Tim Winton has been traveling around Australia giving talks about lost boys and toxic masculinity. This seemed kind of hollow and uninspiring to me until I googled him and found out he has already won numerous awards for his books and is regarded as “Australia’s national treasure”.
Winston’s latest book, The Shepherd’s Hut, is both a coming of age story and a road trip story. The protagonist is a 17 year old boy with an abusive father, so knowing that abused children often become abusive adults, you can kind of see where this is going.
An excerpt from the book, courtesy of Goodreads, that gives you an idea of the kind of dialogue and profanity levels that will probably keep it out of the school curriculum:
“Mum said school mighta been different for me if I only give a damn. Maybe it was wasted on me like the teachers said. I didn’t have any philosophy in me then, so I didn’t know what to listen for. Most of it was pointless crap. Don’t reckon I met a single wise person all the years I stayed but like I say, I wasn’t paying close attention.”
“Jesus, I told meself, harden the fuck up. She heard me say that once, Mum. To me little cousin out by the laundry where he was bawling, his knee bleeding a tiny bit. She had that disgusted look on her face. What? I said. I didn’t do nothin. You’re no better than your father, she said. Listen to you, Jaxie, you sound just like him. I didn’t talk to her for three days.”
So the Guardian printed some excerpts of a speech he gave in March, complete with language warning. Here is a taste:
Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism. And it grieves me to say it’s not just men pressing those kids into service.
These boys in the surf. The things they say to me! The stuff I hear them saying to their mates! Some of it makes you want to hug them. Some of it makes you want to cry. Some of it makes you ashamed to be a male. Especially the stuff they feel entitled or obliged to say about girls and women.
What I’ve come to notice is that all these kids are rehearsing and projecting. Trying it on. Rehearsing their masculinity. Projecting their experimental versions of it. And wordlessly looking for cues the whole time. Not just from each other, but from older people around them, especially the men. Which can be heartbreaking to witness, to tell you the truth. Because the feedback they get is so damn unhelpful. If it’s well-meant it’s often feeble and half-hearted. Because good men don’t always stick their necks out and make an effort.