13th February 2021
I am often accused of misandry which I find rather paradoxical considering the number of times in a week I tell myself to “man up”.
In many cities across Australia, in small remote bush towns and even further in the outback, one can find a small place called the Men’s Shed. While their garage (the millennial equivalent of a man-cave) is every Australian man’s pride and kingdom, this Men’s Shed is a little different. It’s actually a community-based organisation open to men. A place where men can feel included, safe. They aim to improve health and wellbeing of their members. And the first time I came across one while working in the small town of Grenfell – I snickered, did a little hmpf which in hindsight now I can only imagine what would have sounded like an absolute arsehole then.
At the time though, the place looked to me like the answered jeers of the misogynistic men back in Fiji. As if finally someone had given them their very own petitioned Men’s Crisis Centre where they could strategise and counter the efforts of the Women’s Crisis Centre who were systemically “breaking up” their homes and families!
Having worked on construction sites since I was 15 years old has made me privy to many such conversations. Conversations that were yardsticks for rounding and measuring their manliness; exchanges that ensured their gender retained social dominance in society. Display of any feminine traits like showing emotions, talking about your feelings, caring about anything other than your sports team reduced you to a weak, lesser of a man.
Once an apprentice almost jigsawed 3 of their fingers off. Instead of comforting the poor child, I witnessed 3 older men commanding him to dare not spill any tears “like a girl”. If only I knew better then to comprehend that men who turned up to site red-eyed, brooding all morning, sometimes with stale alcohol breath were not really “saanki” (deranged) like everyone labelled them.
Conversations are changing now though. Men are holding each other accountable for their feelings. Some days I’m mindful that I come across as crass in a roomful of men!
But back then I loathed that I belonged to the ‘weaker’ gender. And did everything from starched collared shirts to putting up a tough exterior to burying all my feminine emotions so deep down that I perhaps no longer associate with any. Ironically I think I’ve ended up holding most men I’ve met in my life to some toxic standard really; dismissing them if I’ve detected a slight frailty.
Perhaps that’s why on that afternoon when we were walking down that jacaranda-lined back street, I knew you needed to tell me something, I did see your eyes glistening but I looked away. I pointed to some to inane bird in the distance, laughing my awkward laugh and walked ahead.
Mianhamnida, Anand. Mianhamnida.
I now know that the next time a man honours me with his trust; decides to rest his heart into my hands, I will hold space and treat him with the same kind of humanity I’d expect for me.
That afternoon I was the stronger one but I chose me. Years of both male and female conditioning made me see your vulnerability as a weak, lesser person and as not my job to fix you; offer you a healing space because your male friends didn’t give you one.
I’m so sorry I didn’t step up that day. I knew I could have pulled you out but I was selfish. I didn’t want to pull someone out, I wanted someone stronger than me who could pull us both out.
I’ve changed since that afternoon, Anand.
I’ve been relearning a lot of things about me and I’ve been thinking a lot about us. I think I don’t need someone to be stronger than me anymore. I can be strong and resilient enough for the both of us, if you can be the gentle softness that wraps us both together?