With the world weighed down by so many raw revelations right now, is it any wonder that reading about a man kneeling with relief and reverence at the feet of his courageous wife brought me to torrents of tears recently?
The gender roles in this real-life moment felt totally foreign and inside-out to me; and I cried because I knew they shouldn’t. One instinctive gesture, made by a gentle man in a brutal warzone, felt like cool water on a parched tongue and I yearned for more.
This is a response to the #metoo campaign and, yes—hell yes—me too. It’s just that it is also a tribute to, and a public search for, a particular breed of man.
Like many women, I have a dusty file in a dark corner of my brain labelled ‘Creepy and/or Terrifying’ which contains a collection of memories involving men—and which I do my best to avoid.
It has only been since the chorus of ‘me too’ began building in surround-sound that I decided to take a deep breath and look at them with the lights on.
The following are some of the recollections I have rummaged through in a sad, chronological order:
- the geriatric who regularly exposed his crinkly bits to the 8-year-old me
- the dude in the white van relentlessly scoping out the vulnerable 11-year-old me
- the boss perched on my desk relaying the dreams he’d had about the working me;
- the strangers that tried to break into a cabin to get to my best friend and the back-packing me;
- the twisted individual that actually ‘pussy-grabbed’ the walking-along-the-street me;
- and the guy that spiked the drink of the socialising-with-friends-and-boyfriend me.
These incidents were invariably chalked up as ‘life as a girl’ (by the female me) and I continually thanked my lucky stars I didn’t experience far, far worse. I still do.
How did we get here?
How did the male/female dynamic get so horrifyingly dysfunctional?
Ok, yes: the advent of agriculture and domestication thousands of years ago pulled patriarchy up and out of the garden of egalitarianism—literally. I get that over time each gender was assigned very clear roles and one category of purpose was considered more inherently valuable than the other. I understand that the assumption of superiority on the part of men—sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant—was passed along the generations like DNA, and gradually caused perspectives on all fronts to become damaged and warped. I can see how men of their time interpreted spiritual teachings through that distorted lens and, in so doing, generated the religious and social paradigms we still know today.
But holy shit, where do we go from here?
Because the ground is shifting, right? If you’re very still, you can actually feel it.
Women are rising with full voices about the disrespect, violence, harassment, abuse, discrimination and subjugation they’ve experienced at the hands men. And more and more people are listening. I sense that this is an important time of ‘balancing out’ (rather than ‘winning out’).
And I’m excited, I am.
But here’s the thing: there appears to be a scoreboard of sorts pasted to my insides with a bold line between two columns and (this is putting it mildly) it isn’t looking good for the lads. And how can I hope to support the journey to global gender balance if I haven’t got equilibrium inside my own mind?
You see, every single one of my personal heroes is female. When I look around the world (and even my own neighbourhood), I find a woman to admire at virtually every turn. I love watching women rise beyond history and expectations to do great things and, my word, they are giving exceptionally good show. Sometimes it is simply the quiet grace, wild humour or steely nerve used to survive their unique story that prompts another mark on the left side of the board.
It’s a bit of a one-horse race for me if I’m honest.
Of course, I am surrounded by gorgeous guys and good men and awesome dudes and all-round decent blokes; the men in my life need not balk and/or bolt. I do not need to find more men to like and love.
I need to find men that inspire me…as a woman.
Now more than ever, I need to see who is rising above and beyond his own cultural, social, political and professional norms to prove we are progressing past this sticky patch of gender evolution.
But where to look exactly?
Cue a brilliant book I recently picked up intuitively at the library: A Different Kind of Daughter by Maria Toorpakai (with Katherine Holstein). I knew just by looking at the cover that I had a story about yet another super-female on my hands (Maria’s squash racquet hovers over the word ‘Taliban’) but it quickly became apparent Maria wasn’t going to be the only source of inspiration in this tale. Her mother has to be one of the most extraordinary women I’ve read about in recent times; a woman dedicating her existence to the education of Pakistani girls in unthinkable circumstances—but even she couldn’t eclipse the book’s ultimate inspiration for me.
Maria’s father: my first real male hero, ever.
A man so inspiring in his wisdom and courage regarding women’s rights—tested by the most extreme of extremists—he made me wonder, can we create a new campaign that hoists truly remarkable men onto the shoulders of the women they so authentically support? Can we identify the true male champions of change and equality so they can be distinguished from those who have yet to evolve beyond the fear and ego of generations past?
Won’t that make it easier for girls to see what to shoot for? Won’t that make it easier for women to see they’re out there?
Won’t that make it easier for other men to be inspired? Wouldn’t that make it easier to identify the leaders in our midst?
So, what is a #realman?
I wrote down all the traits of Maria Toorpakai’s father that I felt made him so inspiring to me and here they are:
- Inspires integrity in others
- Deeply respects other people, regardless of their gender or difference
- Stands up and speaks out against harmful actions of other men (actions of disrespect, bullying, shaming, violence, intimidation and any form of abuse)
- Champions change for gender equality wherever he sees an opportunity
- Is openly inspired by the strength and achievements of the women around him
- Trusts female intelligence and intuition
- If he is a father, he:
- demonstrates genuine respect and appreciation for his children’s mother wherever possible
- consistently ‘turns up’ as a loving, non-judgemental, engaged and encouraging parent
- carries out an equitable amount of family and household duties because he wants to contribute in any way he can and sees no reason not to
- Is unfailingly generous in thought, word and deed towards his female loved ones, females across the board (and humans in general)
Do you know a man like this?
He doesn’t do any of these things to be liked, to get ahead, to get head, to do the right thing, to get votes or earn points. He doesn’t calculate any of it. He does all these things because it is simply who he is.
If you know of one, I would dearly love to hear about him.
When his wife returned home after surviving shocking violence at the school she ran against all odds, Sham Toorpakai cradled the feet of his wife and tenderly bowed his head in thanks and in awe. In that moment, all rules and conventions regarding gender were not just flouted, they were transcended. It didn’t matter which of them was man and which was woman, they were simply human. It was just one of countless such moments in Maria’s family life which cumulatively created an astonishing person who lived an incredible story which inspired an amazing book.
It is proof that real men make wondrous things happen and I need to know they are among us, not just in the pages of a book.