The War Between Men and Women

 

Our leading article in this paper last Friday said it all. Tension has escalated. A grave deterioration in relationships has taken place. Popular feelings on both sides have been stoked up to fever pitch. There is a complete lack of trust. The fallout on many fronts is immense, costly and far-reaching, giving us all a sharp reminder that the world still has a common interest in stability and peace. Full-scale war now seems almost inevitable. The Middle East? No, the war between men and women.

On the same day that the leader about the Middle East appeared, the second-longest letter on the page was to do with the so-called "Exploring Masculinities" programme now being taught in second-level boys' schools. The letter was actually a response by Ms Mary T. Cleary to Harry Ferguson. Ms Cleary is co-ordinator of Amen, a support group for abused men and their children. Harry Ferguson is Professor of Social Policy and Social Work at UCD. The pair have been at it hammer and tongs, stirring up the gender war to fever pitch. See first paragraph above for the outcome.

Their actual argument isn't earth-shattering. On looking back over the correspondence between the pair, it's clear that Ms Cleary's most recent letter is simply a response to an attack made on her and her organisation by Prof Ferguson, which itself was a response to a previous letter of Ms Cleary's regarding the "Exploring Masculinities" programme. Tedious, what?

It is ironic, however, that Prof Ferguson, who is so keen to make men less violent (to literally deconstruct what he calls the social construct of masculinity), is so superior in its tone, so righteous, so arrogant and so bloody damned sure that anyone who opposes his arguments is simply an ignoramus. Nor is he above personal comment.

You would really have to wonder whether this man who specialises in so-called gender relationships has something against . . .women. He certainly has it in for Ms Cleary. He may not be too keen on men either, because he doesn't seem to easily find allies in either camp: he airily dismisses "commentators such as John Waters" (for missing some crucial point, of course).

As for Ms Cleary's letter of Friday last, it seems no more nor less than a dignified and robust response to an attack on herself and her organisation.

No doubt it has something to do with the social construct of my own masculinity (fragile and all as it is) that I really don't want to explore it at all. I would prefer to explore, say, the African interior, or the sub-Saharan landscape. Or the moon. They are out there, and my masculinity is in there, and as the Americans say, I won't go there.

What puts quite a few of us off the whole area is the language used by the self-styled experts when they return from their explorations, having bravely negotiated the treacherous terrain for the rest of who, of course, like Ms Cleary, "have no real understanding of gender relationships" (according to Prof Ferguson), nor of anything else, quite possibly.

The language they use is less a language than an esoteric jargon. It is self-referential, pseudo-scientific and shrouded in impressive sounding mystery. It comes up with important sounding but meaningless phrases such as "the eroticisation of dominance" and "relational maturity". Nothing is allowed to be simple, because outsiders might then understand it, and then - heaven forbid - dare to offer comment. The whole point of it seems to be to bamboozle, and in this it is successful. It repels all boarders.

Even more irritating is the way in which these people regularly speak so confidently for (and about) the rest of us, as if privy to the innermost feelings of masses of people. The generalisations are often quite staggering. In a recent article in this newspaper, Prof Ferguson remarked on how hard it is for men to "move away from a performance-based sexuality". What men? Who are these people? Has he met and chatted to them? Why are you and I included, without our consent? Did you tell Harry how many times a night you perform, and with how many partners? Naturally he makes it clear that he has moved well away from performance-based sexuality himself, though where he has moved to is not clear.

I am going to have to get a look at this "Exploring Masculinities" programme, into which Prof Ferguson claims to have had a modest input. There are boys at risk in our schools, and we have to protect them - from jargon infection, dubious ideology, generalisations and arrogance.

bglacken@irish-times.ie