a general sense of exhaustion that refuses to go. If I was in the civil service and childless I would be in bed. But instead I am around the place, like the walking dead. Flattened but functioning.

But do I say I am sick? No. I dismiss it apologetically as 'man flu'. I get in before anyone else does. Because no one takes a sick man seriously do they? We are just overgrown boys, wanting our Mammy to make everything OK.

It doesn't help that my wife seems to be genuinely sick. She has various issues going on but she totally trumped me this past week by completely losing her voice. And apparently it was viral, so nothing could be done only to wait for it to come back, as she conducted her life through vague dignified whispering. Obviously I couldn't compete with this. My gums are a silent scream and the general lack of vim is just laziness really, isn't it? So I basically spent my time apologising for being sick while she didn't even mention her illness because she didn't need to. And slowly we both got on each other's nerves the way sick people do to their partners, except this time it was doubled. It didn't help that I was intensely cranky and unable to think very clearly. I put the crankiness down to my illness rather than hers and I apologised for that too.

I didn't read that much of the Irish Times' recent stuff on how to be a man because it struck me from the headlines and from the bits I read that it was less an exploration of masculinity and more an opportunity for men to apologise for their masculinity and to say how much they regretted that masculinity was mainly about violence and not expressing their emotions. I have to say that these seemed like tired old stereotypes to me. It would be a bit like if they ran a series on what it means to be a woman and all the women came out with apologias for the fact that being a woman meant they were all so hysterical and irrational.

But then again, maybe I am not fully a man in the traditional sense. I occupy a position somewhere along the gender continuum whereby I am not violent, and I am reasonably in touch with my feelings. I like to talk about things, though I can err on the side of trying to solve the problem when sometimes a woman just wants to talk about their situation without being offered a solution. Perhaps some of this has to do with not being sporty. And perhaps some of it has to do with preferring the company of women a lot of the time. Perhaps it has to do with being too close to my mother, with working with a lot of women, with living now in a house full of girls.

It appears there has been what Flann O'Brien would characterise as a transfer of the mollycules so I am now half man, half bicycle. Indeed, most of the men I know are probably to some extent girlymen. We are drawn to each other.

And while we may be violent in our language at times, we are not innately violent. Neither do most of the men I know conform to any outdated stereotype of maleness. Indeed the focus on new movements in gender probably do a disservice to many of the men I know, because the backdrop to much of gender politics now is to suggest that being a man makes you one type of person, a person who is born with the original sin of violent masculinity, and that you are guilty of this until you enlighten yourself out of it and apologise enough. I am a man, but please see the human first.

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