A thought piece by Louise McGregor.
Having just finished watching (well, binging) Anatomy of a Scandal; a Netflix drama that on the surface explores the dance of sexual consent, power, liberty, and loyalty, it has provoked an urge to write.
Beyond the subject of consent, man vs woman and the hierarchy of society; there was one
astoundingly obvious theme to me that tightly thread the main characters… Repression.
Three central characters; three diverse lives ones in which they are not entirely ‘living’ but merely playing a carefully curated role manufactured according to life-long biases and individual societal beliefs. Somehow, they are able to bring these shadow humans of themselves to life day after day, year after year, decade after decade repressing who they truly are. Sound shocking?
Not really…it’s how most of our society works.
The core of the plot stems from an incident between a group of adolescent men that occurred at a highly respected and elitist British University decades before. Two of the men involved would later become Prime Minister and a respected Minister of Great Britain. Picture obscenely entitled teenagers whose behavior in any generational decade is nauseating but somehow, under the framework of society conventions, was deemed as ‘normal.’ Pissing champagne out of each other’s asses, drugs, assaulting women, destroying property, and on this night, getting so out of control that they left the scene of a death. Not being able to face what had occurred, the two men buried their secret so deep inside their soul they were convinced it would never surface.
Aside from the extremities of this example, this is not an entirely inaccurate representation of the behaviors and conditioning of many teenage boys of that generation. Despicable behaviors were rarely seriously condoned from external forces, in contrary often encouraged, especially from the elite. Surely this would have to cause some confusion in these young male minds especially if their actions were not in alignment with their true selves.
Do we really believe that every single young man wanted to or wants to partake in this type of behaviour? Did they ever actually get asked or was it just the ‘rite of passage’ where the desire to belong to the ‘right’ group/tribe outweighed any individual desire to choose what felt right to them. How many got to speak up about what that they really felt without ridicule? Instead, the beginning seeds of shame and guilt are buried and never talked about.
Highlighting Men’s behavior is the crux of the drama with frequent references from a world where screwing around was deemed as ‘boys will be boys’ and wives should turn a blind eye. Well, at the very least, the first or second time.
But again, do we think that all men wanted to do this? Is it the truth or is it the culture and rhetoric of what we were ALL bought up to believe and just accept? Men like sex. Men cannot be trusted. Men cheat. Men cannot control themselves.
We kind of all shrugged and stamped a brand on an entire genre of species.
When this seeps into culture and expectation the same way that water comes out of a tap when turned on, perhaps they too will start to believe their own ‘brand’ and yes some, will start living it.
I recently had a friendly date with a guy. Establishing that we were very much likely to just be friends we had that free flowing, honest conversation that male and female seem to have when there are no expectations, nothing to lose. He worked in male dominated industry and naturally part of our conversations fell to his normal ‘work’ speak. Women, ‘funny’ dates, how hot the women were, how the other blokes viewed those women. He was a nice guy and not actually disrespectful but rather regurgitating the conversational topics he would have amongst his male colleague’s day in and day out. After we were talking along this track for a while, I stopped joking and asked, without judgement, but rather curiosity.
“Is this what men really, genuinely want…to have the attention of hot women and the potential of casual sex as much as you can? At this age is that what most of you are truly wanting from life?” To my surprise, he stopped joking, looked away and dropped his voice,
“No…we want something much deeper. We want a connection. That is what most of us are seeking”
I then asked why then a lot of men acted in the complete opposite manner to that and why with their mates do not speak the truth if that is just them being their real selves. He looked at me like I’d gone insane, and the conversation went back to jovial.
But before we criticize these men, women are not entirely innocent either.
We too often pay a role, toe the line of what we've perceived from our own experiences to be 'acceptable', repress our real feelings for someone even if they are everything our heart desires, or repress the despair inside us and continue to live with a person or a life that we've accepted as 'just is'.... Not having the confidence to be just us…we strap on the mask and get on with it.
Listening to people talk, I know many find the leading lady in Anatomy of a Scandal incredibly irritating. Supporting a man that at best lied to her by having an affair for five months with a young subordinate from work, and at worst, a potential convicted rapist.
She stood by him. She went to court. She looked always effortlessly beautiful. She was the role model to the kids; placarding all the media and activities with a smile, trips to the country and books read before bed. Many women would be screaming. Leave him!!!! But at that point she could not, it was not in her make-up.
Her culture and society had inbred that her life was a quest to catch a ‘great’ man, a successful man, a wealthy man, a political man, a great Father. She knew what she wanted, and she made sure she got it. She was also outwardly expert at accepting the liabilities that came with that.
So many times, she chose not to question, to turn a blind eye, to not disturb the peace. And again, before we judge and mount our own high horse, this woman is simply a reflection of what so many do. Every day.
