Child of the Glacier
Child of the Glacier
This is an extract from an essay -- I think it was called Child of the Glacier by M.Adams which appeared in Men Freeing Men (edited by Francis Baumli). I'd like to find some more stuff by Adams because I think it is a great piece. Unfortunately because of copyright this is only an extract. (paragraphing may be different from original)
One Sunday morning in the spring of 1961, my family had invited our next-door neighbours to go to church with us. I was nine years old. After parking the car, the seven of us were walking the several blocks down St Paul Street to the Church. My mother, my sister and the woman from next door walked and chatted together, while my father and I, the man from next door, and his son walked silently behind. It was a bright spring day and I was full of a child's energy. I decided that I wanted to be the one to point out our church to the visiting neighbours, and I began to run ahead of the group to do so.
I never got the chance; as I ran ahead, my father grabbed my wrist and yanked me back violently, hurting my arm and almost pulling me off my feet. "Never walk in front of the ladies!" he said sternly, still holding my arm. "That's not polite! Always walk _behind_ the ladies!" Immediately, two thoughts came into my nine-year-old mind. First I wondered why in the world men should have to walk behind women, and I decided that I didn't like that rule. Then it occurred to me that my father would never have yanked on my sister that way, no matter _what_ she had done. From that moment on, I hated - consciously - anything that anyone expected from me simply because I was male.
I imagine I was one of the first masculinists... or at least one of the youngest, for it was with _conscious_ awareness and a _conscious_ opposition that I mentally noted and logged every form of discrimination against males that I encountered for the remainder of my childhood. At that age, it was athletic expectations and the training in points of etiquette that plagued me. I was expected to participate in every boy's sport, to _want_ to participate, and to do _well_ -or at least to keep trying until I _could_ do well. Whenever I tried and failed, I was mocked and chided; whenever I said I wasn't interested and refused to try, I was severely scolded. Girls, I could see, were not expected to perform in these capacities, and though I could never quite see what it was they were doing on the other side of the playground, it always looked a lot more interesting, a lot more imaginative, a lot more creative... a lot more fun.
In addition to "walking behind the ladies", there were such customs as opening doors, pulling out chairs, having to stand whenever a woman entered or left the room, and having to pay for things. The "ladies first" syndrome always made me fiercely angry. The old "I can hit you, but you can't hit me back because I'm a girl" routine angered and humiliated me beyond description. That boys were always dealt much more severe punishments for a given act than were girls would throw me into a rage. It was significant to me that these unfair customs and punishments were condoned and administered by adult _women_ as well as by adult men. No matter how many times my parents and teachers told me that these things were traditional and correct, none of it made sense to me and I couldn't tolerate any of it.
Though these were conscious sensibilities, I learned quickly never to express them to my elders, who considered them naughty and maladjusted. From about the age of eleven, the pragmatic ramifications of sexism became more serious; any task or chore involving physical strength or exertion was automatically to be done by males; any task or chore involving risk or danger was automatically to be done by males. Meanwhile I continued to catalog, in my mindful of the sexist attitudes, policies and laws that I had observed or experienced. Sometimes, I would try to talk about these ideas to other kids my own age. None of them understood, none of them were interested. In the course of growing up, they had managed to adjust, and they didn't seem to care. During those pubescent years, I discovered that the sore spot on my life created by etiquette was malignant, and that it festered and grew, with the coming of adulthood, into something horrible called "chivalry".
Chivalry dictated that men risk their lives for women, and accept death outright if it meant saving a woman. It was a fearful moment when I realised that the term "innocent women and children" no longer included me. It was at the age of fourteen that I decided to strike the word "coward" from my vocabulary. The word and the concept were entirely sexist to me, and had no meaning. I entered high school in 1967. I was growing closer and closer to the Viet Nam war. At age fifteen, I began to have an obsessive, maniacal fear of the military draft. The urgency of the draft/war situation prompted me to start expressing my beliefs about sexual equality. I did so compulsively, crazily thinking that if I convinced enough people that I was right, the wheels of sexism and war and selective service would grind to a screeching halt just before my eighteenth birthday.
I would try in my own confused way, to describe a society where men and women would be truly equal. I always tried to demonstrate that the advantages of such a system would be tremendous to _both_ men and women. I had been able to figure out the more basic, obvious aspects of women's liberation on my own, and I never failed to include them in my argument. But this was in 1967, and not even the current wave of the women's movement had reached our part of the world then; of course nobody shared my views, nobody really even understood, and most people thought I was crazy. There was little else in my life at that time to offer any solace or diversion.
These were my adolescent years, and my avant-garde outlook on sex-roles played havoc with my concept of sexuality. There was the normal emotional bind created by the clash between my sexual attraction for women and the Mariological guilt-complex instilled in all young men. While I was trying to convince myself that I shouldn't feel guilty about my sexual desires, the whole thing was further complicated by a feeling of deep hurt that women did not seem to return those desires (to men in general). I not only wanted girls, and felt guilty about it, but I also wanted for them to want _us_, and was insulted by the fact that they didn't. There were some girls who were more sexually free and aware, but they invariably favoured the macho-jock types, and regarded me as a waste of a male body.
Those girls who intellectually prefered more sensitive boys were almost always extremely prudish, which served only to aggravate my sexual guilt. Despite the fact that my sexual feelings were completely heterosexual, I began to realise that there were certain aspects of the female sexuality of which I was jealous. Women seemed to have a purely aesthetic sexuality, while the male sexuality was mostly functional, more directly related to role performance. Certainly, I was able to see that the aesthetic value placed on women had been taken to a dreadful extreme, and that women suffered some brutal consequences for it. Nevertheless it was easy to see that, in ways both passive and active, women _enjoyed_ the aesthetic nature of their sexual image. The male "aesthetic" was really just another measure of their capacity to live up to the role expectations; men didn't really enjoy any of the kind of sexual attention that women got.
It occurred to me that in terms of sexuality, men and women needed to move _toward_ one another; women moving away from the aesthetic extreme that made them sex-objects, and men moving away from the opposite, functional extreme that made them objects of risk, strength and performance. I would have liked to have been a little more of a sex-object, myself! But I didn't dare express those feelings then. Not in 1967.
High School phys. ed. was, for someone like me, pure hell. The expectations were bad enough, in addition to having to put up with the usual bullying from most of the other boys in the class. I was labeled a "sissy" and mocked accordingly. But they could see that I was a different breed of sissy. I was an angry _assertive_ sissy - something they had never seen before - and for that they hated me. The teachers were perplexed to hear blunt expressions of what I thought about their sessions of mindless semi-violence. It was less fear than pure contempt that I showed for sports like football and lacrosse. I told them that I saw no reason why I or anyone should be required to participate if they didn't want to.
The bullying would often become violent - it was a pretty miserable time for me. Finally in the winter of 1968, when it came time for the annual four-week period devoted to wrestling, I rebelled. I refused to wrestle. I told the teacher that I would _not_ wrestle, and that furthermore, I would not even don my gym suit. The teacher warned me that if I did not wrestle, he would fail me for the entire year. I told him to go ahead and fail me - a pretty bold move, considering that the Baltimore County Board of Education had just passed a law requiring every student to pass three out of four years of high school phys ed. in order to graduate. ......