Research – Men and domestic violence: interview R

Recorded at Fitzroy, 28 Mar 95.

Background: R. is a professional middle-class male in his early fifties. I’d first met him at a men’s writing group some six months earlier. He was a single father, the custodial parent of three (now-adult) children, after his first marriage broke up some fifteen years earlier; as the interview starts he is describing the context of his second marriage.

T: You said she was going around with a knife, she was chasing you around the house with a knife … And you said she jumped on you on the couch…

R: Oh, I’d be lying there on the couch and for some reason or another she’d decide I’d done something wrong. So she’d, er, she’d walk over towards me and I’d look up and then she’d sort of… you know… start punching me, you know… “Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you… behave like a man, why don’t you fight back, why don’t you…” – you know, it was this taunting. And I’d sort of lie there quietly and then I’d try and turn over, you know, away from her, and she’d continue on with it.

T: //??//

R: Yes, I’d try and turn away and she’d go on with this, and I’d get up and try to go to another room, and she’d follow me. And still this, this sort of taunting, which was the worst part of it: “Fight back! Be a man!” – that sort of stuff. And then I’d leave, I’d go out, I’d leave home. But the trouble was, if the kids were at home, I couldn’t go far. I’d sort of stay in the garden or sit up on the roof or something like that.

T: Why couldn’t you //..// home?

R: Well, they were my… you know… in a sense I was responsible for the kids.

T: Were you afraid that she’d do something to them?

R: Oh, the kids’ld all be hiding, yeah. So I was torn, if you like, between my own safety, my own emotional whatsisname, and sort of trying to stand between them and her. I don’t… she really never went after them, in the same way as she went after me.

T: Did she go after them as a way of getting at you?

R: No, she never really went after them in that sense, the same sort of way. I mean, they weren’t her children anyway. No… so it would just be that the kids would disappear from the house, and I must admit I really don’t know what happened, what would have happened if I wasn’t in the house. And that’s why I’d have to hang around, I’d go back and, like, be in there again. And it would start all over again. The only time I could really get away was to walk out once the kids were asleep, and that’s why, as I just said to you before, I’d sort of finish up walking the streets around the neighbourhood, and a couple of nights I finished up, you know, one night I finished up walking as far as Carlton [about 10kms away], and the cops would… well, that wasn’t the first time, the cops picked me up for walking the streets, they picked me up and they took me to a restaurant and I bought myself a cup of coffee, and that was about five in the morning.

T: //??//

R: The whole… we’d come back together, and we were together for about twelve months, we’d had a separation of about three years, and for some peculiar reason, I don’t quite understand how, she came back into my life, she rang up one day and said she’d like to see me again, and we go back together again. And then she moved back into the house. And I really don’t, I really don’t know now why in the hell I ever let her back in again. It’s just, I mean I, it’s, Christ almighty, so utterly bizarre and stupid [of me]. But I did.

T: Something else that we talked about before, you said she was chasing you or taunting you with a knife.

R: Yeah, well, I can still visually remember one sort of a thing, we’ve got a sort of bench in the kitchen, and a fairly low-hanging cupboard above it, and I think I was making a cup of coffee or toast or something like that, and she was on the other side. And, um… she’d be, like, leaning across from one side and sort of flashing this knife around, you know? And… I was… I could never figure out whether she was really… really just trying to scare the shit out of me – I mean, I was as scared as hell – or whether she was just trying to escalate the whole thing into some next level, I dunno… but I can still visualise this knife flashing around in front of me, like, I had to sort of jump back from it…

T: What was she saying [at this time]?

R: What would be… I mean, the sort of behaviour that I can remember was this constant, constant taunting, I mean, that’s the thing that really stands…

T: //??//

R: Yeah, “Be a man, fight back, what’s the matter with you, why don’t you do this?” – that sort of thing. It was as though she wanted me to behave in a particular way, and I couldn’t. And as a result of that she would… she would do all sorts of things to try and get me to behave in what she would I suppose describe as a masculine sort of way. So she would, if we went out she would flirt with somebody, for example, so that I would then be jealous, supposedly jealous… because as far as I was concerned, you know, if she wanted to behave that way, she was an adult person, she could behave that way. And because I wasn’t jealous then she would get furious with me for not being jealous, you know, “You don’t love me!” and all that sort of thing. There’d be times, for example, where she would go out, and wouldn’t come home until like, sort of, two o’clock in the morning. And she’d come home and I’d say, “I’m sorry, but I’m worried, you know, where’ve you been? Are you okay?” and she’d say “Why don’t” – you know – “why don’t you belt me?” And I said, you know, “Why should I belt you!? I’m just worried about you!” And she did this for some time after, you know, in order to … I dunno… I’ve got to…

T: Did she have a concept, then, of a ‘proper’ male behaviour?

