Last week I was accused of misogyny. The circumstances or the reasons are unimportant but what is important is that I was not absolutely sure exactly what that word meant. It was spat at me at the time so I safely assumed that misogyny was probably something undesirable. I had heard the word bandied about in the past, usually by women, so I had some hazy notion it had something to do with them.
In my school when I was growing up we did civics as a separate course for a few years and, oddly for an all boy's school, women came up regularly in civics. We were taught to respect them, to cherish our Mothers, to love our sisters and to act like proper gentlemen when females were in our company. This meant giving up your seat on the bus, opening heavy doors for them and walking on the outside of the footpath when together with a girl. This last one apparently assured that if a car mounted the herb it would hit the male and not the female beside him.
We were taught that women were physically weaker than us, they saw things differently than us and so whenever in conflict with one of their kind, we were to do the gentlemanly thing and submit to their whims. The underlying message was to always protect women and never, never do any of them any harm. After all, the argument went, we all had mammies and where would we be without them. We were invited then to view all girls our own age as the future mammies of Ireland. In reality it was the Christian Brother's way of teaching us tough energetic lads the idea of love without ever using that deeded four-letter word of course.
Misogyny though is apparently a hatred of women so when I did look it up I felt really wronged by the brazen woman who accused me of it. Those civic's lessons way back then had made a deep impression on the young boy I was and I incorporated the ideas learned at that time into a general code of conduct that has lived with me since. My view of women and my reaction to them when introduced has not changed too much in the intervening fifty years. I had always loved women as the most obvious opposite to myself.
The thing is, when you are taught and then you learn a way to think about things and you practice it over many years, it becomes a normal part of you. But times have changed, or so I am told, and women no longer want me to open the door for them. They'll find their own seat too, thank you very much and they'll walk on any part of a footpath that takes their fancy, with or without me. That's fine too as far as it goes. But the net effect now is that I find myself unconsciously avoiding the fairer sex because it's just easier that way. There is no risk of being taken up wrong or unwittingly causing offense if there is little or no contact. The 'misogyny' remark recently re-enforced that for me.
It does beg the question though, what would I do if I saw a man beating a woman up on the street now? I hasten to add that I have not seen such a thing but I'm told that it happens. So what should I do? Indeed, what would you do in that situation? My civics teacher would have had me wading in fists flying to save the damsel in distress. Any man who would do that deserves what's coming to him, he would have said. But today, that regrettably is not the case any more. The accepted wisdom now is to turn your head and keep on going and that reaction fits with my current avoidance of females in general. In the past that would have been labelled cowardly but now it is smart. It fits with the modern ethos of women wanting to take care of themselves too, doesn't it? And after all, if some guy was kicking me around the street I wouldn't expect some woman to intervene on my behalf, would I?
But I think it is sad that it has come to this. Sometimes I feel a bit of a fool for the years I spent telling my own young son about the correct way to treat a lady. In light of the modern assertive female it is almost laughable now to think of myself lecturing him on the importance of seeing the lady to her front door after a date. Advice on good table manners while treating a girl to dinner all ring pretty hollow now. For one thing, young guys no longer take their girlfriends for dinner, I have been told. They go fifty-fifty on everything and there appears to be little in the line of affection or caring during the modern date. Descriptions I have heard suggest a night of pitting their wits against each other and an older guy like me sees little in that to recommend it. I can do that with my mates any night.
Funnily enough, this is not a topic I feel comfortable discussing with a woman either. A chat about the nature of the relationship between the sexes can be a minefield. Then I read this. It is written by a thirty-six year old New York woman and it offers another insight on the topic, this time from the female perspective. She makes her early teens and twenties sound like a hell created by unwanted male attention. She talks about society's conditioning of women and the expectations of them. But as the years pass she now bemoans the lack of attention from men and complains that she is becoming invisible. She wonders what she will feel like at 45 or indeed 65.
I'm nearly sixty and it doesn't matter to me one way or another, as regards my interaction with other males at least. But now, I too would avoid the writer of that article. It wouldn't be because she wrote it nor would it be because she was attractive or unattractive either. I would avoid her to avoid hassle, easy as that. From what she wrote too I cannot see her making first contact with me because that is not the way she is conditioned. So she and I will never have a pint together and discuss this vexing question. That's sad though I think.
But does it make me a misogynist?