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Part One: The trauma of two world wars
The liberation of women has had a large influence on modern society, where people are allowed to be whatever they are, but that’s not the case for men.
What is the true meaning of what it is to be a man? Is it to have a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity (or to have a stiff lower limb in the face of a beautiful naked woman?), to lift the biggest amount in the gym, to go faster in a race? Is it the amount of kids you have (or how you look after those kids), or to have a fight and win? Or is to feel fear of certain death, or danger, and have the courage to face that death or danger anyway?
Men a hundred years ago
As they are not alive today, we cannot ask men from a hundred years ago what life was like for them. All we have are the history books, movie reels, documents, and second and third hand accounts.
A hundred years ago, the world was at war. I am sure you’ve seen the aforementioned movies, books, etc. It was called The Great War. Clearly, that’s great as in ‘big’, not great as in ‘good’, the same as the ‘great’ in Great Britain. As Yoda said in The Empire Strikes Back, ‘wars not make one great’ (it was curious, that backwards-speaking. It makes me wonder if Yoda was responsible for the order in which the movies were released).
Those men had no idea:
MCMXIV (1914), by Philip Larkin
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
And the countryside not caring
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheats’ restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word–the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Says it all, really, but the point is, when war came along, those men stepped up. Collectively, they said, ‘this is war – this is men’s stuff’. They did their bit for King and country, and apart from a few conscientious objectors, nobody complained.
While the men had been away, the women at home had stepped up as well. They had filled the offices and factories, and had shown they could do just as good a job as the men.
It is hard to believe, looking at it from now, that the prevailing attitude of the time was that men did the voting because they were (considered) more intelligent, and more able to take on the burden of a decision that could affect the future of a country. Women were (considered) too frivolous, too scatter-brained, too worrying, to have such a burden (I am not making this up).
The men came back (not all of them) from the war and went to work again, but something had changed. Women did not want to be supplicant anymore – they didn’t want to be second-class citizens. They had proven they could do men’s jobs as well as men could, and so, on the back of the suffragette movement which had begun twenty years earlier, women became equal in the voting system. It is amazing, looking at it from where we are now, that women had to fight so hard in this way to be considered equal in our species, but they did it. They got the vote, and so they should have. All being told, women are more reasonable than men are: they don’t think in a black-and-white way as men do. They are more subjective, more willing to listen to alternative opinions (with the stress on listen).
However, this was the beginning of the emasculation of men in our society.
It was also the beginning of a period of depression in the world, and again, it was women that kept it all going.
The post-war depression was like any other depression, i.e. there is a traumatic event followed by the five stages of trauma: denial (I can’t believe that such a war happened), anger (why did it happen?), bargaining (we’d better make sure it doesn’t happen again (more on this later)), depression (what a terrible world this is that generated such a war), and acceptance (okay, it’s time to get on with it).
Men, as is their wont, saw the word ‘depression’ and dismissed it, hid it away, didn’t speak about it, and women stepped up and did the opposite – they dealt with it.
In times of war, it is men who prevail. In times of peace, it is women.
Men are violent. There is no getting away from it. It is in our nature, and what has happened since the world wars has been an attempt to soften this violent nature, and in many ways, it has worked, but not completely.
Things had changed. Women had the vote, and men were exhausted and depleted, which meant women took their jobs (if there is one thing a big war is good for, it is job creation), and with these things, women became more and more independent, more opinionated, and more ready to fight for their total equality in society.
It seems war is something we as humans are going to have to deal with on an ongoing basis – pretty much as long as men exist, we will have wars. Think of it: there are not many wars that have been started by women, maybe Cleopatra, Boudicca, Margaret Thatcher, but they didn’t start wars; they were a response to an attack (by men).
Half of the 1940s was taken up by World War Two, the second such war in the same century, and this on the back of huge lessons learned (or not so) from the first one.
It is bad enough to get one hugely traumatic world war that claimed millions of lives, but to then get another one after just twenty years? That is too much to bear. Things needed to change further, and the coming decade did just that…
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