Emma Watson’s excellent speech came to my attention yesterday. Today I read this article on death, mainly because I figured it would help inform Old Man Hero. Somewhere in the midst of the second article I remembered one of Watson’s bits about men:
I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.
This is the bit that triggered me to wonder from the Athill article:
Killing certainly did affect the minds of those exposed to the first world war. It shocked most of them into silence: many of the men who survived fighting in it never spoke of it, and I think it had the same effect on most of those the men returned to. It was too dreadful. They shut down on it.
I think most people my age are familiar with this, albeit at a distance. Many of our parents’ parents or grandparents were affected by the world wars. I know two things about my great-grandfather Chafe’s time at war: He was hard of hearing from it, and he didn’t talk about it much.
So it occurs to me that maybe, like the cheetah’s genetic pinch point, that perhaps male emotionality was closed off during those massive conflagrations and has not yet recovered. It’s only a thought, really, but I wonder if those couple of generations since have been trying to live up to a standard of maleness that existed only because of the trauma of combat. We know the effect that ubiquitous trauma can have; one look at the legacy of residential schools confirms the problem.
War is something that’s been with us a long time, but I don’t know that there has ever been a thing comparable to the world wars, an event where nearly every man in a generation would have been touched by it. Sons of men who went would have seen their fathers dead or silent; sons of men who didn’t go might well have seen their fathers wilt in the face of what some would call a shortcoming or even cowardice, or idolize the men who did go.
Maybe this half of the species isn’t that interested in introspection or being emotionally unbound. Maybe we’re bad at those things. Or maybe we all have the same spots because there was a point where the only respected men around had spots, and we didn’t know those spots had been burned into them, so we keep painting them on. Here’s hoping we learn to wash them off again.