Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Men

OK, this is very interesting.

I've been reading Belle de Jour's blog for awhile. It might interest some to see that I'm prepared to advertise the fact that I read a blog by an ex-prostitute. I would answer that by saying that it's not WHAT she is that makes her interesting, but WHO she is. Both those terms are pretty much inter-changeable I know, but you'll understand once I've explained.

Belle is a real, honest, warts-and-all person, obviously highly intelligent, well-educated, and extremely intellectual. She has some really interesting things to say about sex, sexual identity, love, feminism, and what she thinks of societal and/or the media's views on the same. I will admit that when I first visited her site I was probably drawn there by a sense of voyeuristic interest rather than an intellectual one, but it has most definitely been the latter that has made me keep reading. I am not interested in her relationships, I'm not interested in the occasional blow-by-blow description of what she gets up to with the lights off, and neither am I interested in her show (and it's interesting that in the same post I've linked to she says that she wouldn't otherwise be, either). What I am interested in is her honesty, integrity, self-knowledge and above all willingness, without prejudice, to tell things how they are, based upon the breadth of her experience - which almost by definition is bound to be pretty eclectic.

I think that we would learn a lot by speaking more to sex-workers, and giving more people like Belle a legitimate voice. If you want to learn something about men and sex, speak to their wives. If you want to learn more, speak to prostitutes. Let's not forget that Belle described herself as a "high-class hooker" - i.e. one that caters for those that can afford it. And that doesn't just mean footballers and rock stars, either. It means your Dad. Your brother. Your boss. Middle-class men. Educated men. The so-called pillars of society.

(That's not to say that everyone visits prostitutes, of course. I haven't. But some have. And some will. If they didn't, people like Belle would have found a different line of work long ago).

What particularly interested me about this post was her closing remarks.

"Whatever else happens after this point T will always be in the category of Man to me - no, it's not simply about having the appropriate equipment. A Man does the right thing and has the right attitude and buys you a beer after a shite day and does not expect a fucking medal for emptying the rubbish. Sure they cry, but never for attention. They were my history teacher at school and my housemate at uni. They are not perfect and make no apologies for that. They are the ones played in films by Clive Owen and Shah Rukh Khan. They do what they say on the tin."

I think it might have been the Clive Owen reference that really sold me to her point. I had no idea who Shah Rukh Khan is, had to wikipedia him - but I know exactly what she means. I've seen Owen in a lot of his movies - Croupier, Gosford Park, Sin City, The Bourne Identity, Inside Man and Chidren of Men (think that's the lot), and without question what links them is directness, honesty, grounding, and unashamed masculinity. They know who they are, they know what they want, and they do it without apologising. In some cases, as is the case with the character in "Closer", this occasionally pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable, but in all cases "they do exactly what they say on the tin".

And they are Men! Male adults. Grown-ups. Mature, upright, self-aware human beings. And they don't compromise - this is not to say that they are action heroes that always know what the next move is - but they are decisive, and completely lacking in any self-consciousness. They are them, and no-one else.

Unfortunately this image has been allowed to become clouded in a post-feminist world (and this is no-one's fault, I'm not starting a gender debate here). No wonder, as Belle implies, there aren't very many of them about - it's bloody difficult! We are so self-acknowledging now, and there are so many rules, that it becomes very difficult to become a Man - or an adult at all, for that matter. Decisiveness has become ruthlessness. Self-awareness has become ego-centricity. Groundedness has become arrogance. Masculinity has become aggression. All the things that seem to make Man what he is have been re-shaped and re-named in the most pejorative way. It's no wonder Men are rare.

This segues nicely into some previously un-voiced thoughts on the Andrew Symonds affair. I think, to a point, that Symonds and his ilk are a refreshing change for the world, but don't let me make you think that he's worth emulating, or that the model I'm aspiring to is all hard-edged testosterone and physicality. What works for Clive Owen workd for Clive Owen - it might not work for you and me. What I'm looking for is honesty and forthrightness, and Symonds has very little of that. Symonds' persona is a sham. A fiction. It's not the real thing. It smacks of "I'm big, I'm Aussie, and I play cricket, therefore I must act in a certain way". No wonder he flies off the handle all the time - he can't keep up with himself! His is a classic case of over-compensation.

This is where Belle comes in again - "sure they cry, but never for attention." A good line. Again, the key word here is honesty - and integrity too, I think. This is another paradox of modern masculinity - we're SUPPOSED to talk about our feelings, and cry like big, sissy girls - but watch everyone's face drop when you do. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is just as difficult as being prepared to stick to who you are in the face of condemnation. And there's plenty of that about - solid, grounded people are confronting. They can challenge and intimidate people just by being in the room, and people don't like it.

Belle's model of what Man is might be completely different to mine, for all I know. I'm glad that she's found something she likes, though - although it might be interesting to see if she can allow herself to do it. Falling in love for people in her line of work - or her previous line of work - is an occupational hazard to be avoided, and that's probably where her self-confessed "wall" comes from. No doubt, separating the real Belle from the working girl Belle will prove very difficult.

I'm reminded of a line that a friend uses as the sign-off on his email, and not just because of Belle. It's from The Princess Bride, of all places. "Beware! People in masks cannot be trusted".

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