Of Slugs And Snails And Puppy Dogs’ Tails

Of Slugs And Snails And Puppy Dogs’ Tails

A disturbing report that I came across recently, indicated that a survey had found that 20 percent of young men don’t consider life to be worth living. http://www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/news/news/2013/07/24/young-and-well-crc-survey-finds-20-of-young-men-think-life-s-not-worth-living

Like so many of these surveys, the terms of reference and other details were either not stated or remained unclear so perhaps there’s a danger if misinterpreting the information. For example, it apparently isn’t a study of young people … just young men. So we are left in the dark about how young women might be viewing life. The fact that this survey is gender based throws up a major concern of mine ….. and a pet hate as well.

If there’s any truth to the claim that so many young males feel so negatively about life, its a shocking indictment upon us as a society. If it was a finding that 20% of all young people felt that way, it would still be cause for equal concern and perhaps reflect similarly upon society as a whole. But its not. This is just about the boys.

I don’t want to jump to wrong conclusions about what this survey suggests. Lets face it, there are plenty of reasons for a young person to feel that the game might not be worth the candle. For starters, life is, in some ways, less certain than in former times. Not so long ago, a young man learned a trade or studied a profession and then went forth into the world … armed with skills that would see him right through life. If he was a tradesman, he’d probably remain one, all his working life. A professional would probably remain in his chosen field and it was OK if you were an unskilled person and stayed that way. The world had need of you too. People took a job with an employer and, if their work performance was acceptable, they’d probably remain with that same employer for as long as the company’s fortunes held.

Private life too, was more structured and less changeable than today. Most people grew up in a nuclear family, courted, found a partner who’s upbringing complimented their own, got married, had kids and, if they were fortunate, were able to own a home and perhaps even a motor car. People within a nuclear family structure took on roles that complemented each other. It was OK for a husband to be a bread winner and for a wife to be a home maker. People’s expectations were perhaps more modest than today but, within the social structure of the day, it was possible for a person to have a sense of place and a sense of belonging within a family unit.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that things were necessarily better in days gone by. There were certainly negative aspects to living in such a structured society. The stereotyping of roles, for example imposed horrendous limitations upon individuals and the pressure to comply with social norms was far greater than it is today. Many women found themselves condemned to the home maker existence, regardless of the talents and skills that they might have offered a more progressive world. And men were condemned to a lifetime of clock-punching compliance, fulfilling society’s expectation that they would be a provider and protector of the ‘little wife’ and the kids.

Non compliance with social norms was vigorously opposed. Divorce was almost unthinkable and anyone who strayed from the confines of the marital relationship were shunned and ostracised …. the details of people’s most private lives were routinely reported in the newspaper as public entertainment, if they had the misfortune to find themselves in the divorce court. People of alternative sexual persuasion found no acceptance and understanding within society. It isn’t so long ago that ‘poofter bashing’, physical beating of homosexual people was considered a socially admirable sport amongst young males. Many people lived out a cheerless and loveless existence when they discovered that their choice of life partner was a poor one or where two people in a relationship simply fell out of love. Many people lacked the strength or the courage to walk away from a bad relationship. Women in particular, were often trapped in awful domestic situations, by a society that offered them nothing but alienation, should they dare to want for a better existence. The anguish and frustration of loveless entrapment frequently bubbled up as family violence. When I was a small boy, society was riddled with prejudices of all kinds. I recall that Catholics and Protestants had virtually nothing to do with each other socially and I remember when New Australians, people who have made incalculable contributions to the wealth and diversity of our modern nation and its culture, were scorned and outcast as lesser beings.

Politically, life when I was a child was just plain scary. The United States and the Soviet Union were full-on engaged in the Cold War. We were constantly assailed by news broadcasts of every bit of posturing and threatening that either side engaged in. And occasionally, Communist China would throw their hat into the ring for good measure. We were left in no doubt whatever that the entire world, as we knew it, could cease to exist at any time. Both sides had more than enough nuclear weapons to obliterate the entire planet, several times over. And that awful uncertainty went on for years.

The environmental movement came into its own when I was a child and they too were relentless in their predictions of imminent global catastrophe, due to the unsustainable activities of mankind, who’s greed and avarice was boundless. I recall for example. Reading an article that predicted having the entire planet buried under a layer of waste plastic 2 metres deep, unless the production of the evil stuff was totally banned. I remember as a young man in the seventies, we were told that the entire planet’s supply of gasoline would be exhausted within a very few years and that life as we knew it would disappear along with the petrol. At the same time, we were facing an imminent disaster with the arrival of a new ice age! Planetary survival was considered very doubtful. As fanciful as these things might seem today, they were very real indeed, at the time. And make no mistake, there was an endless line of academics and ‘experts’, all lining up for their moment of fame as they made their little contributions and added extra credibility to the predictions of certain doom.

Our parents and grand parents had lived through not one, but two global conflicts; had lost friends and loved ones and had lived through years of anxiety, expecting that the lifestyle that they believed in or life itself would be extinguished by hoards of invading barbarians. After years of unending insecurity and the ongoing threats of imminent doom through nuclear war, climate change or global pollution, perhaps its understandable that they tended to live within clear boundaries and to not challenge the status quo, even in the face of what , to them, might have seemed like relatively minor deficiencies and injustices.