R: I sometimes thought that, yes, I sometimes felt that. Yeah, I think she had a lot of trouble understanding that I wasn’t, in her terms, what she defined as ‘masculine’. And she tried all sorts of tricks to try to get me to behave in that particular way. And if I did, then she would immediately turn round and accuse me of doing exactly what she had forced me to do.

T: What she’d totally demanded of you.

R: Yeah! And I quickly learned that that was not very productive, so I didn’t do it! I’d sort of tried of behave like myself. And as this thing got worse and worse and worse, I mean I just became less and less of a human being, I just, I mean, I withdrew from everything.

T: This ended about ten years ago?

R: Er… yes… about ’85, or ’86 I think.

T: Would you have considered yourself as having recovered?

R: No… [wry laugh] I mean, that’s why I’m here…! I mean, the next thing, she then carried on with that same sort of thing, the court, the Family Court and stuff. And yeah, I started writing about it in about ’87, ’88, and most of my interactions with, most of the women I suppose of my age have tended very often to fall into that same sort of pattern. And yeah, I mean I’ve become utterly determined to remain celibate… I mean no way am I ever going to allow myself ever to get into that sort of circumstance, where because I happen to have sex with a person, I can then be essentially destroyed for months, years of my life. No way! I mean, people say, well it’s a bit odd and all the rest of it, but I mean I’ve been done over in the courts twice… I mean I haven’t told you what used to go on in bed, I mean I got knocked around by a woman, and she got off scot-free and I had to pay her for my rape through the courts I suppose. And I look around at what goes on every day on television and the books and the magazines and everywhere else, and I’m just saying to myself, “Well, stuff this!” I’d rather be alone! You know, and enjoy my children’s company. But I’m not going to put up with this sort of nonsense any more.

And I trusted, in a sense I trusted both of these women… my first wife was unfaithful on more than one occasion, I don’t know whether my second wife was or not, but she abused the shit out of me… how in the hell can I trust? And I read in the newspapers every day that women say there’s, you know… that they’re the ones that are getting abused! You know, how can I trust that a woman would never do that to me again?

I can’t… I chat around with, with some of the men that I know, who have each in a way have been through the same sort of thing, and they’re pretty upset by the whole thing. That’s why, you see, I’m scared to death… absolutely bloody scared //for it//.

I suppose, I’ve, I, as I say, the few last weeks [before the interview] were… trying to get some sleep or something… Ah, it’s all this nonsense about Germaine Greer [stating that she’d been raped in her late adolescence], that women should ‘out’ men and whatever, and the justification and all that sort of stuff… and this feminist neighbour of my daughter’s who told him [the woman’s husband] goodbye as well… and it just brought it all back again.

T: //??//

R: Well, I hardly know the man. I mean, they’re neighbours of my daughter. And my daughter rang me a week ago absolutely distraught on Monday night, late Monday night, absolutely distraught because this bloke was crying upstairs, in the flat upstairs, and she just wanted [him?] to talk to somebody. So I just went over there, and //to chat in the hall//. And this poor guy, he’s been, he left… she left the house two days before, sent her husband an abusive, horrible letter, saying she didn’t want to live with him…

[interrupted by telephone call]

T: Let’s go back to that one again that you just said. You’d just said it [the issues] wouldn’t go to bed.

R: You know, I mean, I’ve gone through a whole load of stuff, been to counselling and God knows what else, and I just think to myself, well, I’m just beginning to come to terms with it… but, you know, it just won’t go to bed! Sort of like, I stopped reading the newspapers for a while and I stopped watching television, and I turn the bloody television on and then I buy a few newspapers, and I all I see about is women being abused by men! Or violence, you know, violence against women, and rape, and all the rest of it. Always against women! And I just feel as though… there’s nothing… in a sense there’s no way I can recover… if you like, I dunno, my faith in women, my self-esteem… No, I’ve got my own self-esteem, I’ve decided that I’m, that in a sense I’m gender-less and that I’m not going to get involved in that sort of scene, so I’ve sort of reached a sort of plateau. You know? But… it’s an uncomfortable sort of plateau, I’m not comfortable in the fact that I need to protect myself from, from the world. I go to work, and I have, I do, I do other… but somehow or other I have to protect myself from this incessant nonsense all the time. And the only way I can do that is either to not read newspapers and not watch television, or whatever – I dunno, I mean, I’ve I just don’t see a way out of this never-ending circle. And it’s getting worse! It is getting worse. I mean, I’ve spoken to a few, to a very few people about this, and they, sort of, like, laugh… except a few blokes that I know.

