Men’s Groups

How things have changed. With the release of the movie; ‘Men’s Group’ it’s seems it’s now men who are getting together to see what their collective take on the world is.

Is this the birth of the masculinist movement? Not long ago men could meet after work everyday; bond emotionally and share deeply with each other in a supportive exclusively male environment. It was called the pub. Now men have to go back to their inner sheds and reclaim their blokedom by making a time and place to be with their mates. It all used to be so easy until my generation came along and buggered it up by infringing on all those previously male domains like the workforce and pubs.

Visiting my grandparents one varsity holidays in the late 80’s and finding the beer reserves diminished, I remember suggesting a drink at the local. Being a country town we could have a quick pint in the public bar, (as opposed to the lounge bar) and then wander home. Nan looked at me as if I had just suggested interplanetary travel and in turns expressions of mortification and exhilaration crossed her face. She then bustled off only to reappear 20 minutes later in an outfit only Dame Edna could have managed …if she could do drag. The handkerchief matched the handbag matched the shoes… and she declared herself ready…to go to the pub.

I looked to my mother for some form of rationale for this seeing as I was born lacking the matching hand bag gene – matching socks heralding a day of fashion festivities in our house. She shrugged and said that Nan had never crossed the threshold of the local pub despite living round the corner for 50 years and was excited to get a look inside this imagined den of inequity, previously the sole domain of working men and the occasional ‘fast’ woman. Naturally she was disappointed. It would be hard to explain now to the gaggle of young women throwing up on the pavement outside Danger Danger on a Saturday night that it is still within living memory that women couldn’t go to the pub at all. Until the late 1970’s in most New Zealand towns women were effectively excluded from drinking anywhere in public unless it was in the private ‘lounge bar’ with her husband. In Australia this social norm extended to the late 80’s. Walking into an outback pub as a young woman then, to ask for work or directions required nerves of steel – and a solicitous squizz around to find an accommodating female (usually an ageing barmaid) who could be relied on for back up if things went pear-shaped. Where were all the women? Where did they go? Saudi Arabia had nothing on those small towns – at least in Saudi women could go out somewhere if they had their head covered. My first job on a station as a cook was an exercise in Men’s Groups 101. I made the mistake of taking out the scones to the stock hands one morning having tried and failed to make friends with the one Jillaroo on the station. She greeted me with the immortal ‘Well whataya know? Another flamin’ female!’ and then rode off, so I thought I’d have a coffee with the other workers instead. Wrong. The loud banter dropped to a funereal silence when it looked like I might stay for a bit. One old bloke came and gently shunted me towards the door saying apologetically that I couldn’t stay because then ‘nobody would be able to talk.’ The world then was one big men’s group. Although it was only 20 years ago it would be almost unimaginable to have the same conversation today and yet even then, I knew exactly what he meant. Blokes need to be with blokes and only blokes at least some of the time. It is why the fishing trip was invented and why Latin men stand around on street corners. They need their mens’ dens in the same way women need their tapestry circles (although in my case we only have a metaphorical one whereby the tapestry per se has been symbolically replaced by a decent bottle of red).

Cheers! Here’s to the metro not retro men’s groups. I’m looking forward to the movie.

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