Confronting the demon in the Welsh male

Steve Garrett explains that he has gone into poetry to explore his feminine side

Why did I move from running farmers markets and being a local food activist in the Welsh capital to writing erotic poems about vegetables? Tonight I’m launching my first book of poems eat my words at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff.

Like many men in Wales that I‘ve come across, I’ve been depressed by what seems to be the endless supply of bad news stories about domestic violence and sexual abuse. Leaving psychopaths and seriously mentally ill individuals aside, we don’t ask ourselves enough – “Why would a man actually do that?”.

I’ve come to believe that many abusers are no more than an extreme expression of the way that male sexuality is shaped and condoned in our society, conditioned as it is with a need for a sense of power and combined with an inherently negative view of ‘femininity’.

At the same time as recoiling from the idea of hitting or abusing their partner, I suspect many men are caught up in the same kind of fear of sex and a disdain for the feminine that underlies the behaviour of these self-evidently insecure individuals. It seems that some men go into a panic the moment their fragile sense of power or authority is challenged or confronted by a woman they are close to – all too often leading to a punch being thrown. Just like schoolyard bullying, violence is used as a means of protecting those who at a deep level lack confidence or self worth.

Some of this may stem from  changing roles in a world where traditional male occupations are shrinking, and where men are expected to contribute more to domestic responsibilities in a more equal relationship with their partners. This is a particular issue in some of Wales’ ex-mining communities, where many men now find themselves without work that they can take pride in, and the sense of identity that went with it. In turn this can lead to increasing rates of depression and alcoholism, all of which then contribute to abusive and self-destructive behaviour

I think that the continuing disdain for (or perhaps its fear) of women in our culture is also at the root of our destructive behaviour towards the natural environment.  To have a healthy relationship with nature, we also have to understand our feelings about the ‘nature’ in women and in ourselves, and how to relate to it better.

I believe that in spite of (or perhaps partly because of) forty years of feminism and much progress in terms of women’s rights, we are in need of a revolution in men’s relation with, and attitude towards, ‘the feminine’ not just in women but in ourselves as well. Only when we have achieved that will we see a reduction in the tragic current levels of male violence and abuse.

To nudge this process forward, we need the Welsh Government to have the insight and courage to realise that taken collectively, the on-going incidence of male sexual abuse and violence, though largely hidden, remains a serious problem in Wales that demands serious intervention. A start would be some kind of awareness raising campaign and national  ‘Welsh Men’s Forum’ which would galvanise men in Wales to realise that sexual abuse and violence is not a ‘women’s problem’. It is our problem as men, and that if we don’t want to be part of that problem, we need urgently to be thinking about what we can do to be part of the solution.

Even men who are concerned about these issues and want to support women’s rights often find it hard to identify with feminism as a ‘women’s movement’. However, they mightwant to be part of a parallel men’s movement for change that they can think of as their own.

With this in mind, I’ve set up a group of ‘FeMANist’ men, who describe themselves as “passionately committed to gender equality”, to better explore all these issues together in the spirit of solidarity with women and taking responsibility for changing ourselves. I’ve launched a FeMANism website  and a ‘MANifesto’ to raise awareness amongst men about violence against women and children and to encourage them to think what they can do about it.

Men have a real opportunity now for positive change if they can embrace a broader sense of what it means to ‘be a man’. By not always worrying if we are living up to a traditionally narrow view of ‘manliness’, we can be more fulfilled as men, as well as being better partners and fathers. In this sense FeMANism aims to contribute to a safer and happier world for men and women.

Steve Garrett is a Cardiff food activist, social entrepreneur, musician and poet. Tonight at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff at 7.30pm he is launching eat my words - a book of poems he describes as “lines from the sensual side of life”, aimed at encouraging men to be more in touch with their feelings and emotions. Sample poems can be seen on the FeMANism site where the book can be ordered online.

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