This post started out a week or so ago entitled “What’s wrong with men and masculinity?”, and was shaping up to be a sort of ‘whistle stop tour’ of what I think is going wrong with men at the moment - the widespread mental health issues and the related issue of being ‘macho’ or not appearing weak; how I don’t really understand how men relate to each other and, lastly, the issue of inappropriate behaviour towards women. But then the whole Harvey Weinstein and associated #MeToo thing broke cover. And I was, frankly, appalled. Appalled that men could behave so insensitively, so badly… And, seemingly, very often without even realising that they were causing anxiety or fear amongst women. I may return to the wider issues in a later post, but for now let’s stick with sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour towards women.

First of all, I’d like to issue a blanket apology to all my female friends and acquaintances. If I’ve ever acted in a way which seemed inappropriate (even a hug which went on a second too long) or frightening to you; or if I’ve ever said anything which made you feel threatened or which was inappropriate, I am truly, deeply, sorry. And if you want to take that up with me, face-to-face, I promise that I will (a) listen humbly and respectfully and (b) make amends if I can.

This bad behaviour seems to span such a wide range of things, from, I suppose, ‘wolf-whistles’ in the street through to rape, and everything in between. I can’t pretend to understand it. I’d never realised how widespread it is either - until the #MeToo thing started.

It’s awful, both in its impact on individual women, and in how widespread it is.

I don’t know why we men (a few, some, or most of us?) behave like this. Some of it is, I guess, down to a mixture of ignorance, lack of thought and ‘following the crowd’ - not wanting to seem different to our fellows. Some of it is probably deliberately demeaning/belittling, and/or an effort to feel better about oneself by putting another person down - which is pretty sick.

Most of my close friends are women. I’m not really sure why that is, but it’s a fact. But even with that being the case I hadn’t realised how widespread this problem is, nor, until I asked them, did I realise that it has affected women I know. And some of the assaults I’ve been told about are appalling. It’s all way beyond horrifying to me.

It makes me ashamed to be male.

I think it’s high time that those of us men who do care took a stand against this, in a very definite, deliberate, way. Both in order to show that we care and to set a good example to other men of how to behave appropriately.

I try to be careful to treat everyone well... But I’m aware that I may not always succeed - I may not even realise that I’m acting or speaking in a way that feels threatening (and please do pull me up about it if I do) - men, even me, can be pretty dim. As Jesus says in the bible:

‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39

I always try to be careful when walking in quiet places, that I don’t make anyone fear that I’m following or stalking them - by crossing over to the other side of the road and speeding up so as to pass them; walking more slowly than them, or whatever.

I try to be careful always to say appropriate things, and I try to act in appropriate ways.

I would, of course, step in if I witnessed anything which seemed inappropriate or frightening perpetrated by another man and I thought I could make a difference.

I’m quite a ‘huggy’ person. I hug men and women. But in light of recent developments, I am intending to be rather more deliberate about applying a few rules which I hadalreadybegun quietly following.

Some folk (male and female) give me a hug virtually every time they see me - that’s fine, I’m happy with that, and will keep on hugging until or unless asked to stop, or I find it becoming awkward or inappropriate from my point of view.

With others though, who sometimes hug and sometimes don’t, I can find it a bit awkward working out whether a hug is wanted or not. So, from now on, and to make it clear that this is my policy, if you’re female, I’m not going to hug you unless you tell me it’s okay, or ask me for a hug, or hug me - if you hug me, I’ll hug you back. Otherwise, I’m not touching - except for perhaps a handshake.

And, placing ’the boot on the other foot’ for a moment: one or two ladies are in the habit of kissing me (I hasten to add that it’s never more than a peck on the cheek!). I feel obliged to say that in general I find that awkward. Kisses are, for me, a really intimate gesture - far more so than a hug; the only person I kisswillinglyis my wife Linda. So, really, I’d rather you didn’t kiss me please - it feels wrong.

I hope that these issues don't cause any sort of awkwardness or resentment with my friends. I really do value all my friends, male and female, and I'd hate for the issue of touch to become something which made our friendship awkward. I think what I really want is for my interactions with everybody to be better, more Christlike, than they were before...

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3: 12-14

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022