Well, we were in Brixton, and if there’s one thing I know about Brixton, it’s that you never have to wait too long until something kicks off.
Normally, it’s a dealer or a pisshead all tanked up on crack and booze; playing out that tired old male script of frustration, rage and bravado.
This time, though, it was a different story – the fight was between women and it was two men who broke it up.
I was at the fair with an old friend, his mum and a gaggle of the family’s young sons, daughters and cousins. We’d been having a picnic together under the awning of a soft drinks stand, sheltering from the muggy heat of the fair, when the thunderstorm that had been threatening all weekend suddenly burst open.
The mood began to turn
Within seconds our shelter from the sun became a refuge from the down pour and scores of people started to rush under the awning to find cover. At first, we all jostled together good-naturedly, but the down pour didn’t let up and as more and more people tried to cram under the awning, the mood began to turn.
Suddenly I heard my friend’s mum, who was standing next to me, shout out in indignation; I turned to see her being shoved by another woman who was standing behind her. My friend’s mum, who’s a tough old bird from south London, pushed herself backwards and turned to tell the woman to back off. Someone was going to get hurt.
It’s what happened next that told a different story about men than the one we’re used to hearing.
Without a word being exchanged, my friend – who’s in his 40s – gently slid himself between the woman and his mum. At the same moment, a man holding a little girl in his arms who I hadn’t noticed before, but was clearly with the other woman, said to her, “here, stand behind me”, as he moved himself in front of her.
Their own bodies as a barrier
Within seconds the two arguing women had been separated by the bodies of two men. Neither men spoke or showed any aggression to each other. Both had been watching the confrontation escalate and acted on instinct to defuse the situation, using their own bodies as a barrier.
The thing is, it all seemed so natural, as if it came from a place every bit as deep as the one that makes two men square up to each other on a Brixton street corner; yet at the same time I realised it felt so contrary to what we expect of men.
To sacrifice yourself in order to protect the ones you love, is one of the most ancient rules of masculinity, yet it’s an instinctive urge in men that’s rarely acknowledged. What I witnessed wasn’t two men asserting their egos, it was two men trying to keep the peace.
As for the woman who’d started this particular confrontation, I don’t suppose she really gave a shit. In fact, she kept on shouting at my friend’s mum from over the shoulder of the man who’d got in front of her.
In the end our little crew all straggled out into the rain and went home. It didn’t look like either she or the rain, were going to stop anytime soon.
By Dan Bell
Have you ever come across a situation that says something profound about men, but goes against the grain of the messages we get about them? Tell us about it in a comment.
Photo courtesy: Jason Cartwright
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