Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Men are ... what's that word for illegitimate offspring?

Sorry, not terribly polite - and this is quite a blunt post. But I've just heard too many stories this week of men messing up women's lives.

There's the ex-husband who banned his wife from wearing slippers around the house because "they weren't sexy enough".

There's the ex-husband who rang his wife continually when she was away from home in an attempt to prevent her from doing anything socially.

There's the ex-partner who pushed his girlfriend down the stairs and then kicked her in the head.

There's the ex-lover who for a year refused to allow his woman to describe herself as "his girlfriend" - she came to the conclusion eventually that she was his "bit on the side".

There's the guy who got involved with a woman whose lover had relatively recently died when he already had a steady girlfriend.

There's the guy who rang his wife up whilst she was doing a presentation to say: "The baby won't eat her food. What should I do?"

That's just stories that I have heard in the last week. What is it with men?

Well, here are two suggestions. The first is the sexual "liberation" of women, and the casualisation of sexual relationships. Women are now considered free by society to sleep with whomever they want to. What this actually means is that, in most cases, if they want to get the attention of men, they have to sleep with them. So the big biological motivator for men is now being offered them in most relationships, to actually get them into the relationship in the first place.

Of course, this is miles removed from the "slavish" "Victorian" Christian morality that prevailed even until about 30 years ago. I would suggest that, within this paradigm, "living together" - in the sense of sexual relationships which were beyond the most casual encounters - was basically something that, if it existed outside marriage, was something which marked the most committed relationships. So if men were to get their biological "payoff" (as one might coarsely put it) they already had to be pretty committed to their women. Women weren't expected to become sexually involved with somebody before they were pretty sure that they were "the right sort of person". Nowadays, in most cases, the relationship is built the other way round - sex in many cases comes pretty early on, and you find out what the person is like later. So women can easily find themselves involved with men who, with more than five minutes thought and a few milligrams less hormones, they know are basically not the sort of person they want to be involved with. And whereas men - in biological terms - don't seem to care who they sleep with, women - in biological terms - are designed to want sexual relationships to be of the stable, child-rearing (i.e. years rather than minutes) kind.

The second phenomenon is the breakdown of families. This has impacts in all sorts of areas. In many cases, the dads of teenage girls are no longer around. This takes away a huge source of tension, of course - how many slammed doors are directed from the teenager to her dad? how many shouts are directed from the dad to his teenage daughter? But the reason for this tension in many homes is the fact that the dad is trying to protect his daughter - something that, in many cases in later teenage years (and particularly when a girl leaves home), she comes to see and appreciate. (At least, I hope!) And even if the girl is frustrated and tries to break away from the straitjacket that she perceives her parents protection to be, it still places some constraints on her, and no matter how much she rejects her parents' attitudes, she will still be affected by their opinions of different boys that wander in and out of her life. I suspect that fathers, in particular, will indicate the sort of boy/man that they think is appropriate for their daughters - and this will, regardless of her protestations, shape her thoughts.

It also has an impact on men when they are growing. Dads who stay around are role models for sons. How does a man know how to respond to the woman he is in love with? Well, the most likely role models will be the men he has seen relating to women that they love. If his dad showed love, care and affection for his mum, then as like as not, he will see that this is good, and will treat the women he loves in the same way.

These aren't cast iron conclusions - people can overcome all sorts of different backgrounds to become good at relationships - and people who have had everything good can still be lousy at them. But I wonder to what extent these factors do have an impact.

As Jon Mackenzie says at the bottom of his posts, "Go on, disagree. See if I care."