The Virginity Project has been away sunning itself on a Greek island again and exploring the beautiful graffited ruins of down town Athens.
Whilst it was gone, bad things happened. The Virginity Project has sat down on at least 16 different occasions to write about the so called ‘virgin shootings’ in Isla Vista and beat an uncomfortable retreat each time due to a case of severely conflicting emotions. These events have unleashed a storm of words, discussions, vitriol and verbal scraps. On balance, it’s a positive thing that we’re having these ‘discussions’. These are challenging times and I often wish we could time travel to see what people will write about the relationship between men and women in the early 21st century. Because I think they will say it was tricky. I’ve written about this before. Women have pushed forward so much in the last 50 years that a lot of people no longer recognize their once familiar landscapes and strange as it might sound, I do understand why the noses of some men are out of joint. I don’t like it. But I understand it. Mary Beard wrote something great about this recently if you’d like to read more.
The conflict for me lies in the slightly strange life I lead. Being female…feeling deeply disturbed by what I see happening to my fellow women folk at the hands of men but also having a rare access-all-areas pass into the male mind these last seven years. Men have revealed much to me via this blog. Even in the face to face interviews for my book, men have been more honest and emotionally open than I ever could have imagined. Its enabled me, if not to walk in others shoes, at least to get a taste of what it feels like for a boy. Because you might think that times have changed, that men buy moisturizers and embrace their feminine traits in a way that they once didn’t but that doesn’t mean their lives are less complicated or happier. The notion of what it means to be ‘a man’ is very much in flux. In fact, no phrase was mentioned more in conjunction with the loss-of-virginity-stories I have been told than that of ‘becoming a man’. The two are inextricably linked so you can imagine the stress this can place on men when the v card is dangling painfully out of reach and so-called ‘man hood’ has not been attained.
I began to reference this on a piece I wrote for vice.com recently because I’ve observed that losing virginity is a different type of difficult for a man. I think of it like this. Imagine if a woman wanted to lose her virginity but she wasn’t having any luck. What do you think would happen if she walked into a pub and expressed a wish for a willing volunteer? In all probability, someone would put their hand up. She might not have picked him as her first choice but that’s not the point. Men and women may have totally different criteria when it comes to choosing partners but in the minds of many men, it is always on offer for a woman - in a way that it isn’t for a man.
Women are largely in control of when virginity gets lost (except for when they are forced into it. I’ve got some of those stories too) and that’s the way the evolutionary cookie crumbles. 99.9% of men get this. They hope for the best and wait it out if need be. If it gets really bad, the brave seek therapy and occasionally they reach out to someone like me. I take it as a good sign that they value themselves enough to do so and encourage them to keep talking. In seven years of emails, a very small handful of men have demonstrated scary levels of entitlement and anger towards the opposite sex because they’ve not yet deigned to have sex with them.
Modern pornography doesn’t always help. To clarify, as per Cindy Gallop, I am not anti porn but I am pro knowing the difference between pornography and real life. Oh the irony! That so much modern pornography depicts such man-made ideals of what a woman is and what she ‘wants’. Because as it turns out, most women don’t want to be fucked with no preamble whatsoever whilst having their hair pulled and their vagina’s spat on. Its not difficult to see why young men can get totally the wrong idea about the opposite sex when they watch porn that depicts women as voiceless vessels to masturbate into. It must be easy to get a woman into bed right? Sometimes yes, depending on how a woman feels. A lot of times, no. We want our minds to be engaged before we share our bodies and if you can make us laugh, and I‘m talking a good old fashioned belly laugh, the kind that cannot be faked under any circumstances, we don’t care what you look like, you’re half way there. This is the real stuff. This is the engagement between two people that will lead to a sexual encounter that both parties will get something out of and it is never something that is given because the male half of the party is ‘entitled’ to it. Or as someone understated so beautifully on the Guardian comments section recently, ‘women are not social workers’.
We are at sixes and sevens with each other. For this reason, this Facebook status made my heart sing. Danielle Miller runs the Enlighten Education program for young women in Australia. The first time I encountered her work I knew, based on the emails I receive from blokes, that a male version could be a showstopper. And so it goes:
‘A year ago, due to the pleading from my clients, I designed a program for boys called ‘Myth Busting’ that debunks myths around young men. I called on the expertise of Nina Funnell to help (especially around how we can make boys aware of the powerful role they can have in helping eliminate violence against women). Although I delivered this to rave reviews with hundreds of young men, I knew that I didn't want to be the one presenting this long-term. It needed a male to really drive it home; boys need strong, positive male role models. Enter Goodfellased.com and today Myth Busting hit 250 16 year old Western Sydney boys.
Wow. The school said they have never seen or experienced anything like it. The boys not only were completely engaged the entire time, they willingly completed their evaluations and wrote reams (there goes the myth that boys don't like communicating/won't write). 100% of boys said they'd highly recommend it. 98% of boys rated it as either Very Good or Excellent.
I actually cried reading some of the heart-felt things boys had to say about what the session meant to them. And you know what? The BIG, SERIOUS, CONFRONTING lessons (e.g: around what to do when they witness violence/sexism, how to respond when a female friend may disclose etc) were the things they raved about loving the most. I couldn't be prouder or more thrilled. This is going to be a game changer.’
I concur with all of this. As I left Athens a couple of weeks ago to go down to the islands, I passed by Monistiraki and came upon a gang of men and boys street dancing together outside the station with a boom box and loads of scratchy beats. I was hurrying to meet someone but before I knew it, I was sitting cross-legged on the sun heated paving slabs, transfixed and gladly putting money into the hat they handed around at the end. What got me, what actually made a tear dribble down my cheek at the end wasn’t just the skill but the raw vulnerable expression of their performances. It was so pretty and edgy and powerful all at the same time and it made me wish that all men could find something as joyful and as physically exhilarating that made their hearts sing in the way it clearly did for this bunch of men and everyone who had stopped to watch and love what they were doing.
Dancing may not save the world but it could be a start. In the meantime – and in celebration of Men’s Health Week - lets try and understand something about each other’s interior worlds and have patience with each other’s learning curves. I often think of Cindy Gallop who befriended one of her trolls by mailing him and trying to get to the heart of what was really bothering him. Turns out he was a virgin, and really unhappy about it. They became digital friends and when he eventually lost his virginity, she was the first person he wrote to to inform her of this momentous event. I’m not suggesting we befriend our trolls but just to consider the facts. The weapon that women have always had is their ability to communicate and express the way that they feel. Not all of us are great at it but as a broad evolutionary brush stroke, it is something that sits more comfortably with women than it does with men. It’s a skill that men need to hone, and they need every encouragement to do so. Men, in return, back us up when you get the chance, call out bad behavior when you see it amongst your friends and try not to start sentences with ‘yeah but…’ when we tell you about the things we see happening around us that really hurt because without wanting to sound like a big hippie, the best and only way forward is together.
Finally, can I take this opportunity to assure you, because my feeling is that a lot of male hostility is driven by a subconscious fear that men are becoming surplus to female requirements; that this will never happen? You bring something special to the party and I’m not just talking about your population-increasing DNA. We like you for you. We like your awkward man dancing. We like the bit behind your ears, floating down towards your neck that smells so delightfully and sexily like you. We can’t get enough of your insane desire to find the ‘perfect’ espresso (what was wrong with the cup we had at, oh never mind…) and your need to dress in full Bradley Wiggins kit for a mere bike ride to work. We mostly think you are the cat’s pajamas and this is set to change on The 10th of Never.