Unpublishable Rant to a Poisonous-Thinking Man

A Rant to a Poisonous-Thinking Man on Facebook

This is the first in a series of moving-word-images for a project called e-motions. 

Facebook offers us the opportunity to encounter people we would normally never want to meet, and despite this notion of the sealed bubble I think it has actually brought me into more direct contact with terrible thinking than I ever encountered in real life pre-social-media.

An example the other day was a discussion about women in the UK wearing burkas. Someone pitched in to say that it was an affront to our (his own) ‘national’ identity that a woman should wear a burka: he seemed to take it as a personal insult that someone should dress in a way that unaccountably, he disliked intensely.

He had challengers, including someone who appears on TV, but they had little or no apparent impact on his thinking. (He did however suddenly grovel when he realised who he was talking to which just showed up his twisted mindset even more clearly). Last night about 5 am this Rant formed in my mind and clearly I cannot actually post this on FB, yet it really has an emotional clarity about it that I wanted to capture. I have made it a little more generalised as this is a conversation I have seen several times online in variations but always along the same lines. If you click to see the image at full size it becomes readable.

Unpublishable Rant to a Poisonous-Thinking Man

 

What it says

“You say that it is an insult to ‘our’ way of life that a women should wear a burka in this country. Well it is an insult to my way of life that you should demand that she should strip herself. If it offended you that I wore a pink jacket, would that give you the right to demand I strip it off? If you wore an England flag and it offended me, should I be allowed to strip it from you? You say you have travelled so extensively in ‘Muslim countries’ and always show so much respect by not wearing shorts, yet in this our ‘Christian country’ you drop this respect and feel you are entitled to let all your petty hatred out in public and direct it at the most vulnerable, remote and unknown of people. Did you leave your respect abroad in ‘Muslim countries’? Why? Why is it OK to ‘respect’ people in one place and not in another? What entitles you to dictate anything to anyone else, anywhere on the planet, if they are doing you no harm? You perceive it as an attack. Consider the woman in the burka – (can you? Have you ever bothered thinking yourself into anyone’s life but your own?). Why do you think she is wearing a burka? Do you think she is following the customs of her family, her world? OR do you think she thought, ‘I know what I will do today! I want to really insult everyone in the country in which I find myself as a stranger. I will don a piece of cloth just to show them how much I disrespect them. I will insult them by refusing to drop my deeply held beliefs or respect my own needs. That will show them, those awful English in whose country I am travelling.’

No. It is you who want to go out and insult strangers, who wants to disrespect people, whose ego is so fragile that it is profoundly threatened by a woman wearing a piece of cloth. To elevate this to some kind of national principle is disgusting and deeply offends me. Do you know what it is called when you pick on someone in a less privileged position than yourself? It is called bullying. You are a cheap little bully and nothing more. How Dare You attempt to attack a stranger in our country! How dare you puff yourself up as if you have an Important and Valid point of view! You are just a pathetic little weak man who is projecting a bunch of self hatred onto people who have absolutely nothing to do with you and are not even slightly interested in you. Do something better with your life and your mind than meddle in this foul and poisonous pool of sewer thinking. Bully Go Home! Crawl back to your hovel and look at yourself in the mirror. Come out in public when you have rid yourself of your shame and self hatred, when you have something good to offer the world, when you are no longer frightened by women in masks.”

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The Words are Not Enough

What You are Supposed to DO About the Situation in Aleppo (GO TO WORK)

Aleppo falls – and we all cry. The BBC and Facebook beam us images of little toddlers in shock, and we cry. We wail! OOOh what is to be done! How did this happen! Why won’t they just stop bombing! What can we do! What can I do! We are so helpless! I am so helpless! Oh the poor little children! Sign a petition! Write a Letter! Send some money~! We must stop it happening now!

And I myself have had this thought process, over and over again, on so many deep and far reaching problems, from organ-utans being massacred to climate wreaking havoc – from sex slaves in Chelmsford to destitute 50 years olds in Grimsby – from teens in the Jungle to slags in the slammer – from turtles choked on plastic to rivers dammed dry.

And now Aleppo. And so I came to thinking, what IS this nonsense? Are we helpless? If so, why? In what ways are we NOT helpless? What CAN you do?

—–

Aleppo falls, yes. How do we know? The BBC told us. When did they tell us? At the last moments, when it is much much too late. What did they tell us? Something very very upsetting.

Did you know, that at every moment, somewhere, someone in the world, from a deep sea worm to a mighty Pope – someone, somewhere is suffering unimaginable pain and torture. If that someone is not you, but you want to see it, if you want to be Upset, all you have to do is look. The internet is full of Upset. So is the World. Do you want to be Upset? Why?

By the same token, at any moment, someone somewhere, is blissfully, wonderfully unimaginably happy, or just content, or isn’t really aware of it because they are so absorbed in what they are doing. Do you want to see that? Look for it. Maybe it’s in you.

