About Last Night :It is not for men to decide who is good or bad 23-12-18

December 30, 2018

Q: When I heard Hannah Gadsby’s speech at a recent awards ceremony I felt hurt and confused. At 42, I really do believe that I am a good man. I have never hit a man, let alone a woman. I like and respect women, and fully support their struggles for equality. My wife and I are equal partners, and we teach our daughters that they can be whatever they aspire to. Calling men “Jimmies” is as nasty and demeaning as men calling women “chicks”. How can we get past this sexist bitterness?

A: When I heard Gadsby’s comments I knew feathers would be ruffled. She did, indeed, speak sardonically, about “good men”, and there was bitterness in her tone. However, I watched the clip again, a number of times, and I invite you to do the same.

If it causes you to feel incredibly angry, hurt, or defensive, take some time to identify from whence that emotion arises.

Do you feel that women should appreciate, and be grateful to, men who support their struggles? Are you offended by the dehumanising effect of being dismissed as just one more “Jimmy”? Do you believe that there are good and bad men, and that you are in the good group, and resent being grouped with rapists, abusers, paedophiles and chauvinists?

If you listen to the speech objectively. you will see that Gadsby does not say that no men are good. The point she makes is that it is not for men to decide who is good or bad, where the line dividing them should be drawn, or to which category they belong.

In order to illustrate her point, I draw a parallel with racism. I detest racism, and strive to be a “good” white person. I have never mistreated anyone because of their race. I protested against apartheid, and for the national apology to the stolen generations. My children are all in interracial marriages, and I have mixed-race grandchildren … whoopty do.

I was born into an England that still had the remnants of an empire, and the high standard of living I enjoyed was built on the prosperity that flowed from colonisation. As a family, we moved to Hong Kong, in the Far East [sic], taking with us our white privilege.

It was only 12 years after World War II. For every Allied service person who suffered under the Japanese, hundreds of nameless, faceless, “coolies” also suffered and died.

I remember my mother giving cast-off clothes to my Chinese Amah (nursemaid} for her children. It shocked me to learn that she had children who were with someone else while she waited on me.

Even today I feel like apologising for the Opium Wars when we visit our Chinese in-laws.

Similarly, in Australia, many people resent being held responsible for historic crimes against the Indigenous population, but we have all benefited from the prosperity that this land has given to its settlers. Even today, white privilege is reflected in our living standards.

No amount of good deeds lets me off the hook. I do not get to decide if I am a good or bad white person, and I also cannot demand that people of colour see me as good. It is for them to draw that line, and if they are angry, resentful, and dismissive of my desire to be given their seal of approval, tough luck. The same principles apply to men in a patriarchal world.

More broadly, it is invidious to talk in terms of good and bad human beings. The world is not binary and there are no absolutes. We are all on a spectrum. Like the yin/yang symbol, we contain a struggle between dark and light impulses. Some light exists in the darkest places, and vice versa.

If it was possible for good men to identify bad men we could simply eliminate the baddies, and live in an egalitarian utopia.

If you can take comments like Gadsby’s on the chin, with goodwill and humility, you are part of the solution.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

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