All entries for Wednesday 17 August 2005

August 17, 2005

Devon Diaries and Dairies and Lashings of Clotted Cream

Follow-up to Things Wot I Ave Learned In Devon from L'Etrangère

All the pictures from the weekend are here

Friday 12/08/05
Leonie and I arrived at Paignton around midday and met Thomas and Helen off the train. Thankfully Leonie was not relying on my map-reading skills to get us from Bracknell to Paignton, otherwise we might have ended up in Bognor by mistake (where is Bognor anyway?). Had fish, chips and mushy peas, birthday cake and wine on the beach followed by a round of crazy golf, during which I learned that I have no hand-eye coordination and should probably try to curb my swearing in the presence of small children. Thomas had his hegemonic masculinity challenged by a family behind us who thought it was funny that the only boy in the group was taking the longest to pot the ball. But then I lost, and we all got slightly sunburnt.

Drove to our B&B along the coast road, which entailed a car ferry crossing at Dartmouth, beautiful sea views and roads where we had to breathe in whenever we passed another car. Went for dinner in Outer Hope Cove at slightly scary Fawlty Towers-esque restaurant charging £10.50 for a cheese omelette, but luckily we were offered a slightly cheaper bar menu instead, as well as the opportunity to sit 'with the other young people' in a tent. Failed to find the 'wall to wall pubs' tantalisingly proffered by the Rough Guide so we had to make do with Fawlty Towers, but declined the offer of the tent, tempting though it sounded. Encountered a badger, a ghost police car, and glow worms on our return to the B&B, and nearly got run over multiple times as had forgotten to bring torch. And so ended the first day…

Saturday 13/08/05
Leonie, Helen and I got up at 7.30am for a pre-breakfast run. Unfortunately, we started off by running 180 degrees in the wrong direction (unsurprisingly on my advice), but in doing so discovered Marlborough, which did appear to have wall to wall pubs, unlike Outer Hope Cove. Ran about 3 miles which set us up well for our cooked breakfast, fruit, porridge with clotted cream, toast, kippers etc. etc.

Despite the fact that I was dragged up mountains from an early age, subjected to orders of 'at the double!' when confronted with sheer cliff faces and scree slopes, and told by my father that mud, driving rain and biting winds would 'make a man' of me, I still came to Devon rather ill-prepared for hiking, with little in the way of sensible clothes for a walk characterised by serious lashings of rain and wind (but unfortunately no ginger beer). Worst of all, didn't even bring a hip flask! I appear to have learned nothing from those early childhood experiences.

Coastline was beautiful until mists and fogs rolled in, and 7 miles later we arrived in Salcombe looking like drowned rats and promptly stumbled into the nearest pub. Which was full. As was the one next to it. And the next. Arrrgh! We finally found somewhere for lunch and attempted to dry off under a broken hand drier. The 3 miles back to the B&B were spent bemoaning my lack of dry clothes and stupidity in wearing shorts (stinging nettle laceration) whilst watching the slugs play.

Made it back in time for tea and the remainder of Thomas' chocolate cake, and since weather was still manky we played cards in the bar until dinner time, at which point I consumed a further 6932 calories (nearly all clotted cream related). Burned it off with an enthusiastic round of post-dinner dominoes, which reminded me of being 11 and walking the Coast to Coast with my dad and stepmother.

Sunday 14/08/05
Weather gorgeous this morning, and managed to run in right direction towards Hope Cove today- again probably about 3 miles. We accidentally herded a load of cows along the track with us, but the stupid things wouldn't move to one side to let us pass. Anyway, it was a beautiful morning – sunny, fresh, the smell of the sea lingering on the breeze – but best of all we found the part of Hope Cove (Inner Hope) containing the wall to wall pubs. As it was only 7.45am, we resisted the temptation to go in. Big hill back up from the sea to finish, but felt fantastic and ready for a full cooked breakfast (and juice, fruit, cereal, toast, porridge, and lashings of clotted cream – you get the picture).

We headed off to Dartmouth to catch the 'Tally Ho' school bus and the 12 o'clock boat trip up to Totnes, during which we were regailed by many an amusing tale about sixth formers shagging in the local nature reserve. Oh and saw lots of birds – egrets, buzzards, cormorants and ducks (of course). The stories were not quite so amusing on the journey back to Dartmouth, but luckily we'd had a pub lunch and perused the streets of Totnes in the interim period, and so they almost sounded original given my dodgy short-term memory and inability to remember what I did two hours ago.

