After the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal, Nick Triani reflects on masculinity present in his youth and now.
I grew up in British culture with Carry On films, catholic guilt, a post-sexual revolution comedown. Masculinity in a violent, war-hero-role-model sense was the epoch. This shaped me to a degree. The Vietnam War, The Irish Troubles, The National Front, Margaret Thatcher with a sprinkling of Burt Reynolds were all in the air as I was approaching my teen years. Disco and Punk were on the horizon, while the colorful Glam rock era with its influence was waning. My parents and sister arrived in England from Italy the year I was born and patriarchal rules applied. My father was expected to provide for the family whilst my mother stayed home and looked after the kids. My father was definitely acknowledged within the family as the head of the household.
A few years passed and a more relaxed UK culture meant that my parents did integrate enough for my mum to start working too – besides, the extra income was essential. We were working class immigrants, very poor for many years, but a strong Italian family value was present. My father spent many years working a night shift at a factory which made jump jets. He was a cigarette smoker, liked a drink and gave me a clip round the ear if I misbehaved. He was definitely ‘a man’ in the conventional sense of those times. We had a shared love for football and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and that was about it. I knew there was more, but it was only once he passed away that I wanted to know what that more was. As I get older I look more like him, but that’s the only real similarity we share.
We had a shared love for football and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and that was about it. I knew there was more, but it was only once he passed away that I wanted to know what that more was
Despite Women’s lib and the second wave of feminism, attitudes in the mid-1970s were still sexist to the max. It was a more innocent time for sure but just as wrong when it came to gender imbalance. ‘Get your tits out’, ‘look at the arse on that’, ‘she’s game’ … this have been some of the terminology (and much worse) used about women spoken to me in my early years. I would laugh along or feel uncomfortable, not really knowing any better or how to react. In certain situations, often being the Other (brown, immigrant) in a group, it was better to acquiesce rather than share a disapproving opinion. The social groups I was hanging in around this time (late 70s/early 80s) were still rough and a stray voice could be met with a punch in the face.
Sadly, many men still talk about women in these terms and find nothing wrong with it. In Finland, where I feel women appear to have a stronger voice and presence, these attitudes of us vs them amongst men still seem pertinent. It’s as if there is a resentment towards women using their voices instead of existing to please men.
When I was younger my stock answer for being in a band used to be ‘it’s a great opportunity to meet girls’. Though it creeps me out now, this was perfectly acceptable in the mid-1980s. The growing influence of feminist activism and thinking as well as a new awareness of inequality have slowly changed the boundaries of what is acceptable. The women that have been close to me in my life have had the greatest influence on shaping the person I’ve become. This doesn’t mean that an earlier incarnation of me has not approached women in an unacceptable way, or that I’ve always treated women as equal. Past environments breeded certain attitudes of how young men behaved toward women, and those attitudes were the norm. That’s not an excuse, but a reality – I simply did not have the tools to engage with women in an acceptable way when I was an early teen. Outside of my mother and sister, the school playground for me was very male driven and definitely defined by gender. I would mostly hang with boys of my age group and any serious interaction with women only started in my last school year. But I was aware of boundaries (I hope), and consent was seen as something essential on my part.
When I was younger my stock answer for being in a band used to be ‘it’s a great opportunity to meet girls’. Though it creeps me out now, this was perfectly acceptable in the mid-1980s
The flip side of this is that I’ve been privy to and witnessed much abuse of women over the years and done nothing about it. This troubles me now. The prevailing sexism and abuse have been such a normal state of the world, so ingrained within the patriarchy and present male structures – it has passed as a normal, acceptable position for men to take towards women. Importantly, this attitude has been rarely countered by men themselves in homosocial environments. You only have to see the level of gratitude bestowed to Hugh Hefner when he passed away last month, to see how celebrated the denigration and manipulation of women has been in our societies. No wonder the likes of Harvey Weinstein were allowed to prosper. This also partially explains the silence many maintained whilst turning the other cheek. The phrase ‘if you wanna get on’ really does have a new meaning now.
Sexual abuse and harassment has of course manifested itself to those closest to me. It’s a weakness on my part, not being able to protect the people I love. Yes, I have been vocal about gender imbalance and through my own practices have tried to change this. But right now in 2017, I feel I haven’t done enough to redress my own shortcomings. My hope now is that men start to understand what this kind of conduct is, what’s behind it, what it means to be equal and what human rights mean. It doesn’t erase what’s happened in the past for many women (nothing can), but men must seriously start to listen, learn and respect. Most importantly, they need to work together with women to effect change.
Yes, I have been vocal about gender imbalance and through my own practices have tried to change this. But right now in 2017, I feel I haven’t done enough to redress my own shortcomings
Yes, women have been brave to come out and highlight disgusting practices perpetrated consistently by men. Now men need to shake up the structures they have benefited from for centuries and make that difference, so that this ‘coming out’ of the victims has not been in vain.
Since the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment claims (and others) came to light, a lot of men have responded by hiding. Where have all the male opinion makers gone while this crisis rages? While the successful #MeToo online campaign raises awareness of the ordinariness of sexual harassment and abuse towards women, some men have responded with stinging abuse and an ultra defensive stance. But how do you defend the indefensible? I am worried that the patriarchy is just laying low, waiting for the storm to blow over. Sorry isn’t enough. Eradicating old-skool male defined structures is a start, but sadly for women, men must decide to take this action and make the change. I’m not holding my breath.
This is so sad that we are here now. But it’s better than silence.