Recently, a man I personally know is a serial abuser of women posted a picture of himself on Instagram holding a sign that proclaimed his support for gender equality.
Tempted to write ‘hilarious’ in the comments section, I decided instead to take a more nuanced approach. I chose – as many women do after going through experiences of abuse – to not identify him. For one thing, being on the pointy end of his wrath would not be pretty.
For another, (and a part of me attributes this to the same gullibility that sucks people into these fabulists’ worlds in the first place) I think, or hope, he might have changed. It’s doubtful. The rational side of me is well aware the creature in that Instagram post is one shaped by the observer. What we see is a mirror in which our own desires are reflected back at us. Dig deeper and we find – like the quantum physicist researching the subatomic realm – something that makes no sense and is mostly empty space.
Fishing and Fairy Tales
Social media is of course, a pretender’s paradise. It’s a fabulous place for fabulists to pay lip service to the zeitgeist, hop on the bandwagon and wave that bright banner of solidarity. And dating apps brimming with an infinite supply of women looking for the fairy tale are all perfect fishing spots for liars, fakers and other predators to reel in their victims with the heroic, affluent and successful masculinity narrative.
After finishing Fake – Stephanie Woods’ beautifully written, candid and well researched book about narcissistic sociopaths and after watching the recent slew of news stories about abuse of women in Australian parliament – I’m experiencing a nauseating whiff of familiarity. This has all happened before.
I come from a generation that grew up accepting harassment as part of the whole business of being a woman in a male-dominated world. What I see, sadly, is that over the past forty years, not much has changed. These days, abusers with a bit of guile still know how to say the right things to succeed in business or politics, get laid, or prove their previous girlfriend was a psycho. And those platitude-flashers – often no more feminist than I am a fruit bat – use this current national conversation around women’s rights to varnish their social media profiles.
The Bigger Picture
So why are we still falling for this garbage? And why are an alarming number of men still behaving this way?
In this world where we don’t know what to believe anymore, part of the problem with those false masculinity narratives is guidance from the top, from the supposed example-setters. Just as with those feminist platitude-flashers, it’s easy for politicians to pay lip service to social and ideological movements, to say the right words and appear to be doing the right things.
As Barbara Ehrenreich in her splendid book Living with a Wild God says (attributed to monotheistic religions but no less relevant to patriarchal governance): we conflate authority with benevolence, and hierarchy with justice.
I’m convinced nothing will change until we transform the bigger picture. We need to utterly change the way we do business. And I mean radical change – a complete upheaval of the current power paradigm.
That’s because women are still fighting a losing battle in an overwhelmingly masculine system of competition and conquest. We still live in a world where compassion and a moral core are encumbrances standing in the way of power and profit. For millennia humanity has been all bent out of shape by this disconnection with nature and disrespect for our deeper, gentler, wiser, selves.
An American friend recently commented that Australia – particularly compared with its smaller more progressive neighbour New Zealand – seems to be a particularly misogynist nation. Indeed. Just look how Australia treated Julia Gillard, our first and only female Prime Minister. Oh, the shame. I would add that pathological lying, derailing and undermining– common strategies of the narcissistic sociopath and social media faker – are also common practices in our parliamentary system. Just like those online fabulists, so many men in governance lie, dodge, slither and procrastinate inside that fossilized fossil-fueled, testosterone-fest that is the boxing ring of politics.
What example is such a culture setting for a younger generation of men? And who profits from this current system? It sure isn’t women. And certainly not Mother Nature. Despite, for instance, science and logic (thank you, sexist Aristotle) being an essentially masculine construct, many global political and business leaders are still turning their backs on the science of climate change because it doesn’t suit their agendas or their ideologies of power.
Lessons from a Pandemic
Globally, climate change and toxic manhood are intertwined. There’s a link between Australia’s poor record in dealing with the climate crisis and its treatment of women. Our government is still behaving – on a collective level – like that Instagram platitude-flasher and those fraudsters outed in Fake.
Our system lacks a moral core. Our system lacks femininity.
Surely what Covid19 has laid bare is we need to live on this planet differently. Surely the obvious message of a pandemic that evolved from our disregard for wildlife and the environment and so fatally spread because of the willful negligence of certain men in power (I’m pointing at you, President of Brazil Jair ‘it’s just a little flu’ Bolsonaro) is that our current habits and mindsets are unsustainable.
Shaping the Narrative
So, once more, it all comes back to women. Men need to see their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers standing up for themselves, using the right language, being kind and supportive to those who sincerely believe in equal rights. We need less corralling and conquering of nature (and women) and more cooperation and respect. We must all regard femininity not as a handicap, but as a power. We must encourage the good men in our lives to regard their gentleness and sensitivity not as a weakness but a strength.
Finally, a social media picture may tell a thousand lies, but used effectively, social media is also a power tool. So, let’s take the hedge trimmer of gender equality to those sprouting weeds of hypocrisy, change the narratives and shape our world into something more curvaceous and feminine. As a closet optimist, I like to think we’re gradually getting there, but I suspect it will be a lot slower than some of us would like. Shapely and mature topiary takes time. In the meantime, brace yourselves for a great deal more lip service.