T: Do they laugh at you, or…?

R: They just think it’s ridiculous.

T: Do they think you’re lying?

R: No… I dunno… I feel as though it’s ridicule, you know, this bloody wimp, you don’t know what you’re talking about… you know, when I started talking about it, people said “You take things too seriously”… and yeah, I suppose I do take it seriously, I take it seriously when somebody goes around and accuses me of something, when in fact I’ve… the only affirmation of this sort of thing that I get is from a very few number of men that I know. And I don’t particularly want to tell my children about it… In fact I really don’t want to talk to my children about it, not so much because I want to, I don’t want to hide myself from them, but I don’t want to burden them with my despair and my anger, is more to the point. And I… I just cannot see a way through, I really just can’t see any way further.

T: //??// [question on counselling]

R: Yeah, well, maybe, I’ve sort of done that loop sort of with counselling… soon after she left I had a few sessions with a psychiatrist, and the end-result was, well, yeah, I felt much more comfortable and at ease with the whole thing, I wasn’t walking around shaking most of the time…

T: Which you had been?

R: Ah, yeah… I’d be frightened to go to the supermarket…

T: It was that bad?

R: Ah, yeah.

T: For how long?

R: Oh, yeah, about a couple of years, one or two years.

T: //??//

R: Oh, yeah, I used to find it difficult to leave the house.

T: How did you get to work in this time?

R: I didn’t, I was unemployed. I was on a pension… And… er… I’d lost or given up my career or job… essentially round about the time she moved in the first time. I never actually put two and two together at the time, but yeah, it coincided with that.

T: So your own career got abandoned for her? to support her?

R: Ah… no… it was more to do… with… I mean, I was having enough trouble in my own professional circles anyway, because of… I know it sounds silly, but because of what I would describe now as feminist accusations of my so-called ‘powerful position and uncaring nature’… and I was also very much involved at the time with ethical issues of euthanasia and things like that. And wherever I turned, I found myself being boxed in as a ‘powerful, uncaring, rich individual’… and…

T: What was the reason for this? the fact of being male?

R: Well, yeah, I was obviously a male, and I happened to be in a particular profession, and supposedly – as in reality I wasn’t – and because I was in that profession, then my opinions and sensitivities towards people who were //..//, say, euthanasia were, because they were dying, were actually dismissed! I mean, you know, I was dealing with death, you know, death and dying every day of the week. There was no counselling for me, because I was a medical person, but there was always counselling for the nurses, community support for the nurses, but for the doctors, well, you know, “they’re just rich and horrible, and they can go to hell”! Unless… And on top of that I was, you know, I’d get woken up I don’t know how many times every night, and eventually I just fell to pieces.

T: Reaching professional burnout.

R: Yeah… and K. [wife’s name] – well, I shouldn’t be mentioning any names – but if she ever knew I was on duty, which was essentially all the time, she didn’t want to sleep in the same room as me. So we used to sleep separately most of the time, simply because she didn’t want to get woken up in the middle of the night. And in order, I mean, I sort of, in order to preserve that, and lots of other things all together, I just gave it all away. And then we split up, and then I did part-time work for a while.

T: And you’re still supporting your children and the household.

R: And I was still paying out to my first wife as well, my debt from that one… and in the end I, it was getting harder and harder to figure out why in hell I was doing all of this. Anyway, when K. came back that was the end of it really, I just went downhill so fast it wasn’t funny. [long pause] I mean I’d lost all faith in myself as a human being… I felt guilty for living on this planet, //..// would turn around, some feminists would turn around and say it’s all men’s fault. So the only… only… support-structure that I had around the place was with my children. I mean, my parents were… my mother’s very aggressive and guilt-provoking, my elder sister’s the same, a very domineering sort of woman, controlling sort of person… she was writing feminist plays and she was sending these plays to me to read and comment on… and so it was only really once K. left the second time, and I finished up going to the psychiatrist regularly, that I started to climb out of that terrible guilt. And it was then that I started formulating my so-called ‘theories’, I suppose, of the various ‘domains’, that you’ve read about, the… what I now call the cruel myth of gender difference, which I think is very cruel, for both sides. And from then on, I mean, I’ve been re-employed, but in a bit of a different area, //..//, you know, as a sort of junior technician, and I’ve gradually worked my way up from there. And now I’m at a point where I suppose I’m comfortable being on my own, but at the same time determined to stay celibate. And unless something dramatic happens – and I can’t see that happening, it’s been like this now for ten years – I am determined to never to let myself get into that same hole again. But it’s an uncomfortable way to live.

