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Three Facts I Learnt About the Male-Female Dynamic

Daniel Sloss, Linguistics, and the Revenge Marriage

By Francesca Devon HewardPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

Just this weekend, I (female) got into a discussion with a friend (male) about the ‘Not All Men’ dialogue that is rightfully headlining on social media, in the papers, and online.

My friend is, thankfully, on the right side of said discussion, and our chat came about after watching the 2019 Daniel Sloss stand-up show ‘X’ (give it a watch if you’re a fan of seeing comedy and discomfort blended together). But, what struck me during our heated one-hour critique was how self-righteous my friend’s anger was. His reaction was based almost entirely on his own anger, how helpless he felt in not being able to help, and how violently he could foresee his anger manifesting if something had ever happened to me. As Sloss says, the distinctly male fight-or-flight urge to physically harm a perpetrator of sexual assault refocuses the discussion in a potentially unhelpful way. Suddenly, with a fist to the face the rapist becomes a victim, the friend who has lashed out is the aggressor, and the original victim (the survivor) has been all but forgotten.

While I don’t wish to use this article as a means of rehashing an issue that, hopefully by now, we are all in agreement about, I do want to draw attention to the dangers that come with such unfettered widespread engagement.

Don’t get me wrong. Engagement of any kind in this instance is a good thing. The discourse needs to be far more universal than it is. Every household across the Western World should be inputting their thoughts and experiences, and sharing what they’ve learnt and lived through.

But, there comes a point in every discussion where focus needs to be pulled back. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the anger of the moment, in how furious you feel at the injustice of it all (as my friend did), and just as easy to forget the quieter, trying-to-move-on narratives that each survivor is still living. Those stories should be the focus, but they should also be respected.

Not All Men is a story about male anger, whereas the Me Too movement is a story about surviving.

Delayed anger now is nowhere near as effective as a measured, systematic altering of societal views throughout education, and, later in life, through responsible friendships and relationships. The attitudes that propagate rape culture as well as the male-centric fight-or-flight urge towards violence have been around for as long as civilisation itself, and have been internalised by men and women alike. The two, bizarrely, have somewhat gone hand-in-hand; but, with our new-found awareness, we can change attitudes within society much quicker simply by partaking in this ongoing, honest, and constantly evolving discussion.

There are plenty of strange (but most definitely not fun) facts that only serve to exemplify how intrinsically tied into society these attitudes are. And that’s what I’d like to focus on here. In these deeply engrained facts we can find both difficulty and blame, but also hope:

These attitudes are founded upon nothing but language, and they can be changed with language too.

Three Facts:

The word ‘testify,’ comes from the Roman practice of men swearing on their testicles before making their statement in court. There is nothing as precious, vulnerable, and deserving of legal authority as a pair of testicles, I’m sure you’ll agree; but, more than that, by this logic the voice of a woman in a court of law is worthless and untrustworthy. Masculinity is truth; the feminine remains silent. It is terrifying how easily the origin of just this one word can be translated onto the all-too-familiar play-out of rape cases in court.

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘ball and chain’ to describe an apparently overbearing wife, but did you know the plural of ‘wife’ in Spanish (Esposas) also means ‘handcuffs’? The Spanish and English slang words for husband don’t bear the same connotations. This position is reserved exclusively for women. The wife is either clamped to her husband’s wrist or dragged along behind him: lifeless, possessed, and a drain on his sexuality.

But, the fact that really grabbed me while I was researching for this article was the story of George Lumley.

In 1783, at 104 years old, Lumley married Mary Dunning. Mary was just 10 years of age, and the great-great-granddaughter of Lumley’s former fiancée, who had broken off their engagement some 80 years before.

Of course, the laws were different back then; or at least that’s what we can say to distance oddities like this one from ourselves and obscure our own culpability. But ultimately the actions of Lumley are symptomatic of something that still exists within society today, even if many laws now protect young girls from marrying wrinkly, old, self-absorbed, angry predators.

Lumley acted in this way, legally tying Mary Dunning to him, through a steadfast belief in his right as a man to own a woman. If he couldn’t own Mary’s great-great-grandmother, then he would own one of her descendants before she was old enough to even understand the consequences of it.

It was a move of bitter revenge; Mary herself, who will have suffered the most out of this arrangement, was merely a pawn. The institution of marriage, and its performative statement 'I do,' was the vehicle that made this act of revenge possible and permanent.

This story raises a whole host of questions; namely ‘Who let this happen?’ But these questions put the blame somewhere other than with the main perpetrator: Lumley himself.

The real question that should be asked is how on earth Lumley believed he was entitled to do this to a young girl? No adoration he may ever have felt for her great-great-grandmother could justify his actions. The answer to his entitlement lies only in what he had been taught by society, in the same way that boys and girls are today still taught disparate things about the purpose of sex, their expected level of empathy, and their ability to achieve certain goals.

Today's ideology may not now be as blatantly embodied in scenarios such as ‘Jilted Centenarian Marries Pre-Pubescent Girl,’ but it still has the same potential for damage and brutality. The general horror that we feel when presented with stories such as this one suggests that we're heading in the right direction. We simply need to find a way out of the shackles that language holds us in - and that way out involves language too, just of a different kind.

The only escape from this potential is through full, complete, and open conversation between anyone and everyone. Every point of view and every story must be laid out on the table for everyone else to learn from. It is not a case of separating the perpetrators out from the rest of society, but instead acknowledging that society is the perpetrator.

While it may not be all men, it only takes one man to illuminate the problem.

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About the Creator

Francesca Devon Heward

Artist, Writer, Bird-Watcher.


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    Francesca Devon HewardWritten by Francesca Devon Heward

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