Dear Sonia: Men Talking about ‘Gender Issues’ (aka Violence)

So, Sonia, you want men to talk about gender issues (Orchard, ‘I wish men were as interested in discussing gender issues as women are’, Daily Life, 2 Sep 16).  By which you meant, to quote you, ‘Why aren’t men discussing how they’re  feeling?’, eventually, why do men behave ‘appallingly’ and – rather conclusively – that men have ‘a warped perception of what a man is supposed to be’ (a rather biased conclusion when you ask for a discussion!).

OK, I’ll talk.  But first, I don’t think I’m your ‘normal’ man.  I think I’m pretty feminist and egalitarian (setting myself up here…).  I don’t like lots of men’s interests and pursuits (heavy drinking, men only groups, being out with the boys).  But I do have some things about me that I don’t like that are very ‘male’.  I don’t understand these aspects of me and I don’t think you, or women generally, understand them either.

Men:  Going from Calm to Boiling Point

Most people think I’m pretty calm and measured, perhaps too much so.   But inside I’m a raging inferno.  And I do boil over, but rarely in public.  I boil over at the strangest things – inability to undo a button, tie a shoelace, open a window, find something.  I also boil over when I can’t make myself understood about things that seem obvious or clear to me (I’m not very good at ordinary conversation; I’m more of a writer).  I’m frustrated, mostly at myself and my inabilities, minor though each issue may be.

From Boiling to Violence

And when I boil over, I become violent.  Mostly against things – walls, doors, cupboards, furniture.  But I might hurt someone accidentally when I throw something or they get in the way.  And I swear and shout.  And when I’m involved in sport – playing, supporting a team – I also become very emotional.  I throw my racquet when I play tennis, even in social games, angered at my failure to get a shot, win a point.  I shout at the TV, boo the umpire (only occasionally though, as I’ve been an umpire myself).  It happens most days of my life.  Underneath my calm exterior I am a volcano of violence, ready to boil over at a moment’s notice.

Why am I violent?

I’m normally a well-balanced, educated, intelligent (I think), rational (I think), successful (I think) man who has been well treated by the world generally.  Why do I go crazy?

I’ve no idea where it comes from.  Perhaps I expect too much from myself or others.  Perhaps it is in my nature, deeply hidden.  I’ve tried all kinds of ways to calm down, to avoid these violent seconds.  I think I’m a rational person, but this type of behaviour is not ‘rational’…unless you rationalise (which I do) that it gets rid of frustration very rapidly, mostly with few consequences, except for my very tolerant partner.

Why Don’t I Discuss it?

Why haven’t I discussed this with someone, apart from my partner?  Well, I’m very embarrassed by it…but I can’t seem to stop it when it wells up from deep within, from a place unknown to me (as Charlotte Wood said in describing why she wrote the abominably violent stories in ‘The Natural Way of Things’).  Most people probably have little or no awareness of my behaviour, since it is mostly in private. .  I’m not sure they would be honest with me about it and its effects on them.  I’m not sure I want to hear others’ perspectives.

But the bigger point here is this.  If this happens to me, I expect most men feel even worse feelings of frustration.  They may take it out on other people, not just things.  You have great power at that time and you want to use it, not bottle it up, or calm down.  The power flows through your body. You feel you have to do something with it.  Beating something or someone up gives you a great feeling of power.

Do/Can Women Understand This?

I don’t think women understand where this frustration comes from.  They don’t seem to feel it themselves.  They seem to think, ‘Oh, you’re just being stupid.  Grow up.  Stop being silly. Relax.’  They’re right…but it doesn’t help.  It’s not a rational feeling.  Perhaps that’s the value of men-only situations…but men rarely seem to me to discuss their feelings, as you point out, Sonia.  And who wants to discuss how they hurt someone or broke something in a rage?

I don’t think men ‘are hell bent on…destroying their own and other people’s lives’, as you say, Sonia.  I think men are frustrated with aspects of their lives.  They don’t have the control they want (whether or not it is appropriate that they should have control) and don’t know what to do about it.  So they exert power over and violence against others (and things).   Being more powerful than women, it’s probably easier to beat up a woman than to beat up another man.  And if we are honest, I think it applies to the most men at some times in their lives.

Back to you, Sonia.  Hope this helps start your conversation.

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