I paraphrase Mark Twain’s pithy observation about the Americans and the British because Bill Walker’s conviction this week for unsavoury behaviour towards a number of women in his life has brought the whole spousal abuse issue back into front-page debate. The inhibitions suffered by the abused party that prevents many occurrences from being reported, let alone resolved still haunts us all.
That said, having grown up on a working class council estate in the fifties, I am neither as outraged, nor as surprised as many observers seem at the Walker case. Abuse, while not rife there, was common enough, often associated with drink that anaesthetised barren outcomes to once-youthful ambition. And, though mostly dispensed by men, there was also a significant volume of psychological abuse by wives, poisoned by the same set of frustrations. Key, however, was both genders papered it over and denied its existence, to evade judgemental social morals of the tight-knit society of the times.
None of which is an excuse. But it is offered by way of explanation to those whose morals post-date such excruciating stiff-upper-lip times why it has taken so long to arrive even at this stage when there are few apologists for Walker or his behaviour. And yet I am thrown back a quarter century when, living in San Francisco and surrounded by some of the most socially progressive thinking on the planet, I was introduced early to the complexity of gender issues and the dangers of simplistic solutions.
I have been blessed with a number of good friends who happen to be female and the biggest group of those still lives in NoCal. They each remain very different people but all were bright, urbane and witty to the point of ego-demolition (mine, not theirs). As illustration: In an auto parts store, I separate from Lin and when we hook back up she has what looks like an oil filter, brake fluid and a wrench in her basket. “What d’you have there?” I ask in all innocence. Her best pursed smile flashes; she pats my arm and, in her throaty Kathleen Turner voice purrs “Don’t you worry your pretty li’l head about it!”
On the other hand, when a good buddy and I—both out of our depth in relationships and ‘wimmin’ at the time—went in search of insight to a feminist meeting featuring Andrea Dworkin, we both came out feeling alienated to the point of personal attack: men were the enemy, the antichrist, the sole purveyors of evil in the world. If only women ran the planet, personkind might have some future other than Armageddon.
This so infuriated me that I wrote two cathartic poems in quick succession—the first in reaction to (to me) an unreasoning partisan attitude from Dworkin et al, followed rapidly by another to balance its irony-verging-on-sarcasm. Though 25 years old and still intended more as a personal articulation of my position than anyone’s epiphany, I hope the pair below contribute to this debate on gender—which clearly still has some way to go before any definitive conclusions are drawn.
- to take this opportunity to apologize
- for all straight, white males.
- …to apologize for dragging off to America
- blacks sold by their own chieftains, Chinese refused
- any other chance, Chicanos stifled by village dust.
- Today they could have been
- dying for freedom in Angola, greasing T-72 treads
- in Tianamen, choking in that same dusty village.
- …to apologize for being bigger, faster, meaner than you women;
- for our magnificent, egotistical gall that bound you
- by chocolate, by childbirth, by chapped hands to live
- in our shadow; for even tricking your labor-saving liberation
- into charge-card addictions and matching interiors;
- for macho lack of any explanation—to you, or to friends
- or even to our own sons before we die of stress,
- silent, unrepentant.
- …to apologize for lost lives, tribes, wars, wetlands, forests, species
- that brought every one of you—
- warm, fed and off the street—
- to have education and time and choice
- to be listening to this, to have
- freedom to dispute
- any part of it.
- Nostra culpa—It’s all our fault.
- We did it. Shouldn’t we then flood Venice,
- torch the Louvre, rip up all of Shakespeare
- and Mozart and the Constitution, cut off
- each telephone, dynamite the Golden Gate
- and every other bridge, turn back
- the clock, pass out candles, start gathering
- nuts? Would that make amends?
- We’re sorry for civilization.
- We didn’t mean it.
- It won’t happen
- we shoot half the men—line ’em up,
- perform last rites, then shoot ’em—
- all polyester-brained lizards armed
- with a condom, a smirk and glib ignorance
- of language spoken by three-quarters of the human
- race, all neanderthals who drag their trophies
- home, nail them up any damn way
- they please, all “I’ll-handle-it-babe” types
- drunkenly insisting on driving even when
- it’s her car.
- I say
- we men take care
- of our own. I want no women
- on the firing squad—no battered wives,
- single mothers, raped teenagers, furious feminists,
- particularly no dizzy blondes suffering
- belated disillusion—only men who have embraced
- their bleeding sister, tasted the salt of her
- hidden wounds; who have seen a woman,
- blessed with love’s garden of infinite
- blooming, become desert; men
- who have learned
- that broad shoulders and a stiff cock
- don’t make us god.
- I say
- we refuse them a bandana
- so they can’t avoid looking straight
- down our brotherly fury sighted so deliberately
- on them they squeeze their eyes
- tight with expectation.
- That’s when we lower our sights
- to their genitals and let them
- have it.