T: //??// [question about isolation]

R: Sometimes… but… No – I mean I’ve found in the last, what, twelve or eighteen months a bunch of about three or four blokes that I could really trust. And I definitely don’t feel isolated from my children, I enjoy their company… I enjoy their friends… I enjoy my sister’s company, we chat and we… in fact the interesting thing is that both my sister and I have in a funny sort of way the same sort of problem. My sister is, you know, sort of twenty years younger than I am and she, she has the same feelings and the same problems as I do. She’s also grappling with exactly the same sort of…

T: Has she had the same problems with men as you’ve had with women?

R: No, I don’t think… no, I don’t think she’s ever been… no, her complaint, if you could call it that, is that she’s finding it very difficult to… I suppose in her words, ‘to find a relationship with a masculine man’ – except that I don’t know that she knows what that means. And I think, although I love her very much, that she’s looking for something that doesn’t exist, because she grew up in very much of a feminist ascendancy, and I think she has a particular view of masculinity, and yet she would find it very difficult to see herself as forming a partnership with somebody, as opposed to a sexual relationship.

T: Sounds like she can’t trust. You can’t form a partnership without trust, but you can form a sexual relationship without trust.

R: Yes. So I’d don’t think she quite understands what the partnership would be all about. And I think a lot of the blokes are in the same boat. And that’s why, there’s… it’s difficult for men and women to get together these days, because they don’t really know what a partnership is. And I think I know – I’ve written about it! – where each, both male and female, can recognise that each of them has talents in what I now describe as the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ spheres…

T: The ‘domains’?

R: Yeah, the domains. But it’s all theory.

T: You’ve clearly demonstrated your talents in what you’re calling the ‘feminine domain’.

R: Yeah, ‘the matters of the heart’. And my children and I had a comfortable understanding about that. I don’t know whether I talked [with them] or whether it developed, but yes, we have a comfortable understanding about it. And I’m so happy for my second daughter who’s found a young man who essentially believes the same, and they make a great partnership because neither of them behave in the ‘traditional’ masculine, feminine way. And that’s really nice to see, it is so wonderful to see. I mean, she wears the blue t-shirts, and he goes and mops the floor. Or, I can see him with tears in her eyes, his eyes, and she’ll put his arm around him.

T: She’ll put her arm around him?

R: Yeah! And vice-versa. It’s really nice to see. It’s sort of like you have an ideal in your mind about those sort of things.

T: So there is a positive end to this, I mean, although you’ve been pretty badly trashed, the culture does sustain something which is viable.

R: I can’t see it happening to me, but I’m very happy that it’s happening to my daughter.

T: There is a positive end to this story, it’s not defining the entire object [??]

R: Ah, shit, no! But I do think it means, I really do believe that I think the onus is on women, although they keep saying the onus is on men to change, I think the onus is on women to see how sexist they are and have been, and what they don’t like about themselves they project onto others. It’s not that I’m saying I’m perfect but at least I, er… I think I’ve been through a pretty harrowing time of listening to my own sensations and feelings; and having lived in both domains for a very, very long time, I think it’s much harder for a man to get into the women’s domain than it is for a woman to get into the man’s, and be accepted in it.

T: You said you were put down quite a lot when you were working with your children, as their parent. What happened then?

R: They’re all silly, small little things but… I’d be at home and the notice would come around “to all mothers: come and help with the tuck shop” – so I’d ignore the ‘mothers’ bit, and I’d go along to the tuck shop, and they’d sort of look at me and say “What are you doing here?”, and I’d say I’d come to work in the tuck shop, and they’d say, “ah, we really think you’d do better teaching the basketball team” – in other words, “piss off, pal, this is a ladies area”. Babysitting pools: there was no way any of the women, single mothers I knew, would ever have me round to their place to look after their children. They’d come and look after mine if I wanted to go out, but they would never have me round to their place. Or comments like, “what would you know about caring? you’re only a man”. Or, er.. women would come along and say “it’s so nice to see a man who’s caring for a change”. Well, hang on a tick, isn’t that spoken from, like, a position of superiority, I mean, if I turned round and said, “isn’t it nice to see an intelligent woman for a change?” how would they see that? They would see that as a put-down, would they not? And if I then turned round… I mean, at the time I didn’t reckon, I mean I wouldn’t have the guts to say anything about it, but these days I would now turn round and I’d say “that’s a pretty condescending remark, isn’t it?”, because I’m now aware of it, but in those days all it would do is just grind me down into the dust.

T: So you’re saying that this is very similar to what we’ve seen happening to women in what you’ve called the ‘male domain’?

R: Yeah!

T: ‘The matters of the head’.