Speaking of which, the list that ensues was supposed to be written up properly at a later date (I was too tired and probably pissed to write in full sentences at the time), but I can't actually make any sense of it now as a whole three days have lapsed and it all seems like a bit of a mystery to me now (particularly the reference to 'amazon' – what the hell is that all about?). Thomas you were right, you said I wouldn't remember. So you'll just have to fill in the gaps yourself and make it up:

  • drove into hedge
  • amazon
  • lunch v good
  • castle £££
  • walked on walls that weren't really there
  • odd objects contest – we were beaten by precocious five year old
  • sleep and seagull
  • icecream, but not maple and ginger. Liars.
  • famous five
  • sunset
  • radioactive scrumpy in wall to wall pub
  • chicken and mushroom pie
  • nuclear fission – we're all going to die
  • halogen
  • 3 dimensional noughts and crosses

Hmmm. Any ideas?

Monday 15/08/05
Ran to Hope Cove again before breakfast this morning – weather was perfect, sunny, not too hot, sea breeze, and the cows didn't come for a run with us this time. After eating, packing, paying etc. we drove to the sea along the scariest supposedly minor roads (according to the OS map) I have ever witnessed. Mile upon mile of single track road bordered by thick hedgerows with no passing places and no way of turning off. We all just closed our eyes (except Leonie, who was driving) and desperately hoped we wouldn't encounter another car.

Largely unscathed, though the poor car looked filthy, we set off on a hike along the clifftops to Start Point lighthouse, a route which took us via the ruined village of Hallsands, which washed away into the sea after a violent storm in 1917. We walked a couple of miles further along the coastline from here – spectacular scenery, perfect weather and lots of wildlife. When we got back to the car we went swimming, carefully avoiding the jellyfish, and got an alternative view of Hallsands from the sea. Finished off with cream tea (well tea and icecream for me) at the Trouts, which is a hotel originally established by four sisters from the village that washed into the sea.

We left at 5 o'clock, dropped H&T in Newton Abbot and drove back to Bracknell, a drive which sadly wasn't as memorable as the rest of the trip. All I can say is I had a fantastic four days, full of exercise, food and fun, and it felt much longer than a long weekend too.

So thanks to Thomas for having a birthday, Helen for sorting it all out and booking it, Leonie for driving along those single track nightmares they call roads in Devon and for the lift to and from Bracknell, and of course to all of you for the great company and a really lovely weekend. Thank you x

Domestic provision and disempowerment

Follow-up to Public life and scrutiny from L'Etrangère

Part 2 of 'Masculinities and Unemployment chapter

Simon: Nature – and this is what people don’t take into account sometimes – nature of a man is to defend a woman… There’s something inbuilt, there’s a gene there… in general it’s the man who looks after her…
Ben: There’s something inside men that makes them want to provide for his wife. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying women are soft, because they’ve got things to do, things like having a baby – but the thing is it’s nature that the man protects her and the children.
Simon: It goes back to the caveman days – a woman would stay at home while the guy goes out with his spear to fight the sabre-toothed tiger and the vagabonds or whatever.

Traditionally, employment means that a man will earn a wage and bring this back to the home. Simon and Ben employ a traditional discourse in relation to the sexual division of labour: that men belong in the public arena and women in the private, domestic sphere, and that men should provide for and protect their wives and children. In presenting this traditional version of masculinity, they draw on arguments about a ‘natural’ sexual division of labour – it is “something inside men” that “makes them want to provide”, “something inbuilt”, a “gene”. Ben evades criticism and accusations of sexism by asserting “I’m not saying women are soft”, but simultaneously constructs both the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as inflexible and essentialist. Through his reference to “the caveman days”, Simon uses ‘history’ as a further rhetorical device to establish the authority of the ‘provider’ discourse, implying not only that this gender order is natural, but also immutable throughout time.

In adhering to an essentialist construction of gender relations, unemployment may be interpreted as an assault on masculine pride, for this discourse not only links the position of (male) breadwinner to economic independence, but also to social status and ‘respect’. A sense of disempowerment and emasculation manifests itself in patterns of discourses around domestic provision, with the men voicing feelings of anxiety, guilt and resentment as a direct response to their inability to provide. Furthermore, the connection between failing to provide and feeling less of a man coincides with talk of losing ‘your’ woman:

Ben: Relationships are more insecure nowadays… the missing word’s trust. When you’re unemployed, don’t forget that you are then at a low, a low point in your life, so anything that your wife does – when she’s out at a job, you wonder who’s she seeing, who’s she talking about, somebody talks to her. And then you get paranoid.
Sam: Yeah, for men, there is a guilt associated with unemployment.

