I’ve long been a fan of the writing of Hemingway.
A complex, controversial man who had such a deceptively simple style.
He would have loathed the current age because, in many regards, he may be considered to represent what certain factions have, with some success, managed to label “toxic masculinity”.
This movement started in the 50s, continued in the 60s and 70s when Germaine Greer famously humiliated Norman Mailer, another writer of “machismo” and has found fresh voice and plumbed new depths in the social media age in which, by some ironic twist of fate, Greer herself has now become a target, thereby exposing the fanatics for what they are.
You can dig out reams written on the topic, but in essence the term “toxic” refers to the characteristics of men that stem from the added dose of testosterone that comes with the gene package. It’s a catch-all pejorative to describe all acts of aggression and dominance attributed to testosterone, implying that they are throwback qualities of a pre-evolved state and have resulted in the wars and atrocities that befall society.
Of course, this entirely one-eyed narrative neglects to recognise that the same attributes blamed for the woes of the world could also, if properly focused, be credited for many if not most of the world’s advances, developments and achievements in most spheres of life from engineering through to the arts and that the style of the attacks are, in themselves, examples of intolerant toxicity.
But that’s another debate for another day.
The book from which the headline is taken, is a book about bullfighting.
Hemingway spent his life obsessed with masculine pursuits of the hunting, shooting, fishing and hard drinking varieties and was fascinated by the characters he encountered along the way.
But he was also famously a depressive as a consequence, extremely self critical and took his own life.
Traveling on the train last week, a poster caught my attention. It was one of many now appearing, sponsored by the Samaritans, a suicide prevention campaign clearly aimed at men.
Then, hauntingly, as I was reading, news came over the PA of someone who had thrown themselves in front of a train.
A death in the afternoon.
For the rest of my journey, I couldn’t get two images out of my mind….the iconic cover of Hemingway’s book about bull fighters. And that poster of the man standing alone in the shadows.
See, if you read tales of bullfighting written back in the day, the bulls are often described as monsters, savage beasts to be bested by the courage of the meek, even effete matador with nothing but dexterity and guile to protect him from the raw aggression and power of the mighty animal.
It suddenly became clear to me that this is exactly the toxic narrative we are being fed about masculinity now.
This repeated aggressor/plucky hero narrative makes it so easy for naive third parties to enable the immoral, vindictive and the maliciously intelligent seeking to use children as weapons to separate their partners from their assets and subsume their lives. But not by matching muscle with force, but by goading, hobbling and then using guile to abuse and then exploit them while fooling onlookers into believing that the one butchering the dumb animal in stages is in fact the victim.
No surprise that modern parents are confused at times. The world has changed so fast that following the example set by our parents and grandparents is very, very difficult.
Both genders are so often called upon to be strong AND sensitive, thrusting AND forceful yet accommodating AND compassionate. We can’t just choose a camp and remain in it like our forebears largely did. We are simultaneously expected to be providers and carers, warriors and nurses and it’s bloody difficult, especially while the previous generation have set a different example but criticise us for our choices.
Post-war fathers still expect sons to behave like the bull and treated them that way. Our mothers are probably more aligned to the matador.
Yet frankly, we’re opposed to blood sports altogether.
So what is the true state of modern parenting?
Well, we’re expected to believe that perfection abounds if we believe social media. But if you happen to be one of the unlucky millions separating from someone who either complies with these toxic stereotypes, is advised by people who do or you are being assessed and judged by them, then the resident parents will be portrayed as the poor little person waving the cape and the “other” as the raging bull. Lest we forget, hwoever, in bullfights the matador has an army of helpers who hobble and cripple the poor “toxic” beast fighting for its life before and during the “battle from whence few bulls emerge alive. The bull has only its stamina and instincts.
Perhaps there is some hope, however, implied in the narrative behind the narrative?
Hemingway’s book is actually a very intimate portrayal of the matadors who, as you follow their stories, turn out to be tragic figures. Despite the fancy clothing and headlines, even the very best only enjoy brief glories but then fade into obscurity, with very few exceptions.
Most importantly, people are now starting to see these blood sports for what they are; cruel exploitation.
Sympathy has now turned to favour the poor, tortured animals and there is scant respect for their sadistic tormentors.
I have little doubt that, eventually, the deliberate alienation of one parent by the passive aggressive parent, deflecting attention away from their sadism with flashy “due process” and an army of lawyers on horseback like fee-chasing picadors and toreadors, will come to be viewed by society as the cruel and selfish blood sport it is. But society has some way to go to look beyond the gaudy cape of excuses and the trappings of moral indignation that somehow justify the abuse.
PA is not society’s salve to soothe the wounds of toxic parenting or masculinity or authority as the sneak-thieves will have us believe.
Parental alienation IS toxic parenting.
Passive aggression, of the matador variety, may not be as apparent as the outright aggression of the bull. But it burns deeper and longer and it is arguably even more destructive to children and society at large.
If the practice of parent alienation is allowed to continue unchecked, sponsored and cheered on by baying fiesta crowds of enablers, there will be many more tragedies.
But which death in the afternoon will it take for people to finally say “enough is enough”?
Your brother’s? Your father’s? Your best friend’s? Your girlfriend’s?