Misogyny is embedded in Ireland’s history.
Western People 25.1.22
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is the title of a famous book by John Gray. It’s easier to understand, Gray suggests, the differences between men and women, if you imagine that they come from different planets. When you think that way, it’s easier to understand why men and women tend to communicate in different ways, and have different emotional needs. To understand, for example, why men sometimes go silent and why women need to talk relentlessly about their feelings. Why, for example, men tend to run for cover when women say, ‘We need to talk’.
In the aftermath of the recent death of Aisling Murphy, as Irish society searches desperately for a way (or ways) to stem the avalanche of violence (and death) as a result of men’s attacks on women, the Tullamore murder has created a space in which this enduring problem can be addressed. And Gray’s distinction between the way men and women act, think etc is probably a good starting point.
Helpful too, I suspect, is to accept that this is a complicated and difficult issue. If it wasn’t we would have sorted it out ages ago. So general sweeping statements tend to be of little assistance. And helpful too, I would suggest, is an acceptance that it will take a long time, great effort and dogged resilience to begin to resolve an issue that is so embedded in our culture.
At either end are two extremes: the temptation for some women to imagine that on the crest of emotion that attended Aisling Murphy’s death, a series of obvious solutions can be introduced swiftly so that nothing will ever be the same again; and for some men, the belief that regardless of what we do nothing will really be that different from what it was before.
Between the two extremes – where a war between the sexes would be welcomed by both parties – is a vast middle-ground of men and women who can be encouraged to give the issue of male violence towards women their consistent attention because, one, they know that this is a problem society and family need to face and, two, because they realise how difficult it will be to resolve it.
In particular, two issues make the task facing our society and our families more difficult. One is the trial of self-examination that challenges us to see ourselves as we are when the reality is less than we always imagined it was.
Misogyny – defined as ‘an engrained dislike of or contempt for or prejudice against women’ – is not a quality that many would want to define them. But the reality is that it does, because if it didn’t the evidence for it would not be so comprehensive. Misogyny is embedded in our culture and history and undoing it will take more than agreeing mission statements or passing new laws or talking about watershed moments in the rarefied air of a television studio. An obvious example is the struggle of the Catholic Church to walk the walk of challenging an embedded misogyny in our own traditions and practices.
A second problem for an engagement between the sexes that is based on mutual respect is the ever-growing coarseness of Irish society, in the words we use, the attitudes we adopt, the incivility, boorishness and crassness of the macho culture that is embedded in the world of the Irish male. An obvious example is the way the ‘F word’ has become not just a regular part of everyday conversation but even part of the written word in ‘quality’ newspapers that pride themselves on upholding standards.
So what can we do?
Taking Gray’s analogy of Mars and Venus, the challenge is to visit the other planet, not as a tourist might visit Lanzarote but as a committed Christian might visit the Holy Land. In other words, it isn’t for the purpose of a fleeting view of an interesting place but for a serious engagement that’s based on knowing, understanding, accepting and above all respecting a way of being alive that helps us to function better as human beings – for everyone’s sake.
The antithesis to male violence in Irish society and in Irish life is a sensitivity to a feminine perspective that enhances the way we all live in this world. Not an easy foundation to construct in a divided world.
But there are things we need to do – and to avoid.
We need to avoid: using it as an opportunity to re-start a war between the sexes. Pointing the finger at someone else. Dumping expectations on others – the government or other soft targets. Examining other people’s consciences. Creating unreal expectations.
We need to have a respectful engagement between those who live on Mars and Venus. We need a national conversation about male violence towards women. We need to actively listen to opinions with which we differ – in other words, to hear what’s said and to take it on board. We need programmes to raise standards of mutual respect for conflicting opinions and sensitive legislation to enforce basic standards.
Above all, we need to look to ourselves. We need to challenge those who are at the heart of this problem. You and me. Not them and us.
It’s time for families especially to step up to the plate. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters to have family discussions about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Fathers (and mothers) to demand basic ground-rules of behaviour. Fathers to speak to their sons about the corrosive nature of a macho culture. Parents, in other words, to be parents, not to concede their position as moral guardians to their children.