BY ROSE GIBBS
Watch out. Beware. Benevolent sexists are everywhere. Hiding under v necked t-shirts and cargo pants shorts, these are shining wolves in sheep’s clothing. These creatures smile, grin, positively beam with friendliness, but do not be deceived, theirs is a lurking game. Yes, sweatshirts are their thing: their casual wear, their home clothes. Sweatshirts with logos, band names, possibly even punk protests. In the summer they come out in droves, populating playgrounds and parks, flexing their muscles as they toss their kids into the air. Theirs is a fathering of the interactive kind: football, rounders, basketball, Frisbee, for THE TWO WHOLE MANIC HOURS they do it in the 168 hours that make a week. These are the ones with tussled hair, faces grizzled with one-day growth for the weekend. They are pub brunches, walks along the canal, woollen jumpers and comic hats. They are prepared to look after their children, they are proud in public to look after their children as they stride around: “I CAN DO IT” their faces cry, “I can talk like an adult to my children. I am a GOOD man.”
They even do the baby-sitting (fancy that – baby-sitting your own kid!) every other week. They like to give the wife (yes, they like wives, they prefer wives to girlfriends: it proves they are real men, men who can commit and let’s not analyse it further); they like to give the wife a night off. They support her, they support her career, they respect and hold her in high regard, like an interesting object, as they calmly overlook the burden she carries, the scurrying around as she papers over the cracks, filling the gaps with sisters, grandmothers, friends. Anyone will do.
Anything’s possible for these sexists, as long as it doesn’t interrupt their capital flow.
Capital trumps all.
They vote Liberal, do green things like buying expensive food and recycling. They bake bread, drink beer and love compost. I don’t know why. They hold the door for you, and sometimes even other men too. But they never kiss them, the other men, because that could be disastrous. It will be a bear hug, a firm but friendly shake of the hand, because you know you can tell the strength of a person’s personality by the purchase of his grip (or something).
They will pay for your drinks, your meal too, they will pay for everyone. But beware this is not money spent freely but with the eye of calculated chivalry, generosity not of the thankless kind, but there to buy its way out of other peoples’ principals. Those heavy meals are the silent violence that shouts out, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.
These young professionals profess progress but live in horror of where that might leave them, for the moment pleased that no one has noted their tokenism, as their small conservative voice, their internal monologue emerges, transformed and edited down, the creed catechized to family, hearth, home and hard work. This is a shoring up of assets and an accumulation of capital held safe and declared clean, as love of wife, care of child: a narcissism displaced, as Freud would say, to His Majesty the baby.
In the winter these softies consume culture, with nuance and sensitivity, with diligence, determination and the damn hard work of the A grade student they probably were. These are not the philistines, the brokers, the smokers and drinkers, the strip club visitors we might expect of their kind. They may make big bucks, but they don’t show it, and they sure can appreciate culture. Culture approached with a checklist, an armament of references to be gathered and gleaned, bought out shining and polished, with crockery and lamb stew at dinner.
These are sentimentalists and sloppy thinkers; the pseudo Romantics who enjoy life viewed from an angle that asks nothing of them. Theirs is a morality learnt, not felt, passed down by generations of Abrahamic religiosity, most recently Christian in its flavour. It recognises oppression manifest by others, never of its self.
Beware the benevolent sexist my friend; beware.
Artwork © Allison E. Gragg, “Blue 5”