In this blog, I want to explore in more depth matters that I raised in the Jago Stone - Part 2 blog. For the sake of clarification I need to tease out further the ideas that shaped my treatment of sexism and misogyny in that post. My ethical concern is that no one should be in any doubt as to what it is I am saying in this controversial area.
|Detail from 'The Makers of Sweet Smells' - Jago Stone - June 1970|
Let me explain more about the Everyman 1991 documentary 'Do Men Hate Women?' that I watched live and then used in the classroom for over a decade as part of the 'Sexism' unit I had designed. Contemporary Religious Studies teaching in schools was, and I hope still is, all about helping young people understand more about the world in which they are growing up - and their own beliefs - and what shapes their ways of making sense of those worlds. I believe this documentary made an important contribution to that understanding.
The narrator in the documentary - the female detective superintendent - took six 'experts' from various areas of contemporary life and explored the question of the relationship between men and
women through their eyes. She wanted to understand if there was any link between the 'weirdos' and 'nutters' that she had worked with in her line of duty dealing with cases of vice, abuse and rape and the ordinary decent husbands and brothers and sons and boyfriends that the rest of us are and know.
Through the eyes of the art historian ('The nudes in the National Gallery are a stone's throw away from the nude performances of Soho') and the clinical psychiatrist (the late Robin Skinner, John Cleese's 'trick-cyclist' and the co-author with Cleese of the best introduction to psychology and self-understanding that I know: Families and How to Survive Them) and four others, a thought-provoking cascade of ideas is released in the hour-long programme.
Her conclusion? All men are faced with an inherently difficult task in growing up - how they manage the separation from the nurturing mother-figure whoever she/he is and find their own personhood. Misogyny is not a word to be used exclusively in the context of the 'weirdos' and 'nutters'. All males are touched by confused feelings towards the mother-figure or figures in their lives. These feelings combine love and fear and maybe at some level, unconscious or not, hate too. The notion that we are all potentially murderers, capable of taking life, is initially shocking and we resist it - but how many of us have felt murderous rages? Yet very few of us do murder. The parallel is far from exact but there is maybe something in the male psyche that means we are all potentially misogynist at times. As with the idea of ourselves as murderers, we resist the possibility. We are shocked. We know we are different from that. We know how to treat women with respect.
|Detail from 'Untitled' - Jago Stone - Bardon - 1969|
Well very many of us do and we are learning all the time how to behave as we believe we now should with the female. But there are links on the spectrum of being the grown man that connect the misogynist 'weirdos' and the 'nutters' at the extreme end and the ordinary blokes like us at the other end. This was the conclusion of Carol Bristow - the female detective superintendent - and it is one that I share. Jago Stone was most definitely not at the distorted misogynist end of the spectrum. Let there be no doubt. But his feelings towards women seem complex and ambivalent at times and there is no surprise there given the circumstances of his own childhood. Moreover, the culture he grew up in was historically saturated with assumptions that we now see, with the gift of hindsight, as sexist. Prison life would have mirrored and emphasised that sexism. Jago's autobiography, The Burglar's Bedside Companion, has its fair share of sexist clichés.
But Jago somehow seemed to have developed a capacity to love and to respect. He knew how to treat women well and establish a good relationship. But these connections did not last. He needed to move on. That is where the complexity and ambiguity kicks in. But in the end he did find his peace in a good relationship with a woman.