Until recently, and I mean like just one year ago, we have acted in this manner even in the face of the most auspicious acts against humanity. The ‘Me Too’ movement started unveiling repressed elements of many in society that had laid dormant for decades. The number of women that chose to come forward was staggering. The discovery that some of our childhood heroes were some of the perpetrators of these crimes was more so. And the fact that many knew of this, did not question, turned a blind eye, to not disturb the peace was even more shocking.
But it gets worse!
Because so many of us in society are bought up to repress so much of ourselves to fit into society, we become shocked and almost offended when someone is so strongly standing in their own truth and authenticity.
When Grace Tame met with our current Prime minister in January this year the country went into a frenzy. The discussions centered around her rudeness, her lack of respect and NOT what she was angry about. The dark truth is there was more uproar (and mostly from women) about her 'icy' demeanor, than there was about the thousands of women that turned up on the grounds of Parliament house to finally speak out about the horrendous situations they had been in, at the hands of male authority figures. There was more uproar about Grace choosing not to smile than Brittany Higgins allegedly being raped inside Parliament House. There was more uproar of Grace's ‘lack of respect’ to an authority figure than there was about prostitutes being allowed into our countries’ Parliament House. FFS!
I believe the real uproar was the shock that came from witnessing a person choosing their own self authenticity over societal conventions.
Women like Grace and Brittney Higgins scare society because they are simply not buying into the bullshit. The fact that this young girl had chosen not to be repressed, to stand in her own authenticity and to basically say ‘fuck off’ because that was her truth scared those still sitting in their own repression, not questioning, turning a blind eye…as so not to disturb the peace.
Why do we think that our state of politics is the way it is? We allowed it. We turned a blind eye. We can't even bring up the corruption going on right in front of us at the dinner table with our family and friends because someone will get upset and others don't want to deal with truth of how shit so much of this really is. Instead we just bitch and complain to those that we think agree and then go and vote for the 'lesser of the evils' regardless.
The third character central to this drama is a smart, articulate, workaholic judge whose world starts to unravel due to an incident she has repressed from the past. Ironically even in a position as high up on the ethical ladder, she too has orchestrated a world based on lies rather than face what happened to her even though she was the innocent victim. Even though she spent every waking hour of her life, researching, analysing, and questioning to pull the words from others in order to seek the truth she spent her own life shoving down words and running away from it. Until, somehow it caught up with her.
Because that in itself is the reality of repression…it will eventually come out. It can be exemplary at staying dormant for months, years, even decades to the point that you really believe you are the puppet master of your inner stuff until one day, you are simply not.
And this thing that ‘didn’t exist’ suddenly starts a little bubble, subtly at first, but once felt it cannot be unfelt. If not dealt with it just lingers, gets bigger and festers until without any notice simply bursts without notice causing disarray to the life that you have been so careful to curate for so many years. That’s when the roles are reversed.
The internal self becomes the puppet master and although, to the outside world you look the same, you are losing control. What most people do at this point instead of facing it, is run bloody fast in the other direction…. pushing aside any one in the way who might have a sneaky suspicion that something is going on and may have any chance of grabbing hold tight to one of those strings to bring you closer to the real you.
As I am entering into my fifties, I see the effects that repression can have on people’s life more than in any other period, simply because the time has come that things cannot fester anymore. It effects relationships, self-esteem, the ability to love and be loved.
I believe the three characters from Anatomy of a Scandal did actually want very much to be decent human beings. However, the repressed incidents from the past, along with an inability to be able to live within society as their own authentic selves, caused anything but a peaceful life and inflicted more pain on others in the process.
Interestingly the only character Anatomy of a Scandal that chose to stand up and not repress what she had been through at the hands of a highly popular political figure was of the same generation as Grace and Brittney. She stood in her own truth. It didn’t mean the outcome was pretty, or fair, or justice prevailed but she was able to live on her terms and stand up for what she believed was right. She chose not to turn a blind eye.
To become a whole human we need first to be able to deal with our own personal anatomy; the imperfect, the flawed, the amazing and the depressingly ordinary. To be able to turn and face inwards with compassion, instead of running the other way or putting on a mask and living as a half person. This is one of the most rare, painful but liberating gifts we can ever give to ourselves and the outside world.
Ironically it is the next generation who are trying so hard to reach out to hold our hands and lead the way through this change; our duty as humans is to do all we can to assist them in reversing the art of repression and together learn to replace it with the art of authenticity by living in alignment with our true individual souls.
This is so powerful Louise. We absolutely must stand in our own truth. The Patriarchy has let us down, but it’s let men down too, and badly. We can only change this together.
Thank you so much Lisa…I had to write it. What you have said is so very true. I believe the tide is turning..slowly, yes but we are all so much more aware now 😊
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