There is, quite rightly, a lot of talk these days about men and the stupid things we tend to do.
In particular, there is a lot of talk about how we act in relation to women. Acres and acres of risible behaviour has been reported and documented. There can be no argument, we often act very badly indeed.
In the midst of all this truth-telling, there sits a cohort of bemused males who repeatedly proclaim to anyone who will listen that, ‘it’s not me, I didn’t do any of it’ and they too, quite rightly, get berated almost as much as the people who know it was them.
I can see why this is. It’s unhelpful, unproductive even, to simply remove oneself from the firing line and to think that will be enough. It can’t ever be enough, really, can it?
I can never speak for anyone but myself so that’s what I’ll do here. For myself, after witnessing the outpouring of negative truth about my gender, I have tried harder to audit myself a little. What do I do? How am I complicit in the negative narrative? I know it's not much but I hope it’s at least an attempt at a constructive reaction to all this. After all, what can we usefully do with the past and present if not learn from it for the future?
So, what have I found? What do I do? Well, here’s one tiny thing, for the purposes of illustration.
I walk on the outside of the pavement.
If I am walking down the street with a woman, I will always position myself so that I walk on the outside of the pavement, between the woman and the roadway.
And, wait, I think I know what you might be thinking. Check this guy, he’s doing the polar opposite of damning himself with faint praise, he’s actually praising himself with faint damnation. He’s just as bad as those helpless males he mentioned before. The ones who loudly plead their own innocence. He is loudly pleading his own minor infraction. What a wally.
That may be how this piece will read but I promise you that it’s not my intention. The process of auditing a lifetime of male behaviour is a drawn out and ongoing one and several things have been unearthed along the way. This ‘walking on the outside' thing is obviously only small and seemingly insignificant but it has provided me with some helpful (to me at least) insight which I would like to share with you. Bear with me. They are going to carve on my gravestone ‘At Least He Meant Well’ and not without some reason. So bear with me a moment while I try to explain.
It was my Auntie Rosaleen who first taught me about walking on the outside. Auntie Rosaleen came home from Boston when I was quite small and I still remember how she rocked my little world. She smoked menthol Pall Malls and had a fluffy white fur coat and she gave me insights that I’d never had before. She introduced me to yoghurt, she instilled the radical idea of cleaning my fingernails from time to time and, most tellingly, she explained to me how gentlemen walked on the outside of the pavement, allowing the lady to be protected on the inside. This quickly became a ‘thing' with me. I was the little fellow who would always retain the outside track and it gave me a sense of thoughtfulness and chivalry that fitted well with my mentality.
Fifty years later and I’m still doing it. I might have shed the habit as I grew to adulthood except there was a major boost to my behaviour in my late teens. In college, where I studied Architectural matters, one of our lecturers, Paddy Doris, was briefing us on matters of historical drainage systems when he inadvertently topped up my pavement habit.
Mr Doris explained how, in the Olden Times, all the waste from the houses would be dumped out onto the street from upper windows and how a channel ran down the middle of the road to carry the detritus away. Carriages would spash through the channel in the street and throw all kinds of unmentionable product up on to the pavement. Men wore long cloaks to protect their inner clothing from being splattered and women walked on the inside of them to gain some protection from the cloaks against the flying shit.
The metaphor fitted me well. I was keeping the shit off the women. Here was an almost logical reason for my perambulatory foible. It reasserted my correctness and set me off in a clear direction , my eyes set firmly on the future, my feet planted firmly on the outside of every path.
And thus it has become one of my adult ‘things’, like only ever owning one pair of shoes or singing loudly in the car. I walk on the outside and the ladies must take their place inside.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
I have become quite seriously defensive about my ‘right’ to walk on the outside of the pavement. It is a subconscious thing or, more accurately, it was a subconscious thing until recently when I started thinking about these things. I unerringly claim the outside track and, if a woman approaching me from the other direction clearly wishes to assert her right to be there, I give it to her, of course, but (here’s the thing) I do it with a type of internal surly reluctance and even resentment that now seems neither helpful not healthy. “I am a man”, my subconscious seems to murmur, “I deserve the outside of the pavement. If you take it away from me, you are challenging my authority.”
This, I think, is a fair example how a seemingly innocuous and almost-cute male habit becomes a microcosm of some of the ills abroad in the world today. For me, it demonstrates an historical sense of duty and politeness, churned into a sense of entitlement and defensive embitterment by long habit and, yes, by a dash of male ego too. Further, when examining this, I noted a strong tendency inside myself to try to logically explain away the silliness of it all. Let me try my mind's defence out on you so that you can see what I mean.
"It is good if men walk on the outside and women on the inside because then we each know which way we will go when we meet. There will be less misunderstandings on the street because we will each know where we should be, where our place is."
Our place… it’s the type of awful dangerous argument that one could almost hear fools make for slavery or any other kind of terrible repression. 'At least we all know our place...'
So if you think I’m simply trying to slip away from my responsibilities as a man in the world of 2017, I can assure you that I am not. Not consciously anyway. I may not be doing as much as I could but the revelations of the past year have shown me that I cannot afford to be complacent in my skin and bask in the sentiment that others are the culprits rather than me. My 'outside track' habit may be just a small thing but there are lessons for me to learn from it all the same.
As for the habit itself, I’m going to try to be less assertive about walking on the outside of the pavement. To think that a middle aged git like me, by being out there, can offer any protection at all to a strong independent woman is only the height of foolishness anyway.