Philosopher Alexander Bard, whose ideas on syntheism I have written about before here, has been quite vocal in what he sees as the dark underbelly of the #metoo campaign. Bard promises to further elaborate and address drives in the internet age and the need for human archetypes in his & Jan Söderqvist’s forthcoming book; Digital Libido. In a conversation (in Swedish) with Katerina Janousch (Swedish journalist-gone-freelance blogger), he notes that equality is best attained with an ’equal but different’ rather than ’equal but same’ perspective. Men needs to be able to be men and women needs to be women, and in addition there can be androgynous people who are harder to designate – but there should not be too many of these, Bard says. The categorisation of man-woman-other (as opposed to only a dichotomy of man-woman) is an important injunction that breaks with a conservative revertion to stale roles without any liberty or possibility of movement. Still, the other injunction; that there shouldn’t be too many people who are fluid or in an in-between-or-other category is entirely superfluous.
Bard puts his finger on something important; that not all men or women (or people in the ’other’ category) want to dissolve their identities into some kind of ’everything floats’ category. Some people clearly desire what can be categorised as men and male traits. Some people also strive to attain and display such traits, in speech and action. Conversely some people desire or strive to be female, in a classical or revamped meaning of the word. There is no need for what can be construed as a warning against ’too many’ ending up in the fluid category. It is quite enough to warn against doing violence onto those men who value (some form of) masculinity and those women who value (some form of) femininity. Doing violence onto people is, simply, a generally bad idea.
If the new book is anything like the old, there is a vast discrepancy between how Bard delivers edgy talks on the subject in short interviews and online outbursts, and the (for the most part) quite compelling and credible deep philosophical underpinnings that is their texts. The Janousch conversation also displays this same lack of subtlety and finesse. (And so I anticipate the work that includes the finer points of it all.) Having written this lengthy disclaimer I will now go into what I feel is the important subject matter and how it can be productively handled, leaving it unsaid how much it aligns with Bard’s perspective.
Something that is made abundantly clear in the tidal wave of #metoo testimonies, and not least comments and reactions from men who feel attacked is that way too many men are entirely unable to understand what structural problems and norms are. I sometime also get the feeling that a lot of women lack in this department, but due to social skills they are better at hiding it, than the men who are all too happy to put their blatant ignorance on display.
So let’s grapple with structures and norms, ok? Jan Hjärpe ones said that norms are those agreed-upon-things that we don’t even have to pronounce as they are taken as so self-evident that we don’t even realise them. He exemplifies this with having at numerous lectures asked ”What dictates if you can get married to someone in Sweden?”. Students raise their hands and come up with all kinds of examples; ’you can’t be siblings or too closely related’, ’you have to be 18’ etc etc. Hjärpe notes that ”no one ever says: ’you can only marry someone who wants to marry you’ although this is what narrows the selection more than anything else”. The notion that you can only marry someone who wants to marry you is so self-evident that it’s not even thought of as a limiting example, thus we don’t even think to list it. It is a norm.
The norm of how to be male is like a drone note. We are constantly bombarded with notions via advertising, Hollywood narratives, stories among friends, expectations in the workplace, family upbringing, books etc, to such an amount that there is a drone note that resounds everywhere we go; a subtle but perceptible note that just lingers, underscoring interactions, private and public space. Everyone hears it. And it seeps through our consciousness and lodges itself in some kind of primitive part of us, making it second nature. Every attempt to break with it is futile, against the reptilian place it over time has been afforded, solidified within. And when alcohol or other substances (or contexts) lessen our inhibitions then we feel like playing music. And the music is going to be in a key that works together with the drone note. It’s going to deeply impact what kind of instruments we pick up and start playing, and what style of music we play. We are freeing ourselves, but not freeing ourselves enough.