Do you know what Aleppo is? A place with a very long history. Did you know about it before? I assume, not much, unless you have particular links with Aleppo, why should you? If you knew nothing before, why do you want to know now, when your knowing does nothing?

Do you know Yemen is in a terrible state? And Sudan? Do you want to wail about that too? Or is that too much wailing for one day?

What do you know? Do you know your town? Your grandmother’s town? Do you know your work? Your children? Your local councillor? Who owns the empty shop on your high street? If you knew Aleppo a few years ago, you might have predicted today’s news. If you know your home now, can you predict it’s problems? Can you see what needs doing?

If you want to ‘help’ and stop suffering, you absolutely CAN. You have power, you just haven;t realised how to use it yet. Commit your life to a meaningful pursuit, the pursuit of ending or softening suffering. Commit to what you CAN do. You ignored Aleppo all your life, and now you cry. Why? Because someone decided to show you a suffering child. And you let them. You looked, and you cried. Now please stop crying and stop ignoring what is in front of you. Pick up your work, and get to work. Your job is not to cry about places you didn’t care about until you stumbled on an image on Facebook. Your job is to commit yourself to your own power in the world, and that is what counts. Open your house to a refugee, make food for the Jungle, build an eco home, look after your sick mother, look after yourself – your happiness counts! You are also a human being, just like the child in Aleppo! Everything else – this weeping and flailing of limbs, is indulgence.  It serves Facebook, and nobody else. You squander your power, wailing about how powerless you are. Now GO TO WORK.

The Words are Not Enough

Cock Tower - a response to Grayson Perry's 'All Man' on Channel 4.

Grayson’s Better Man

I am a fan of Grayson, and Perry’s latest tv trio investigation into ‘masculinity’ was on my watch list as soon as I heard about it. I had really loved his study of the class system, found the Portraits series fascinating and resonant, and with motherhood having made me a more ardent feminist than before, I was excited to see what insights he would be sharing.

I won’t say I am disappointed exactly, but this wasn’t the exhilarating ride of his first TV outing.  It  also seemed a little shallower and less thrilling than the portraits. Perhaps it’s just that the formula is already wearing thin, or maybe that I have thought about the subject matter in such depth already myself – yet there are a few points I think worth noting. (It has after all, inspired me with many new ideas: and of course, to write this piece.)

In each show he explores this notion of ‘masculinity’, but it is a pity this idea wasn’t really defined properly at the outset. It’s a complex construct and there were places where I felt it was glossed over, or even that casually sexist perspectives were bandied about carelessly. For example in part three, the investigation of the city bankers and traders, there was reference to the Heroic fantasy common to small boys as being representative of pure or essential masculinity. This angered me – it seemed that Grayson, along with the bankers he purported to be critiquing, was claiming that the desire to be heroic: alone, struggling, hunting, surviving – were the exclusive domain of the male imagination. But I remember very distinctly as a child being utterly entranced by spaghetti westerns. I loved the idea of the lone hero wandering slit-eyed across the deserts with only a horse as a trusted companion; also the Tintin stories, with the plucky hero outfoxing baddies in every corner of the world; I loved too the Tygers in their little boat and their Victorian-explorer romance. Indeed, I regard the Tyger Voyage, received as a gift from my aunt Pauline when I was four, as the single most influential and inspiring work I encountered in childhood.

I fully identified with these characters – and looking back I wish there were some female versions because as I got older I started to feel excluded from these roles, in popular imagination if not in reality (I did lead an expedition to the Amazon, after all, thus fulfilling my childhood dream of being on my own Tyger Voyage). So to see dear Grayson implicitly casting women as  the ‘loving, caring, clever types’ and the men as these fools with their childish hero fantasies causing trouble – well, grrr. Even if he didn’t mean it like that.

This idea of the women being the clever, sensible ones was reinforced when in each show, Grayson’s artistic turning point or ‘magic moment’ comes when he goes to meet the women affected by the masculine world he is exploring. The women spin their wisdom, Grayson listens and gets the insights he needs to realise his artworks. Watching this process, I wonder if this is the parallel/analogous to his dressing up – he seems to get his creative clarity and insight from accessing the feminine aspect either of his psyche or the society (or both). As he declared in the show, he is in fact very masculine himself – aggressive, strong, competitive, driven. Being a man accessing the feminine rather than despising it, makes you neither a feminist nor necessarily in a particularly strong position to assess the impacts of masculinity. Perhaps he can, though, offer men something in the idea that they could try meeting and valuing the feminine more greatly .

