Books: A meal of lame males

Jack O'Sullivan has had his fill of masculine guilt. Time for a lie-down?
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The Independent Culture
I Am No Longer

Myself Without You: an anatomy of love

by Jonathan Rutherford Flamingo, pounds 12.99, 184pp

MY GREAT regret about broken relationships with girlfriends used to be lost history. They seemed to take my emotional past with them, memories of feelings they helped me articulate and to which only they held the key. Male relationships contained other treasures, but were not where these secrets were revealed.

"Without women, men are bereft," writes Jonathan Rutherford, taking up this theme of dependency. "They lose the story of their lives." Indeed, as Rutherford's title suggests, he believes that, in the absence of women, men cannot access their own humanity. Our masculinity exiles us from ourselves. The consequence, he believes, of such an inadequacy is that men feel uncomfortably needy of women. So we plough prodigious amounts of energy into escaping. "Men," he argues, "have celebrated being alone in order to imagine themselves free of women, free from their vulnerability." In this need also lies, he suggests, a hatred that some men feel for women.

Our emotional vulnerability leads us to divorce sex from love. We dare not link sexual desire with emotional need. To do so is too dangerous, leaving us prey to unbearable loss. So, for example, we rely on pornographic images of women. "Here, unlike in the real world, women are willing to be the objects of desire rather than the subjects of love... The woman in pornography is men's defence against their own need and their disquiet that desire ends in the extinction of the self."

This book, like much modern writing about men, is rather depressing and self-flagellating. There is plenty of guilt; perhaps worse, blame is leavened by an almost biological determinism. Our predicament, concludes Rutherford, is that we are doomed never to get over the loss of our mothers. Such a fatalistic tone means that, although his descriptions of some male traits ring true, his conclusions render one passive.

The book lacks any inspiration for revolution. Rutherford seems to believe that all a poor bloke can hope for is to find a good woman, throw his lot in with her and hope for the best as a dependent. I profoundly disagree. My recommendation for any man who has difficulty gaining access to a sense of his own self is to find a good therapist. I did. It works. The process can take a long time and there are lots of awful practitioners. But it's better than spending your life with an emotional limp while looking for a female pair of crutches.

As a result, I reclaimed my own history. Once you do this, you can still love women without being utterly destroyed by their absence.

Rutherford also fails to realise that it is possible for a man, just like a woman, to internalise many of his mother's skills and, where a father may have been lacking, to fill in the missing bits. We are not doomed by biology, childhood or culture. Sadly, books like this neglect the great inheritance of masculinity - a history of personal power and change.