Matt Heath: A reflection on masculinity

Section
Blogs,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 19 September 2018, 10:34AM

So the Prime Minister has asked me to "reflect on masculinity" on this, the 125-year anniversary of suffrage. A huge honour. Also potentially the biggest hospital pass since Rugby World Cup 2003 pool play when South Africa's Derick Hougaard got completely smashed by Samoa centre Brian "The Chiropractor" Lima.

I thought about this request a lot and eventually came to two conclusions. One, if the PM of this great country of ours is involved then I should probably put some effort in and, second, the safest way to "reflect on masculinity" in 2018 is from a personal perspective. I'm a man, so I know a little bit about being one. I'm also a father of two young boys so I've got a couple of generations of dudes to worry about.

As a boy I was taught if you worked really hard and did the right thing by family and friends, life would be sweet. If you're lazy, weak, directionless and nasty, life turns to crap. Or something like that.

My boys will grow up in a world in which females and males have all the same opportunities. Does that change the message? Will more and more powerful woman in every walk of life be good or bad for them?

Back when John Key was PM a prominent older male broadcaster yelled at me in a bar: "Thank God we don't have Helen Clark anymore. Didn't you just feel like she was stealing your manhood?". I told him "nah, man", and then slurred my life story at him by way of explanation.

Here it is.

I was bought up by the best mum ever. A baby boomer grocer's daughter from Invercargill who learnt to speak French, German and Latin. One day she noticed some similarities between ancient Greek and Indian thought. So she sat down and learnt Sanskrit — one of, if not the oldest language in the world. That's how smart she was. I never won an argument with my mum. Neither did Dad. He's a professor and a mega brain. He got his PHD (DPhil) in Neuroscience at Oxford studying the behaviour of neurons at the corner of the cerebral cortex in baboons. But she used to say to him jokingly "medicine was just fancy plumbing". Sadly, my mother dropped dead from a heart condition in her study a few years back. Luckily, the last thing I said to her was: "I love you, mum!"

My big sisters are a couple of capable and caring humans, they're also forceful siblings. Anne-Louise often imposed effeminate horse-related activities on me. While Katharine liked to grab me and dress me as a girl. Once she hit me over the head with a saucepan. Fair enough too. I had let rip into a jar, put the lid back on it, wrote "open me" on the side and left it on the mantelpiece in her room. Amazing how you can bottle that potency. It came out as strong as it went in.

The other day I was out for lunch with my little sister Imogen. She overruled all my wine and food suggestions. I wasn't qualified in her eyes to order. She was right, she knows her grape booze. She can handle it too. She had to help me into the Uber.

So what did this upbringing surrounded by powerful females mean for my masculinity?

I grew up loving cricket and collecting war comics. I organised neighbourhood clod fights. I was completely obsessed with cars and spent much of my time trying to build amateur explosives. At high school, I met a bunch of great mates. We made Back of the Y Masterpiece Television together. The most offensive, violent and manly television show ever to grace the national broadcaster's screens.

Nowadays I'm a breakfast host on the male-orientated Radio Hauraki and the sideline commentator for the wildly successful but almost entirely male-downstairs-focused sports commentary team The ACC ...

By this stage of my life story, my prominent broadcaster mate had completely zoned out. Rightly so. It was a hugely boring, self-saucing yarn. No fun in a bar (or in the paper for that matter). Full of humblebrags too. He left before I could get to the bit about the mother of my children. She had the number one album in the country when I met her. My band was only at number 24 on the charts.

Anyway, the point of my inebriated autobiography was this: My masculinity has never been under threat from powerful females. I enjoyed their company in life and employment. But I worked hard, cut my own path and I reckon I grew up to be a nice guy, great provider and an awesome dad. The old rules work.

Nowadays we have male/female equality at the starting gates. Awesome. After that, in my opinion, it's completely up to the individual. There are no excuses, victim cards or free passes when you're out on the playing field. Equality of opportunity is the goal but enforced equality of outcome isn't fair. That leads to the horrors of 20th-century Russia, China and Germany.

New Zealand will go well if males and females are thought of and rewarded as individuals for their talent, heart and hard work.

Surely my sons can handle that. The message for males in 2018 should be the same as it was when I was a kid. Work your arse off but don't be an a-hole. Do that and your masculinity will be sweet as, whoever is PM.

So 125 years after women got the vote, being a dude is just fine. Of course, when artificial intelligence takes over it won't matter what flavour flesh bag you are. We'll all be useless to them.

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.

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