About the time that I was becoming aware of my own existence, the feminist movement seemed to come into prominence. Their was a growing groundswell that challenged the previous order and demanded a new one. They were unflagging in their ever increasing complaints about a world where (in their eyes) women had somehow been the unwitting victims of men; had been exploited, abused and held down. The feminist attitude towards men seemed to increase in venom and in volume as the years rolled by. Not surprisingly, the feminist women at the forefront of this movement were those who were prominent in society and included a great many school teachers ….. who had direct access to the malleable minds of the young and tender. We were taught early, that men were all bastards, that women were (at least!) equal to men in most respects and better than them in the rest. We saw programs … lots of programs … designed to meet the special needs of a downtrodden womankind, to balance up the terrible injustices perpetrated against them by evil malekind. We even saw the imposition of so-called ‘affirmative action’ programs, discrimination with a halo, aimed at ensuring that females received preferential treatment in job placements. And the unceasing mantra, the unending dirge to which the minds of every male was subject … was that men are bastards ….. and womankind wasn’t taking any more of their crap!

At the same time, many previous ‘norms’ within society were being vigorously challenged. The nuclear family was under attack and society was developing a far more laid back attitude towards many of the previously unassailable institutions. Divorce lost its social stigma, couples who simply chose to live together could do so without sanction. Racial intolerance began to dissipate and old as well as new Australians achieved an integration that saw the enrichment of both groups. It introduced cultural and culinary diversity and made us all better off for its colour and variety. Catholics and Protestants began to marry each other and we have even learned to show some understanding and tolerance towards same sex couples.

Society, it seems is on a journey and we have come quite a long way in a relatively short time …. my lifetime, in fact! Much of the change has been good; even wonderful. We’ve seen political borders torn down, international cooperation and tolerance spreading, a new maturity developing towards our planet and its fragile environment, and best of all, we are more accepting (at least in my part of the world) of the social differences between individuals. We are learning, little by little, to rejoice in the differences and to celebrate one another’s uniqueness.

Materially, we have never had it so good and economically (again, in my part of the world) people enjoy a level of affluence and material security that was hitherto undreamed of. Life is good!

But while, in many respects, we seem to have come a long way fast, it seems to me that in others, we have lost our way. We’ve been so busy breaking down the barriers and erasing the boundaries, that we have spent little time in establishing new ones. I think the people in today’s world are confused. The norms and the roles that they relied upon yesterday, to provide anchor points to their lives, have been removed. And the way forward is no longer clear. Both men and women are struggling to find their place within this new social order. What is a male’s role today? What is that of a modern woman?

Despite the fact that we are materially better off than at any previous time in history; despite the fact that individuals are enjoying greater personal freedoms than at any previous time; despite the fact that we have cast off so many shackles of prejudice and intolerance ……. we hear that anxiety and depression are the new epidemic within our society.

Some men find themselves torn between seeking acceptance by fellow males in a traditional, male, bread-winner kind of a role … and that of a sensitive New Age guy who is in touch with his feminine side. Once, he was expected to shield his family from the rigours of daily existence, to shoulder the burdens and provide for their needs. Now he is expected to be all of that, but also a super-dad, washing the kids and helping get dinner and reading stories at day’s end.

Some ladies find that they simply WANT to engage in a home-making role. They’d love to stay at home and look after the family full time. But the expectations of society (and especially, it seems to me, of feminism) would demand that she dumps her children in day care, hussle off to a money grubbing job, and take her rightful place as a co-bread-winner. She too is expected to rush home at the end of her working day and become a super-Mum ….. helping to get dinner, washing kids and reading stories!

The irony that I see is that modern feminism is about as tolerant and open minded ….. as was the male dominated world that they sought to destroy. I think that if modern feminism had its way there would be no tolerance of heterosexual relationships. It already seems that genuine affection by any lady towards a man is rather letting the side down …and admitting to being content within a traditional home making role is tantamount to treason!

We have indeed seen lots of change and I reckon much of it is very good. But I think that until we can mature enough to abolish stereotyping altogether; until we have grown enough to allow every person to simply follow their own heart, we will never be free. The feminist movement will simply replace maledom as the dominating tyrant of society in general and of modern woman in particular.

I have had a lifetime of listening to the endless complaints about my sex. How we are all insensitive, self seeking, arrogant and despicable. And womankind has, at the same time, been held up as the epitomy of all that is good and decent in the world … and the only hope for a civilised future. I was actually taught to feel inadequate as a male.

Coming back to that survey, where so many young males no longer consider life to be worth living, it seems a shocking condemnation of our society, that we could have emotionally mistreated an entire segment of our society. I suspect though, that the survey itself, like almost everything else within our social development, is fundamentally flawed. It is gender based and takes no account whatever of how young women within our society are feeling about life. Watching my own children struggling with the demands of modern life as young adults, I can’t see that either the girls or the boys are having an easy time of it. They are all doing well enough materially. But they are all living with a gnawing, ongoing uncertainty about what they are supposed to be doing and who they are supposed to become. At least one of my daughters would rather simply remain at home and care for her beautiful children. Having watched one of my sons caring for his little ones in ways that make me feel quite inadequate, I can’t help thinking that in a perfect world, maybe his kids would be better off if their Dad was a home maker, full time.

One thing that I sincerely believe though is that feminism has gone beyond doing good for our society. Its endless attacks upon relationships and its endless questioning of male/female roles within our society are no longer helpful to the young. I fear that our young people of both sexes are finding it difficult to chart a course through the social ooze that this brave new order has produced. And until we can make the next quantum leap … to a world where Chauvanism, feminism and SEXISM are seen equally as the social cancers that they are, I see little hope for the happiness of our young people.

They have more materially than ever before. They enjoy greater political stability than at any time in the past century. They have more leisure time than ever before and more labour saving devices and entertainments than ever before. They have greater freedom of choice than ever.  But anxiety and depression are the new epidemic? As my American friends so like to say “Go figure”.


Andrew Caddle 20130822



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