Ok, let me explain that last bit. We are taught that we should ignore the tone. But ridding ourselves of inhibitions let’s us free ourselves of the veneer teaching, the brittle surface where we want to believe that ’we are all the same, and there is no such thing as masculinity’. Everybody still hears the drone note, and so people just free themselves of the top layer and connect with what we have been hearing as ’the true underlying message’ all along. In order to free ourselves enough, we need the drone note to stop. I was at a Halloween party a few weeks ago, where there was a quiet low ominous background note that just lingered. After a while, you start feeling that even though you are having a happy conversation it is just a veneer, as you merge with and can’t resist the dread embedded in that drone note. The drone becomes the ’true’, it grabs us. In order for wholly free conversation to emerge, we need to first press pause and take a breather. Then genuine laughs and conversations, uninfluenced by the drone can start unfolding. The embodiment and blackbelt training we have in perceiving the drone will not go away just because we start speaking about some interesting intersectionality-scholar we just came across. The drone wins out.
But – and now comes my primary point – if the drone disappears, not everyone will want to play a different key or a different genre. Not all men wants to be free from masculinity. Not all men wants to be not-men. And not all men will want to play unscripted atonal improvisation-driven chaotic jazz. Thinking that all men will want to play a totally different genre if they are only given the chance is naïve. And it has no basis in reality, but only in wishful thinking.
That’s why it’s so important with the Men’s Gatherings and Men’s Movement that Bard is involved in. Because it’s not based on the wishful thinking that everyone will now be gender-fluid and play atonal arhythmical experimental music. I have written about the power of participatory culture at length on this blog, and the spirituality it carries with it. To immerse oneself in the creative act of re-inventing masculinity, is to go one step beyond wishful thinking. It’s about basing that wishful thinking in what those individuals who are pointed at actually want to be, what they long for, themselves. Not having some exterior person point to them and say ”you’re masculinity is wrong, bad and shameful – you should just be less”. Why should we ever strive to be less? Why should we ever strive to shrink ourselves?
A lot of academics have fetishised postmodern deconstruction. If we can only deconstruct things enough, things will be alright. No, it will just be free jazz hell. If we are not allowed to also form a band with the musicians that we want to include in our band, if we are not allowed to pick up the instrument of our choosing and play together, then deconstruction is just really destruction. We must allow for the construction of identity. Construction in symbiosis with those we voluntarily choose to engage and create together with. All other alternatives is just doing violence onto people. Forcing them to resign from what they actually want to be. It is not always the case that we want to be seen as men or women first. That we want this to be the primary indicator which people then project stuff onto or into, when we meet them. However, some times that is perfectly fine. I have always found it hard to identify with a great deal of many parts that is generally seen as male traits, and therefore people have erroneously projected a lot of things onto me that really has very little or nothing to do with me. But does everyone have to be ’free’ from that? Is there nothing valid in wanting to be a man? Or wanting to develop or re-construct what it means to be a man?
It’s absolutely crucial that equality also allows for people who want to either be in-line with both the old and new roles and configurations. And when women put on a dress when they go to a party, they are upholding their side of that same norm, signaling that they will gender people according to certain standards. All we do is filled with codes and symbolic meanings. And the argument that ”you should only listen to the words I say – not the outfit I’m wearing” (or some other form of non-verbal symbolic communication) is a fraudulent way of depicting how communication works. Fetishising language as the only thing of importance goes counter to how all behavioural research show that we humans communicate with one another. Denying this is intellectually dishonest. I love wearing suits as a sort of ’power clothing’. Because I know that it’s loaded with connotations. Consent legislation based on getting a verbal yes or no is to totally try and override how humans actually communicate. Thus, there is a lot of work – hard work, genuine work, honest work – to be done. The first order of business is to admit that a lot of us actually, knowingly, symbolically communicate things with other things than language, and that we all need to own responsibility for that communication as well. We willingly allow ourselves and others to enter modes of ’playing male/female’. We need to own this. We need to own all our modes of communication. We need to own that not everyone wants to either play or listen to free jazz. At least not all the time. And when we don’t; we should call our electronica/heavy metal/dubstep/schlager by it’s true name.