In voicing these feelings, however, they consciously position themselves outside discourses that equate unemployed masculinity with vulnerability and insecurity, speaking about the situation in abstract rather than personal terms:

Sam: It’d stick in my throat. If I was unemployed and couldn’t get work, to rely on a woman earning on my behalf.
Simon: An awful lot of husbands don’t want their wives to have a career because they still want to be the biggest wage packet in the house.
Ben: This doesn’t apply to everyone but my wife goes out to work because she wants to go out to work… no man likes a woman going out to earn for him. And if they’re honest enough he’ll tell you. They might tell you otherwise…

Sam utilises the conditional tense when talking about unemployment – it would stick in his throat if he had to rely on a woman to provide for him. Ben consciously constructs his situation as ‘different’ from the experiences of other unemployed men whose wives may be forced to work to support the family by employing the language of freewill and choice – his wife “goes out to work because she wants to go out to work” (my emphasis), not because it is necessitated through circumstances beyond his control.

They discuss the issue in abstract, generalised terms and refer to their situations in the third person. This partially serves a rhetorical function, suggesting that ‘other men’ who are perhaps less honest or self-aware “might tell you otherwise”, but it also forms one means of coping with the social objectification that occurs through the process of being categorised as unemployed. This is an attempt to reconstruct themselves as legitimate ‘knowers’ and subjects rather than objects lacking agency and volition, a means of resisting and refusing the potentially emasculating effects of unemployment. However, this represents only an individualised coping strategy, rather than collective and co-operative action, and therefore poses little challenge to the prevalent discourse of masculine provision and the sense of disempowerment this may entail for men who are unemployed.

Unemployment is not the only way in which hegemonic discourses of masculinity may be challenged, and indeed the challenges posed by material changes in the labour market – an increase of women in particular labour markets and subsequent transformation in meanings surrounding men’s and women’s work – intersect with male unemployment to produce changes in subjectivities. Ben and Simon employ the language of pragmatism and necessity when talking about the entry of women into the workplace, constructing it as an economic necessity and suggesting that men and women alike are ensnared by social structures that pervade and influence daily existence:

Ben: Necessity. A lot of it’s to do with necessity. A woman has children, she’s got to work and get employment and she’ll take the job that men won’t take.
Simon: Yeah. Now women have got to work.
Ben: Yes. The thing is now what’s changed that is, is the house market. Because they now need two wages, they don’t need one. It’s a reality… They both need to work – both man and wife need to work to live.

Ben positions women in an inferior section of the labour market to that inhabited by men (“she’ll take the job that men won’t take”), which diminishes the threat that such changes in employment patterns pose to hegemonic versions of masculinity. Thomas takes up this point in a pro-feminist discourse, arguing that feminisation of the labour market does not necessarily represent true gender equality, but rather that sections of the job market where women are mostly concentrated tend to be those where people are underemployed and undervalued:
Thomas: That might be exploitation of a group i.e. women who are fifty one percent of the population. And they desperately need to earn money, and therefore they’ll take a job that we as males would not take…I think there is an awful lot of pressure on women from their husbands to take a non-career job, such as a checkout, rather than be a professional manager. I suggest that that happens, and is widespread.

Whereas attributing changes in gendered employment participation to the ‘reality’ of economic necessity does not unduly upset the traditional gender order, a greater threat is posed by women moving into sections of the labour market traditionally viewed as male, especially given that men do not feel that they can afford to move into traditionally female areas:

Ben: The nurses were resenting because the men – if you look at the nursing professions, most of the managers on the nursing side of it were women. They resented men coming into their profession – women don’t like men infiltrating their area. Likewise, I’ll never agree with a woman coming into a more physical job. What’s a woman want to be a welder for?

Here Ben represents the shift as an invasion of one sex into the other’s domain, adhering to traditional symbolic values that construct ‘men’s work’ as physical and ‘women’s work’ as caring and nurturing. Some of the other men expressed resentment at changes in the nature and content of men’s employment, reflected by accusations such as “women bring the salaries down”. It is thus not only unemployment but also changes in the labour market that threaten hegemonic discourses of masculinity, blurring a gender order hitherto perceived by many as clearly demarcated and irrevocably separated.

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