R: I mean, I’ve seen both of them. And that’s why that theory of mine: what we’re seeing now, in the mid-’90s, is what I’ve lived through twenty-odd years ago in reverse! But even more so, because at least twenty years ago there were enough people around to recognise that this is important for women to come out. These days, you’d turn around, and ninety-nine [percent] – well, perhaps not ninety-nine, but a huge proportion of women don’t even recognise that they are sexist. And if it’s pointed out to them they turn round and they say that’s my assertion, “you’re just being a bastard, a typical man”! And how the hell can you be genuinely assertive about it, when you get put down on something that I’ve described as ‘my assertion’ is regarded as a put-down. And I’m not being aggressive about it, I’m not being objectionable about it, I’m just purely saying “I believe that to be a condescending remark” – not “you are being condescending”, [but] “it is my belief [that you are being condescending]” – but it doesn’t work.

T: Certainly I’ve been seeing quite a lot of changes even in the last year, it’s //..// as it was even a year ago.

R: Yeah, but… funny… I might bring for you my… I don’t know if I’ve actually shown it to you, Helen Townsend’s book “Real Men“?

T: You’ve mentioned it to me, yes.

R: I think what is happening at the moment is that, yes, I agree with you that there’s a slight realisation, but what’s happening is that men are becoming… sorry, women are becoming interested in men as a ‘curiosity’ – not for understanding, specifically, but as a curiosity.

T: Like an animal in the zoo?

R: Like an animal in the zoo, somebody that’s got the be analysed before they can be modified, and it’s that sort of sensation that I got from the book, and it’s that sort of sensation that I got from a lot of stuff that appeared on television recently where the, Anne Summers did a lot of interviews with men, did you see that one?

T: No.

R: Well, there was a series of six of them on television, and again there’s this analysis prior to taking it all in and then saying “ah, that’s how we can change them!” Not as affirmation, but as a prelude to modification. And that’s the sense I got from that book, and that’s the sense I got from that television show.

T: You don’t see anything respectful? Or rather, I mean affirming of your maleness?

R: I am noticing, like you, that there is something afoot. There is some change taking place. I seeing that. It’s certainly different to, say, five years ago. But maybe it’s my paranoia, but it’s, um… I’m just a little bit frightened of it, that it’s yet another way to try to modify men and masculinity from a position of authority and superiority. And that is my concern. Certainly some of the comments I’ve read – even from that book by Helen Townsend, who is probably a very nice person – but you can see during the book that this same attitude keeps coming across, you know, “here we have some men, and they’re twenty years behind women, and we’ve got to help them catch up!” That sort of thing.

T: Rather analogous to a man’s view of trying to ‘fix’ an object, this is trying to ‘fix’ a subject. It’s a concept I’ve been looking at for a while. There’s a very common concept in the feminist area about the ‘male gaze’ which turns everything into ‘object’, the analogy would be that there is just as much an analogous so-called ‘female gaze’ which turns everything into ‘subject’. And the difference is that an object-centred worldview says that if there’s something out there that I want to change, want to have change, the onus is on me to create that change. In a subject-centred worldview, the subject is responsible to Self – so that the onus is on the subject, and all the responsibility is on the subject, not on the Self, to create change. So interestingly, if there’s a gender stereotyping, in both worldviews only men are responsible, and only men are to blame. It’s interesting to see that particular stereotyping coming back in – it’s very much part of 1950s or pre-1950s gender-stereotyping, and we’re having it coming back in, but this time with the force of punitive pressure and a remarkable degree of denigration associated with it. The sense that the ‘Other’ does not have any independent right, it is an extension of Self.

R: I liken it very much to the sort of traditional ‘mother’ role, where…

T: …who does have a very real experience that the child, the ‘Other’ is an extension of Self…

R: Yeah… and that boys and men have to be taught, for most of their lives, to behave in a particular way – and to me that is very much a, the old traditional ‘mother’ view. I mean women still talk of “men, oh they’re just little boys”. And it’s very common. And boys have to be brought up to think the right way, they have to be told not to be boisterous and violent and then taught to be nice and pleasant and sociable and all that sort of thing.

T: I do find it interesting to see that most of our culture is focussed on controlling male behaviour, in that the definition of ‘criminality’ is that a male is doing something that a woman doesn’t want. We don’t look at female behaviour for anything which – in fact, identical behaviour in females is classified as ‘temporary insanity’ whereas in a male it’s ‘permanent criminality’. So I’m just noticing these very interesting differences.

R: Well, like this woman who drowned her two boys and the furore that’s going on around that, I mean people are going on about saying that she’s a witch and insane and all the rest of it.

T: And that she did it for sex, and so on.

R: Or whatever.

