Terror, being a man, and my son Ben

I had my son in bed with me again last night because he was frightened.

Yesterday while we were eating our tea my daughter was asking about our cats and I told her again the story of how they had been found tied up in a bag squeaking at a bottle bank. She asked me what we knew about who had done it to them and I said we knew nothing about them but that I thought it might have been a man because Ronnie was scared of men for years and used to hide when men he didn’t know came to the house.

For those of you who know her my daughter is very enquiring and pretty dispassionate in her response to things.

My son burst into tears because he was sad about our cats being scared. Then he said “I bet it was a man. It is almost always men who do those stupid things. Why are men such stupid horrible idiots?”

I said that men are not and reminded him of all the good men in his life. I reminded him that his dad is a nurse who helps people struggling to live every day. I reminded him of his Grandad who has always worked to try to make the world better and who would do anything for anyone and of his Uncle Brian who has been like a second dad to me and supported me through some really difficult times. I reminded myself internally that it is ok for my son to cry and that it is ok to raise him as someone who can express his feelings even though it is sometimes difficult because he feels things very strongly like I do.

Then, hours later, more terror was reported in London and in the confusion and attempt to explain where terror comes from religion is once again under the spotlight.

I grew up in a religious household though I am not a religious adult. I think it has strengths and weaknesses.

When it brings people together and gives them a sense of collective belonging it is good. Over the years my dad has been very poorly and his church family have pulled together around him.

When religion takes away individual thinking and creates authority over belief, knowledge and actions it is a bad thing. But all social systems have the potential for this. The core principles of science may be value free but the way it has been used as a system of authority is not.

We always talk about the culture or religion of terror but never much about why terror like state violence so often has a male face. Authority through violence is not a state men are born into, and it is not exclusively male. We can see a woman lining herself up right now to try to take the role of the chief authority against extremism. My son feels things more deeply and is far more emotionally expressive than his sister because they are different children.

But the push on boys to reject emotion and equate power with authority through violence and numbness is immense. It’s there in the guns that surround them from toddlerhood, there in the culture of policing feminine behaviour out of them through ridicule or force, and there in the male suicide rate that takes so many men who could be role models of how to feel.

No deportation or clamp-down on religion is going to sort it. It has to come from all of us where feelings are not weakness but a reaction to the world to be expressed and discussed and owned.







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