I also think he missed a trick at the end of the banker show – he lamented that until men cast off these notions of the ‘noble hunter’ or rugged survivor from caveman days, we won’t find ‘happiness’. But in ‘Animal Spirit’ he is clearly depicting a ghastly wasteland, trampled by the raging bear-bull – and from where I am standing, this is no imaginary threat – climate change is beginning to wreak apocalyptic havoc on our lands and capitalism is crushing the poor beggars who ‘don’t fit the shape’. It is not ‘ happiness’ that we risk losing out on – it is the very land on which we stand, on which those priapic tribal tower-totems are built – these men risk their own destruction as well as ours, and that of many thousands of other creatures – much much more than just missing out on a jolly time with the kids at the weekend.

The men in the Banker episode are to me, familiar kinds of men, I feel I know them well already – and I, like Grayson, felt that I did not discover anything to ‘derail’ my view of the city and how it works. However, I was surprised to discover that many of them do have a strong sense of morality lurking under their rapacious behaviours – with one describing his kind as ‘pretty unattractive people’ (demonstrating a kind of helpless and rather pathetic self-awareness, perhaps even self-loathing); another likening himself to a Warrior Prophet (!? – clinging to an extraordinary fantasy that he is engaged in a noble pursuit), and yet another seeming to think he was keeping society going with his endeavours (and I will admit that in some ways perhaps, this is true; although in others, completely the opposite).

From my own experience of being schooled to become part of this world (in a system which in my case has produced an almost total failure on its own terms), I wonder about the processes that have led people astray to become so detached from reality and from the more truly spiritual course that they seem to hint at wanting to be a part of. They seemed to me, not the psychopaths I often imagine (and also know to be present, having met a couple) but weak, misguided, even lost little boys, as Perry shows us: acting out a childish fantasy but failing (deliberately? or is it a masculine trait to just not be able to see properly?) to notice the very adult reality of their destructive behaviour.  Some of them had Moments of Doubt – like the guy who found it ‘confusing’ to meet fellow parents at his children’s school who had gone bankrupt after a weekend when he was triumphant, having made shedloads of money. I woke in the night thinking about how to steer this tender yet stunted sense of care for others in a new direction, and with fresh inspiration on this well worn track in my mind. I started thinking about the idea of women being a ‘threat’ to the male world – and the phallic towers – and how perhaps it is a cunt that has the power to bring the tower down, to empty it of energy and power, to render it soft and limp.  Why are men in love with their erections and so reluctant to release them? And where is the cunt of the world, come to take them down?

I also found myself wishing Perry had picked up on the analogy of the glass and steel buildings as armour. They present a cold, sterile, impenetrable face to the world, non-stick and inhuman, impersonal – the antithesis of life, with such total control – which is just death or worse – anti-life. They remind me of the Roman turtle formation – a mass of shiny hard squares hiding the messy, breathing, squashy, tender life beneath. Certainly this is a strategy for domination and invincibility. In his portrait series I noticed that I often had the same ideas as Grayson, in my own practice and in responding to his subjects. But this time I found myself thinking that I would have made a cock pot from little mirrors and shards of glass. The bankers could have come and seen themselves reflected back in a thousand shattered pieces, like their strange fragmented souls. Inside the jar, perhaps some mud, or the hearts of their enemies (women? poor people? anything that lives?), glimpsed through glassy sharps.

Cock Tower

Be kind. This is my first attempt at drawing since having a baby nearly three years ago.

I would also have enjoyed more explicit links made between the different expressions of masculinity presented.  The desperately sad, trapped boys in the second episode, stabbed through every part with knives, might well be the actual victims, the invisible side-effects of the exploding glass in the city. Yet there is a thread that links the shows together – if we call that Masculinity, then it seems to me to be something about a need for honour, fierce adult responsibility, and meaningful contribution – but none of these things were picked up on by the presenter. It seemed that Perry was trying to egg these men on to get more cool and talk and dress up a bit in a fanciful way. That these honourable intentions were no longer needed. I am not convinced that is quite right. We can ask more.

Without bombastic, creative ritual (and the people in the first show clearly do understand the need for this, and were healthily hanging on to it – and Grayson’s work fitted very smoothly and constructively into the pre-existing local culture) and strict ethical rules, it seems men at all levels are flying off the rails, jumbling up their drive for a sense of noble endeavour with selfishness, greed, terror, the thrill of ‘victory’ (or perhaps a kill of some kind). These men seemed to be grasping for notions of honour and righteousness, a strong moral code, and a heroic adventure story, behind what is frequently resulting in terribly destructive and ugly behaviour. Perhaps it is true that masculinity does need to become more flexible – but it seems to me from watching this that men also need greater rigidity around them. Their impulses are not encountering enough structure and containment by Society.

Ultimately, I think Grayson didn’t really give enough credit to these various lost men. He seems to be asking men to be less ‘male’ – to tone it down a bit – while I have come away asking – not to be less, but to Be Better, Male.  We desperately need powerful people to bring our structures round to a new way of being – of living within our means, of equitable sharing of resources – a softening might help, but a strong sense of honour correctly placed could really change the world.

Sarah Dixon is an artist, mother, wife, and WOMAN