T: What’s really disturbing is that, as Naomi Wolf pointed out, as long as ‘good’ – in other words dependent – women can do no wrong, ‘bad’ – in other words independent – women will have no rights. It’s the flip-side of the same coin. So in some ways there’s a lot more of that happening as we get more and more pressure to present all women as ‘good’ and all women as ‘victims’, //..//.

R: I mean, I feel sorry for a lot of women in that sort of mould. I mean, my sister for example. I mean, I genuinely, my heart really goes out to her to try and… I don’t know ‘help’ her because that sounds I know what she ‘should’ be doing, but more to the point… I sympathise and empathise with in a sense what she’s going through.

T: Is it hard for you to sit back and watch it happen? to go through what you saw?

R: No… no… not really… It wasn’t the last time she came over, but the time before that, she was very distraught about something or other, and I just took her in my arms and we just stood there, the two of us, in the middle of the floor for about, oh, five minutes, easily five minutes, and, um… I don’t want to change her – it’s funny – but I would like for her to understand what her problem is, if you understand what I mean.

T: Yes, you don’t want to change her, but you would like her to see the change in her own way.

R: Yeah, that’s more on the way to put it… yeah… It’s very hard to describe, because I don’t want to interfere in her own process, but I can see the anguish she’s going through, but I have to recognise that I can’t help – I can only sort of, like, be there? And I can listen, and I can try and reflect what she’s saying and chuck in a bit of my own feelings and such, but in the end she’s the one that’s got to do it.

T: You can’t do it for her.

R: No, that’s the sort of way I’m trying to… And I think she appreciates it, and that’s probably why she knows she come over to my place and have a bit of a sob and all the rest of it.

T: Because she knows you’re not going to try to change her.

R: Yeah… And she knows I’m not going to attack her, [laughs], knows I’m not going to violate her, certainly sure as hell I’m not going to try to have sex with her! Yeah… yes, I suppose it’s… yes, I can give her a cuddle and mean it. Anyway she’s always fun to listen to.

T: This is the one with the twenty-year gap [relative to you]?

R: Yes.

T: It was the other sister who was //??//

R: Yeah, my other sister I had a lot of trouble with, she was very controlling. [long pause] She was always like that, even when we were kids. I’d always be frightened about [laughs] what she would think and say, //..// Well, she certainly ruled my life anyway, she certainly ruled my social life.

T: ..

R: Umm.. if she didn’t like one of my friends, that was the end of my friendship.

T: How was that?

R: Oh, she’d tell my parents about something or other, and my mother would say, no, somebody or other was a bad influence, and that was it. No… Yeah, my sister believed that she had a God-given right to define how I would behave, and if I didn’t go along with what she said, then she would go running off to my parents to tell them, and they would then impose it.

T: So her opinions always had priority?

R: Oh, I don’t know about ‘always’, but yeah, well both my parents, well, mum, well, my father was always a chauvinist sort of man and he was always deferring to ‘the women’ for defining certain aspects of my life.

T: So ‘chauvinist’ was not in fact controlling, he was handing over responsibility for that to your mother.

R: Yeah, his chauvinism was expressed in the fact that, um, he would say – oh, how in the hell did he do it? – “it’s my job to look after the women, look after the women, but it’s their right to tell him how it should be done. Well, I’ve sort of over-simplified it a bit but…

T: So he saw himself as the ‘provider’?

[end of first side of tape]

T: … in the sense that… ?

R: In the sense that my mother controlled the family.

T: This was in the late ’40s or early ’50s?

R: I was born in the early ’40s. Yeah, my mother controlled the family. She controlled what time things used to happen, how much money was spent on certain things, where the money was spent, what school we went to, what time we did our homework, when we went to bed; and at the same time she would say “I’m powerless!”.

T: Did you experience her as powerful?

R: Oh yeah. I mean, she still is, and she still tries to assert exactly that same authority even now. She tells me that I need a haircut, or I should do this, or I should ring so-and-so, or I should write somebody a letter and stuff like that.

T: So it’s very much ‘shoulds’, then. Does she still consider herself powerless?

R: Oh, absolutely. I mean, the sort of letters that she still writes to my father – they’ve now been divorced for twenty, twenty-odd years, twenty-five years – I mean she still writes him abusive letters, how, yeah, about how he never took any notice of what she did, that sort of thing. Yeah, so it’s…

T: Why does she do //..// your father leave her? Did he go to someone else, or did he just get out?

R: Ah well, I’m not entirely sure, but he certainly shacked up with another woman straight away. But I don’t know quite – because he was in England at the time – so I don’t really know exactly whether he decided to leave to leave my mother and then shacked up with this woman or whether he just…, or the two coincided, or… But no, my father would never be able to manage on his own.

T: So in fact he was totally dependent on a woman being there.

