When I was about 13 years old our class was given an essay to write, about fear. The nuns at my school seemed to like cryptic assignments that would reveal shallow thinking or lack of piety. Some girls wrote about their fear of spiders or ghosts. Others, somewhat ostentatiously in my opinion, wrote about their fear of all the black babies dying without being baptised and thus consigned to an eternity in purgatory.
I wrote some rambling, poetic, abstract nonsense, which is my default setting when I don’t want to write the truth. The truth was that my greatest fear was being ordinary. It’s something that has ruled a significant portion of my life and dictated many of my choices ever since.
For instance… deciding on what kind of work to do. The questions I’d ask myself weren’t “Is this job fulfilling?” or “Is this job well paid?” but “Does this job make me look impressive?”
Similarly… which leaders to follow. The questions weren’t “Is this person kind?” or “Do they have integrity?” but “Is this person clever?” “Are they charismatic?”
In other words “Are they extraordinary?”
I’m not alone in this, which is why Jeremy Corbyn struggled to win over voters in my age group. We like people who are quick witted and decisive; people who look strong and well put together; people who can deliver great one liners on chat shows. Our role models have dynamic masculine qualities.
We’ve accepted these values without question. As soon as women were let into the boy’s club and allowed to do jobs more important than tea making and typing, they took on the mantle of the dynamic masculine.
They mastered its requirements… an ability to work insanely long hours without sleep (how does she do it!); an ability to cry on the INSIDE (is that yogic breathing?); an ability to smile at demeaning jokes (such a good sport! just one of the guys really.)
I put my hand up — I have done all these and been proud of myself for doing them. I thought it was paying my dues, but really it was an over priced insurance policy against the fear of being ordinary.
This week has revealed two striking juxtapositions in the battle of the sexes, one visual and one verbal.
The visual one is shown in the above picture. Theresa May’s response to the fire in the Grenfell tower block was masculine, intellectual… repetitions of sound bitey words “a thorough investigation”, “do everything in our power”, “working around the clock”. Her body language was wooden and awkward.
Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction… well you can see for yourself. It was heartfelt, feminine and powerful in the true meaning of the word.
The verbal example, contrasts two disastrous press interviews, one by Diane Abbott and one by Boris Johnson. After Diane Abbott forgot her lines and fluffed up her statistics she was vilified by press and public, and deemed to be “unfit to hold office”. When Boris Johnson did the same thing the response was “well, that’s just Boris! Lawks what a joker! After all, anyone can get things wrong…”
Well no, actually. Only some people — people we give undue respect to — can get it wrong, and not lose our confidence.
For centuries we’ve valued identity, the way things look on the surface, without questioning the dark underbelly. In more recent times, branding has become a super power. Image consultants. Voice coaches. Mission statements. A whole industry caters for this need to spin and gloss over the unmarketable, to put cladding on dodgy entrails.
We’re fooled by image.
For a long time I thought Bruce Willis was macho and courageous, until I found out he was too scared to travel on a plane after 9/11. Then I realised it was John McLane who saved those people in Die Hard. Similarly I thought Brad Pitt had great depth. But his movie scripts were written by WRITERS. His own words (as revealed in his recent GQ interview) are somewhat facile. What a shock!
There’s identity, and there’s essence, and only one of them is real.
Luckily, young people are wising up. They love Jeremy Corbyn. They don’t think it’s a sign of weakness that he refuses to use nuclear weapons, they think it’s the OBVIOUS decision. It’s not strong, stable or smart to blow up millions of people… it’s just the end of the world as we know it.
We may have sung along to the Who anthem “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss… We won’t get fooled again” but we DID get fooled. We continued to choose style over substance.
We were too busy being dazzled by Rock Gods (aka the love of non ordinary men).
So yes, guilty as charged. I am a recovering narcissist… no longer “looking for love in all the wrong places”. And as for Michael Eavis, (the man who put those Rock Gods on stage) he is bringing Jeremy Corbyn to Glastonbury festival!
That’s Jeremy Corbyn (he of the shabby suits, the bicycle and the allotment) appearing at Glastonbury… which, as we know, is the ORIGINAL home of the Pagan Gods — who were of course undeniably FEMININE.