My home is in South False Creek and I teach at a university downtown. I often walk over the Cambie Bridge on my way to class. On my route I pass by the display windows of department stores. Recently, one window had a large poster of a young, beautiful woman with tattooed script on her forearm: “forget the rules.”
The posture of the times, I thought. “Yes, use the appeal of anarchy to sell our brand.” Going further I concluded that without rules there can be no game. Could there be a soccer game that had two balls in play? Or a game where there were no boundaries to the playing field? No. The rules constrain what actions constitutes good play. They give us a relationship grid.
Lately I’ve read several articles responding to the multiple revelations of sexual impropriety, harassment and rape. Some also dared to look at the collateral damage to male female relationships. An oft quoted line? Nobody knows what the rules are anymore. Where is the boundary that distinguishes friendly overtures from uninvited sexual advances? Not sure anymore. As a result, many men are nervous about sending friendly signals for fear of being misinterpreted. One male colleague found himself awkwardly accepting a hug from a female student. Not a comfortable experience but a fraught one. More isolation in a culture that already is characterized by too much isolation.
I begin to think that it’s not a matter of forget the rules but rather a matter of changing rules. The old game is over … or is it? Or are we waiting for the new rules to be posted? As these last sentences indicate, confusion and uncertainty abound.
Recently I began watching a TV series, “Top of the Lake”, directed by Jane Campion. The central character is a female detective who is investigating the murder of a prostitute. The online reviews commented on the misogyny being depicted. However, as I watched it, I gradually began to feel that it was not misogyny, but rather, implicit misandry being conveyed. Misandry is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys.
Most of the men in season two are portrayed as boorish pigs — not complex characters with a mixture of honourable intentions and self-centered ones. No internal conflict for these guys. They’re bad and they don’t even know that they’re bad because they are so entitled and narcissistic. There are two male characters who don’t fit this stereotype: the detective’s boss and the husband in a couple who adopted her daughter many years ago. These two exceptions are portrayed as weak and vacillating. The father is attractive and loving but does little to protect his daughter from an exploitive, malevolent pimp — other than wringing his hands apologetically and making feeble requests for his daughter to break off the relationship. The protagonist’s supervisor vacillates depending on which way the office’s political winds are blowing. His main motive is to stay out of trouble and preserve the status quo. He’s married and having an affair with the detective’s partner.
To my mind it was a biased portrayal of men rather than a nuanced depiction of complex human interactions. Did it forward a conversation toward developing a healthier relationship between the sexes? I don’t think so. For a more nuanced account of that changing terrain one could do no better than listening to CBC’s Ideas podcast Sex, Truth and Audio Tape: What does consent really mean?
It was put together by a woman, Heather Elizabeth, and its guest contributors were all women. Nobody was demonized. Rather it was a courageous attempt to understand where we are and to show a way forward.
This is not to say that much of the rage against specific men who have abused their power is unwarranted. It is warranted. It should be directed against particular individuals not against men as a class.
And it should lead to due process rather than guilt by accusation. Otherwise we are in for another round of Salem witch trials only with the genders reversed. If we want to get beyond mutual recrimination, men have to find a way to be willing to be seen as the enemy without becoming the enemy … without validating the charges being levelled against us through self-righteous counterattack.
Dr. Larry Green is a counsellor with 45 years of experience. He also teaches counselling psychology at City University of Seattle, Vancouver Campus. In addition, he leads courses in Continuing Studies at SFU. He can be contacted at email@example.com