R: Yeah, in a way… for looking after his, sort of, his day-to-day needs, yeah, you bet.

T: His concept was that he was ‘looking after the women’, but in fact they were looking, in return, they were ‘looking after’ him. He saw it as his job to provide the income, and they would provide the… it’s exactly what you said about the ‘domains’.

R: Yeah, if you like, there was, in those days, and for him I suppose it still is. There’s a co-operation towards a common goal. She has her domain and he has his domain. He goes out and earns the money and brings it home, and then she does all the bits and pieces with that. The common goal that they had, when I was a child anyway, was to bring up the children. When that common goal vanished, they split up, you know. And he then went with another woman, and they developed, if you like, another common goal, and that happened to be building a new house and a new… setting themselves up in a different area. But yeah, even now that relationship is very much the same. He appears to dominate – I mean he’s bombastic and all that sort of stuff – but underlying it all it’s when she wants to have lunch, then we have lunch. So he thinks he’s in command, but [laughs] in reality she’s the one that drives it all. So he won’t… if she says he should go out for a walk, he goes out for a walk.

T: This is your mother, or the other one?

R: No, the other one.

T: So exactly the same pattern.

R: Yep, it’s the same pattern, exactly the same pattern.

T: There’s a surface appearance of control, but the reality, if you like, is actually she has the choice…

R: The one who drives the day-to-day activities of the house, yes. In both their case [i.e. both women]. And yet… well, no, except that my step-mother doesn’t believe herself to be powerless, she’s much more aware… And she laughs about it, she thinks it’s quite funny, so she sort of takes the mickey out of him. My mother is nowhere near as internally perceptive about the mechanics of what’s going on.

T: Your step-mother is aware of it and it is a functional fiction.

R: She laughs about it, she thinks it’s quite funny, and she takes the mickey out of him and he hates having the mickey taken out of him about things. But it works! I mean, she’s quite realistic about it. Yeah, I dunno, I can’t say that I love the woman, but she’s quite funny in those sort of things, I mean she’s very much more aware of the mechanics of what goes on between them than my mother ever was. Yeah my mother I would say if she wasn’t… my mother, if she was thirty years younger, my mother would be a feminist.

T: ‘Feminist’ in what sense?

R: Er… yeah, okay! [laughs]

T: I mean, given that several people have said that feminism is a broad church.

R: Yeah, all right, er, I’d describe… yeah, perhaps you’re right. I mean, I’d make a distinction between what I’d call true feminism and not-true feminism. My mother would be the accusatory feminist, very strong in her own righteousness and belief that she is the one who’s being oppressed, but the reality being that she’s the one who’s very much in control, and very… very aggressive, and I don’t mean aggressive physically, but very aggressive towards those who challenged that authority that she has.

T: Where is this authority based?

R: It’s based on what I now to be the features of toxic relationships, the mechanics of doing this are those five words that I often think about, and that is criticism, aggression – and that may not be physical, but aggression.

T: Implied.

R: Yeah… shouting, those sorts of things. Ridicule, guilt-inducement – in other words “you should do this, you should do that, this is your duty”, that sort of thing, or “you’re being bad” – so guilt-inducement, and the last one is a sense of duty or obligation.

T: Others’ duty, or hers?

R: Yes, others’ duty, not hers.

T: Others have duty to her.

R: To things or to her… but, to… in other words there is an insistence on duty and loyalty.

T: Toward her, or toward others or…

R: Well, not necessarily towards her, towards an ideal, towards religion, God, a moral value which she can then present the moral value that, to which one needs a moral…

T: This is another ‘should’, isn’t it?

R: In a sense yes, but it’s couched in absolute terms as a duty. It’s a bit like in the army you have a duty to obey, right, it’s not just that you’ve got to obey, you have a duty, so it becomes internalised. It’s that sort of thing that I’m getting at.

T: So the manufacture of a kind of internalised //..// in itself.

R: It’s an obligation, you have an obligation to //..//. So they’re the methods of control. And my father did exactly the same thing in his own way – these two people doing exactly the same things to each other in different ways – boy, the sparks were there all the time.

T: So it’s dominance games, but not in a physical sense.

R: No, they were never, no… my father nor my mother ever beat each other.

T: What about you?

R: I was… I don’t recall ever being beaten… [long pause] But I was… yeah, I was pretty well on the straight and narrow. I mean, I never actually had a sense of what I liked and what I wanted. It was really quite bizarre.

T: I do remember in one of the letters which you have, you talked about some comment that you had no sense of self. Well, if you have no understanding of what you liked or what you wanted, that is a sense of self?

R: How do you mean?

