The cruel and the brutal; the brave and the kind

A very clever and articulate friend with a very gentle heart wrote a interesting fb post about alternative approaches to the state regulation of drugs. He wrote:

The US initiated War on Drugs was designed to criminalise the black and the brown and the poor. …It also militarised police forces, turning them in to the occupiers of poor neighbourhoods and probably now the not so poor too. We see that in the plague of police killings across the US and the cancerous gun culture that sustains it. It also promoted the worst forms of masculinity, the cruel and the brutal.

That last sentence really moved me: it “promoted the worst forms of masculinity, the cruel and the brutal.” I think a lot about masculinity and men, particularly lately as I’m writing and thinking about women’s safety at dance events. We talk a lot about how to ‘keep women safe’, when I think we should be thinking about men. I get so angry, feel so frustrated, I find it difficult to by sympathetic to men, to whom patriarchy is just as unkind.

In this post, my friend was writing about the relationship between national schemes to criminalise drug use and users, and the way it recruited white men and objectified black men. The way it asked white men to become brutal and violent, and pushed black men to violence. It all seems too relevant today, when American police kill so many black men ‘for looking bad’, and Australia police leave black men to die in the back of police cars or in prison cells. Men are forced to be so brutal, to women, and to each other.

I was struck by this sentence in this post, because this friend is a long time queer activist, practicing catholic, and profoundly spiritual person. He was one of the very best tutors I ever had at uni during my BA, and is one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met. He has worked in various community health projects, volunteering with the very ill, the very poor, the very needy. He was an inspiring force to be around when I was 19 and living in backwards Brisbane in the 80s and 90s. I learnt so much from his radical politics and truly kind, generous heart. His bravery, as an openly gay man in Brisbane at that time, was inspiring. His example continues to teach me to speak out, stand up, and give a shit, no matter what the risk.

Anyhoo, I wrote this comment on his post:

I teach dance, partner dance, and see a lot of men come to classes, struggling to express any emotion that isn’t a rough sort of humour. Our classes are very gentle. We have two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner, and an implied third rule: take care of yourself. So the only time we step in and give very clear direction is when we see someone being rough with a partner, or stepping on someone.

And when we ask them to ‘find the groove’ in the music, and put it in their bellies, I see men, particularly middle aged men, struggle to find and then plant in their belly something in the music that brings them joy. These men are always looking for other rules or other things to do in class: where to put their feet, how to move their arms, when to start dancing. We usually say ‘put your feet wherever they need to be to get you to your destination’, or ‘let your arms relax, and hold your partner in your arms’, and ‘start when you feel ready’.

These men can’t just relax and enjoy holding someone in their arms, enjoying music together. It makes me so sad that it takes them so long to relax enough to feel safe just moving their bodies in a way that isn’t linked to violence or aggression. But when we do find men who stick with it, and enjoy dancing and treating women and other men with respect, it’s such a joy. They just light up inside. I think that it makes them so happy to see their bodies as a source of happiness and kindness, and find a place where being gentle man is valued so highly.

I do enjoy following you on fb.

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