Are men just animals?
The thinking, sensitive man's fraught relationship with his gender (males are a team whose behaviour sometimes appalls him, a side he often feels he doesn't really belong to) crops up again following the awful findings of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Her review of workplace culture at Parliament House found more than half of all people in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault. The review found that overwhelmingly it is men who are committing these wickednesses.
The thinking man is in a dilemma when he contemplates his sex's sexually-stoked misbehaviours. There's so much to deplore. Yet every man, however decent, knows what it is to behave foolishly at the behest of his testosterone. And so he understands, or half-understands, when members of his sex behave grotesquely.
Shakespeare is especially brilliant at depicting men's passions as a powerful form of insanity capable of toppling any man into an abyss of silliness. At a performance of Love's Labours Lost, the aware male theatregoer wriggles uneasily when the solemn vow of the King of Navarre and his three noble mates to commit to a monastic life of self-improvement for three years is undone in about five minutes when the Four Ladies of France arrive in the neighbourhood.
The mere presence of the women instantly undoes their vows and reduces them to quivering, idiotic blancmanges of desire. Had there been iPhones in the 1590s when Shakespeare wrote the play, one shudders to think what sorts of texts the four ignoble noblemen might have sent to the Gallic objects of their affections.
The noblemen's blancmangery and the reported Parliament House horrors remind us of the famous serious-minded feminist "joke".
Q. Why do so many men give their penis a pet name, like "Boris", say, or "Rupert" or in the famous case of Mellors, Lady Chatterley's lover, "John Thomas"?
A. Because no man wants the most important decisions in his life made by a stranger.
And in today's column's context, mention of a "Boris" reminds us of Max Hastings' famous advice to the famously promiscuous Boris Johnson to "Lock up your willy" if he, Johnson, was to be an acceptable public figure.
But here I am, in discussing how vulnerable willy-driven men can be to love's/lust's madness, dangerously close to appearing to endorse the "boys will be boys" excuse of men's sexual misbehaviour. But I don't endorse it at all and so have been pleased this week to find online professor Matthew Gutmann's new essay, Are Men Animals? Diagnosing men as violent and oversexed beasts is tempting but it's a regressive idea built on dubious analogies.
Anthropologist Gutmann is sure that an important reason why we think of men as beasts stuck in their animal beastliness is that "we make unwarranted comparisons about common 'male' and 'female' traits among humans and nonhuman animals".
He reports that among examples of this "exaggerated anthropomorphism" are the ways in which popular science identifies "prostitute hummingbirds, baboon harems, and mallard duck gang rape". But of course, he insists, there is no prostitution among hummingbirds, male baboons do not keep harems and there is no true rape among mallard ducks.
"In the matter of mallard ducks," he elaborates, "perhaps 40 per cent of copulations are coerced, an activity that has been called 'gang rape' of a solitary female.
"[But] even calling this conduct 'forced copulation' still lands us in semantic quicksand, erroneously confusing what is routine behaviour that leads to impregnating the female duck with the actions of human males who consciously decide to sexually attack a female.
"[Thus] we ... animalise humans, which really means we dehumanise humans, making their actions and desires products of inherited traits more than conscious decision-making and volition.
"References to 'rape' in the nonhuman animal kingdom surely resonate with the idea that there is something natural about rape across species, and therefore it can never be eradicated among humans because it is biologically baked in."
It's time, the professor says, to stop excusing bad male behaviour "by blaming monkey-like genes and hormones".
So, yes, us men are animals, but not such willy-enslaved, baked-in-animalism, jungle-oriented animals that we cannot be expected, even in the virtual jungle of Parliament House, to strive for human decency.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.