T: To know what you like and what you want, to understand what your own choices are, is a sense of self. One of the definitions I use is that power is the expression, the ability to do work as an expression of choice. If you have no understanding of what your own choices are, you literally have no power, you are entrapped into doing someone else’s. And that’s really powerless, because you’re actually //..//.

R: Yeah, the interesting thing was that… you see, for years I wouldn’t have described it that way.

T: How would you have described it?

R: Well, I would… well, I was the classical product of my times of my times… you know, I had a career and a wife and children and a house, all those sort of things, and my identity was within…

[brief interruption – power glitch and sound of explosion in the distance, probably a sub-station failure]

R: Yeah… sorry, sense of self. I mean in a way this counsellor was right, but in another way they were very wrong, because the sense of self that I’d previously had was the ‘masculine’ sense of self.

T: So that was very much a //..// for you? Learned from the culture around you?

R: Yeah, it was seen in relation, seen very much in relation to those trappings of so-called masculinity.

T: Which was left-overs from the ’50s culture, or…

R: Yeah, ’40s, ’50s.

T: And this is what your second wife was demanding of you.

R: Yeah… no, this was my first wife, this was before the first wife and I split up. And for some time I’d started having a lot of difficulty with that, you know, the kind of things that were being said to me at work about being uncaring and all that sort of stuff, and I mean I chose the profession that I did because I wanted to express my – I think, anyway – my caring nature… I certainly couldn’t do it at home… and so I found another outlet for it. Anyway, that’s a separate issue. But yes, the sense of self, at the time… well, for years I would have said “I feel quite happy about this”. But the thing is that these structures that supported me in that ‘masculine’ sense of self suddenly disappeared, I found my career was vanishing before my eyes, my marriage fell apart… um.. my parents had a volcanic divorce. So all these structures that supported this… these structures… were, like taking bricks out of an archway, and the whole lot started to collapse. And so I began to start thinking to myself, this ‘masculinity’ thing’s a load of nonsense, I mean, I didn’t think of it in those terms then, and I started to try and find a sense of self without using, if you like, concepts of gender, because I’d already begun to sort of toy with all sorts of ideas, I mean feminism was starting in its heyday in those days, I was already very conscious of what women were saying, and I identified very strongly with what they were talking about anyway, so I became less and less able to define myself in terms of those ‘masculine’ things that we were… that we all talk about. And I started finding out things about myself that were supposedly ‘feminine’, and I thought to myself, they’re not really feminine, they’re just me. And that’s why the counsellor said “you lack a sense of self”, because she saw me as a man, because my wife had described herself very much as ‘the feminine’ and all the rest of it, and I started mouthing things that were not those [‘masculine’] things. I was neither ‘masculine’ nor ‘feminine’, I was talking – even then I was talking very much in non-gender terms. And to a counsellor in the late ’70s or mid-’70s, that would have sounded like a sense of “shit, you know, what is he?” He doesn’t know what he is any more, you know? So, yeah… But I mean there were other aspects, I mean I recognise I did have difficulty in understanding large parts of myself, so I would have and I still do have difficulty in knowing truly what I like for myself, in picking clothes and so on… although I must admit that’s changed a bit… but, yeah, I would have had difficulty in those sorts of things. Yes, I did have an identity-crisis, no doubt about it. But it has always been described to me, by the counsellors, by psychiatrists and everybody else that I ever went to, in gender terms. And in the last twenty years I have resented that enormously. I just happen to be a caring human being, especially with my children, and that is described as my ‘feminine’ side. Well, if that’s my ‘feminine’ side, how come the women in my life, my two wives, described themselves as ‘feminine’ as well, yet they both left their children. It’s not ‘feminine‘, it just happens to be that I have a character which is different, or which happens to have that character in my particular way, and my ex-wives don’t. Doesn’t make, does that make them less female? Not really. Does it make me more or less masculine? Not really, it just makes it that I’m me. I mean, the fact that I’ve got skills in other areas which described as ‘masculine – okay, so I’m pretty good at electronics or something like that – does that make me ‘masculine’? Bullshit – I just happen to have a skill in that area, for God’s sake, there are women who have that skill too, does that make them masculine? No, they are human beings with a skill. It doesn’t have to be given in gender terms. And that’s the way I see it at the moment. And it’s taken me years to start putting words to those things because I don’t //..// they’re distinctly unhelpful in helping people form partnerships, or in relationships, in human relationships, in describing how people live, what they want, what they need. To get rid of those gender terms, then it begins to be easier to understand how human beings of whatever gender, what they need, what they are good at and how they can live their lives comfortably and right.

I think we’d better go home, we have to go to work tomorrow – my God, it’s quarter past eleven.

[end of tape]

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