As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
IT was International Men’s Day last week. I’m all for it. While I often bemoan my poor Old Man and his long list of incompetencies, he was still a good person. A good man.
I have been lucky to know quite a few good men. Not all of them were very “woke” or even aware of their privilege, but they have brought rich and varied textures to my life. Things I would have missed out on without them; fun, curiosity, energy.
My own family was a matriarchal one. From my two grandmothers, one who worked hard and the other who played hard, I learned about confidence and being a woman. It was a quiet thing. But don’t push too hard, don’t mess with us, they taught me. We are deep and we are strong.
The men in the family were industrious too, but not loud or aggressive. Macho men were only on screen or in sport. To me men were people who were engrossed in books, making things or were barely even present at all.
‘International Men’s Day is another piece in the jigsaw of the inclusive, liberated world we wanted to create.’
One of the thrills of being a young teenager was meeting boys for the first time. Coming from a house full of girls, the lads on our road had been purposefully avoided for years and not one of them had ever set foot inside our front door.
We had perfected the fine art of walking past them. We never spoke, just occasionally made eye contact. The nuns had rubbed it in big time; no hanging around on street corners, no keeping company and above all, no BOYS.
Although we liked to pretend we had never even noticed them, we knew exactly who they were.
I can’t remember the first time we finally met and formed a bit of a gang, but I think it would have been at the teenagers disco in the local tennis club.
“Would you like a mineral?” “I would yea!” That was it. I found the brothers I never had!
They had shoulder length hair and wore army coats with coloured scarves wrapped many times around their necks. Some had push bikes and others had their first Honda 50s. They lived in a parallel universe I knew nothing about.
First things first, these lads knew their music and prided themselves on their knowledge and their particular niches. One adored Rory Gallagher and would play us the tracks from Taste, pausing and highlighting riffs and sentences we might have missed. Rory was a challenge but after many evenings sitting around studying we girls became advocates too.
Another loved the Who. He used to call to our house to share his records. I would give him my David Bowie or my Leonard Cohen records as a swop and hope he would be impressed.
Boys. Men. Lads. I innocently made friends with them. I loved them. They opened up worlds.
Music. Craic. Politics. One was a card carrying member of the British and Irish Communist Party. Another had a copy of the Little Red Book. When we finally got to go to pubs, we liked to say, (over a pint) that we would run away to South America and join in the revolution to change the world.
The nuns were losing the battle. In sixth year a debate was arranged between the boys’ school and ours. I was made captain of the team. Not because I was a great debater but because I had never debated before and had managed to dodge it every time. I was terrified.
On that stage in our full uniforms, everything was different. Bloody hell, the lads were fantastic at the debating. They had mouths full of huge words and quotes and sounded way too clever. Our team were rabbits in the headlights. To this day, the lads always claim that the girls won that debate. Weird, because we lost, badly. But I always get a laugh out of maintaining the myth that we won. Sure why not?
Just at the time when I was growing up with these lads as friends, feminism came along in its very first incarnation. It was an exciting development. We thought it was something specially designed for our generation. If our parents tut tutted about bra burning lefties, then it was surely something we were going to embrace?
And we did. All of us. Those lads were never going to be perfect. But they got into “Women’s Lib” wholeheartedly. Feminism equalled liberation. Young men weren’t threatened by feminism, they were freed by it.
It was a time of great optimism. In our small teenage bubble, we were looking forward to a brighter future. It took a longer time coming than we thought. It came with awful realisations and hundreds of setbacks.
International Men’s Day is another piece in the jigsaw of the inclusive, liberated world we wanted to create.
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com