Friday, April 17, 2015

Middle-aged men get scant respect

[Feeling my age, and wanting people to know it. A page from the past.]

From SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28, 2012

Oct 28, 2012

To society at large, to be middle-aged is to be pot-bellied, insecure and creepy

By John Lui

One day, I woke up and found myself a middle- aged man. I did not plan to be middle-aged; I did not take classes for it, nor did I have to buy special clothes for the occasion.

It just happened.

I feel I need to say this because some people think that I became middle-aged on purpose just to make their lives miserable.

Last week, for example, a woman wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page to ask that SMRT set aside female-only carriages.

"I witnessed a scene on a crowded MRT train that warrants public attention," her letter begins dramatically. "I was disturbed by the sight of a middle-aged man who had pushed his way into the crowded train, and whose body was pressed against the chest of a pubescent schoolgirl who looked to be about 12 years old."

This event can of course be interpreted in only one way: He was molesting the girl. Because, as astute readers of letters from concerned citizens know by now, "middle- aged man" is code for "pervert".

My first reaction to the letter writer is that her assumption is incorrect: I know of at least three middle-aged males who are not perverts. So poof! goes her theory. There might be more non-perverts among my friends, but I have not spoken to those guys recently. They could have turned.

My second reaction is that if she thinks that all perverts come packaged as middle-aged men, there are some websites that I could show her that would change her mind.

The letter writer is not alone in thinking that men of my age are ticking time bombs of kink. I am profiled by the media and by society at large as pot-bellied, insecure, career time-serving, innovation-stifling, middle-management-level and, yes, creepy.

I dipped into our news archives and checked on the use of "middle- aged". It made me want to weep. The Korean artiste Psy is an unlikely pop star because he is a "chubby, middle-aged Asian man". Sports retailers call born-again cycling enthusiasts like me "Mamils" - middle-aged men in Lycra. Ouch. It hurts because it is true. As a group, we are too old to be doing the things we want to do, but too young to do the things we know we should be doing. We are a bunch of people ripe for ridicule, and we certainly do get it.

Old and young men have a place in society. Being in the middle stinks. When I was younger, I thought things would get better as I aged, but today I am still largely ignored, except when someone notices me doing something that unmasks my true nature as a sicko. I'm the pit bull puppy of society. Today, everything is all giggles. Tomorrow, men in uniform will come looking for me.

Being male and middle-aged is not without its perks, I'll admit. If I make a complaint about service or a product, people listen. Immigration staff at airports are also a bit nicer to me now. I think it's because they see themselves reflected in my tired, grumpy face. I'm also paid more now, for doing the same thing I did 10 years ago, on the assumption that the me of today sprinkles a world-weary magic into my words, when all I am doing is more of the same, except at a slower pace. Writers and cooks are alike in that sluggishness is often mistaken for craftsmanship. Can't complain about that.

But there are horrendous disadvantages. When I am out on assignment and need to gather man-in- the-street views, I steer clear of younger women. I don't want to be known as "that guy". There's one in every office. He's the one who tries a little too hard to impress the ladies, but he's past the age where that behaviour is acceptable. The problem is, nobody told him. A secret alarm clock went off and he slept through it.

It's easy to become self-conscious and over-correct in this atmosphere of anti-middle-ageism. The whole tie-and-jacket business, I believe, is our way of reassuring society that we are not the mental basket cases they think we are. Come on, does this look like a tie a pervert would wear?

There are in fact entire industries that exist because many men, like me, looked in the mirror one morning and saw the face of a potential degenerate staring back.

For example, a post-graduate degree, such as an MBA, or some kind of high scholarship, helps shield a man behind the armour of righteousness. Or else what could explain news headlines such as "Pervert was a scholar" or "Molester has a PhD"? It's because our assumptions are up-ended.

For my part, when I see headlines like that, I think: Scholar AND pervert? Goodness, where does he find the time? Because when I am done with a full day of unwanted pressing, peeping and creeping, I'm exhausted. You could say I am all peeped out.

The automobile industry knows how to market to middle-aged men. This is why all 2.0-litre sedans and family vans look alike. They are all designed to lull others into thinking that the driver of the vehicle is too boring to be capable of a sex crime.

Being middle-aged is arriving in that zone when you are old enough to know what kind of sicko you are, and still have the wherewithal to act on it. This is probably why this age group is statistically over-represented in criminal acts that require a) a sick mind, and b) spare time. Without us, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit would be about three episodes long.

So I suppose that the letter writer is right. Women, girls, boys, old men - heck, let's include all mammals and a few invertebrates - they all need to be protected from the likes of me.

And since it is middle-aged men versus the rest of society, it would be simpler to herd us into our own carriages. We could have our own stops too (Mamil Lane, Groper's Corner, Handsy Hamlet). So SMRT, let's get to it. If you need my input, just ask. I'll be over there, behind those bushes.

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