Jane Caro: "We have given men a free pass on doing the hard interior work it takes to properly grow up." Photo: Damian Bennett
George Orwell immortalised the concept of Doublethink – the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time, regardless of the evidence – in 1984. I'd like to suggest that there is no group that we have more completely contradictory ideas about than men.
Yes, that's right, men. Not, for a change, that usual group of endlessly analysed and criticised group of human beings called women; this time it's men I want to put under the microscope. We appear to believe men are simultaneously completely capable (the right people to run almost everything, including taking charge of highly destructive and dangerous machines) and completely incapable (unable to care for their own children, or turn on the washing machine, or take responsibility for their own emotions or even behaviour) at the same time.
As a result of these entirely contradictory ideas, we have made many men over-responsible for the world but under-responsible for themselves. This is a very dangerous combination. To have a bunch of emotionally infantilised people in control – particularly of those aforementioned destructive machines - is a recipe for disaster.
I would argue that men commit more crime and are the gender more likely to try to solve things by force (making them more dangerous as a group) not because they are made that way and can't help themselves, but because we have given them a free pass on understanding themselves and doing the hard interior work it takes to properly grow up. And by "we" I don't mean women, I mean us all – generation after generation of human beings who've indulged their sons while (comparatively) neglecting their daughters.
And, yes, I know I am generalising. And yes, I know that – as the famous hashtag says – not all men are like this, but too many of them are for it to be just a random thing. Actually, to believe that "boys will be boys" and that women should limit their behaviour, clothes and even alcohol consumption so as not to "inflame" men's uncontrollable passions – and then argue that "not all men" are like this – is another example of our capacity to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time. I believe, in fact, that not only are not all men like this, but that none of them need to be.
I see women trying to protect the (supposedly fragile) sensibilities of men continually. Recently an American author (and I refuse to give her publicity by naming her) claimed that women were to blame when men cheated on them. And we have seen an Australian author (again, I will not name her) argue that women should just lie back and let men have (presumably pretty joyless) sex because otherwise they might feel deprived.
I have heard mothers complain about the way young women dress at school dances because it will inflame and tempt their sons. And the excuses offered by communities for boys' (or footballers') behaviour when a rape scandal erupts are mind-blowing. The anger and desire for revenge is often displaced onto the girl and her family.
I've lost count of the number of media stories I have read about victims' families forced to leave town if the girl presses charges. Quite apart from the damage that does to the victim (devastating, no doubt), such minimising must also damage the young men involved. What sort of person are you likely to become if you commit rape and get away with it?
The philosophy behind "modest" clothing for women in religious traditions – or indeed Eve's supposed temptation of Adam – are entirely infantilising of the male gender. They assume that women are responsible for male behaviour. Frankly, "she made me do it" is the excuse of a five-year-old.
I have much more respect for men than it seems many people do. I believe they are as capable as women on all levels – emotional, intellectual, practical and in their ability to be self-responsible. I believe they are as able to bear the consequences of their actions – including their mistakes and failures – as women are.
I have never paid my dues to become a member of the giant female conspiracy I call Protect-a-Man. My husband (I do not have sons) can and does iron his own shirts, pack his own suitcases and schedule his own appointments at the doctor and the dentist. He buys gifts for his side of the family and is responsible for remembering their birthdays. He cooks, cleans and earns money, like me. He never "babysat" his children, he parented them – as I did.
Yet, to this day, people act like he is some kind of phenomenon, a domestic god or something. He is not, he is merely a grown-up. It never bothered him for a nano-second that I kept my own name after marrying him, or that I have sometimes earned more money than him. Such things have not affected his sense of "masculinity" at all.
The great legacy of this is that both the men my daughters have chosen as life partners are grown ups, too. They make their own money and do their own housework because they are adults and because they can. I'd much rather respect a man than protect him.