Negotiations between the sexes often are as felicitous as chats involving labor and management when the coffee runs low and strike deadline approaches. Each side appears to the other as though lately arrived from a planet on which stubbornness and stupidity are extolled and where insight and sensitivity surely must be punishable by life in the intergalactic clink, else why would such ninnies be sent on so important a mission?
A writer in New York City recalls an encounter with a woman he met at a party one summer. The two made plans for the next day and spent a reasonably pleasant hour chatting and getting better acquainted. Came time for the bill, and the gentleman asked if he could treat his guest.
“Most certainly you can,” said the woman in a manner that suggested to the scribe trouble lay ahead. “You invited me to brunch, didn’t you?”
“Well, I’ve grown accustomed to making sure,” he explained. “Some women find it offensive if a man reaches for the check.”
“But you invited me,” his date said again, her expression causing the writer deep concern.
“Don’t be upset,” he replied. “I’d be delighted to pay.”
The woman, who happened to be a psychotherapist, only grew more indignant. “I see this all the time,” she said. “Angry men, unable to give.”
“No, you don’t understand,” objected the writer. “Please put your money away.”
It was too late for chivalry, however, perhaps decades too late. The woman threw a 10-spot on the table, and prepared to leave. “I suppose this means we won’t see each other again,” said the writer—a reasonable analysis since his date was heading for the door.
Happily married now (to someone else), the fellow still looks slightly perplexed when
Men are inclined to be stubborn and assertive and eager to express themselves on subjects about which they know nothing he finishes his story—as though he has yet to determine exactly what went wrong. Who can blame him? His summer interlude with the therapist reflected a mighty lurch over the past quarter-century in the role and status of American women, and, accordingly, the attempt by men—some men, at least—to keep pace with the emerging order. Needless to say, the campaign goes poorly.
Here, it may be well to acknowledge that men are not necessarily the most endearing branch of the species. They are inclined to be stubborn and assertive and eager to express themselves on subjects about which they know nothing. They adore power but use it poorly, often to the disadvantage of everyone—including themselves. There is a certain unironed quality to many fellows that is less than charming and, of course, men are the ones who leave mélanges of shaving cream and whiskers in the sink.
Sad but true, males must count among their number Joey Buttafuoco who, after much righteous denial, admitted that he had sex with Amy Fisher when the so-called Long Island Lolita was but 16. (This in itself does not explain why Amy shot Buttafuoco’s wife in the head, but that is another matter.) The
fellow in Virginia acquitted of forcing himself on his wife surely is a first-class lout if her story happens to be true, and an embarrassment to the cause of male enlightenment. (The wifely decision to apply a kitchen knife to her sleeping husband’s erogenous zone will be addressed in the courts, though a New York psychologist said in a radio interview that many women have amputation fantasies centring on the male physiology—news that could prompt lads in the metropolitan area to begin slumbering on their stomachs.)
Add to this lengthy bill of particulars that men exhibit the traits of opium addicts during football season and generally refuse to attend movies with subtitles, and you have what may strike some as an unsurpassably sad assortment of human beings. Even when intending to be politically correct, men make egregious mistakes in dealings with modern women, and, as so often is said, demonstrate endlessly that, they just don’t get it—“it” apparently pertaining to even the most fundamental comprehension of what women consider civilized behavior.
So it is not surprising that the comeuppance of males now is being enthusiastically celebrated coast to coast—that women are seizing the opportunity to inform the dopes in the auto shop and dodos in the bedrooms that they have failed (miserably) to achieve full evolutionary flower. One book by publisher Cindy Gamer is called It’s Always the Man’s Fault. (How does a man help with housework, she asks. “Lifting his legs so you can vacuum.”) Gamer knew she had a market after her first effort sold 350,000 copies. Titled Everything Men Know About Women, it contained 128 blank pages.
On television and in the movies, the theme is oft-repeated. Men—all races, all ages— need to be tamed. They are slow learners, so the catechism must be taught again and again. At Antioch College, the revered Ohio liberal arts institution, a code of conduct clearly aimed at males dictates dating behavior. Upon reaching each “new level of sexual contact,” a partner must request permission to proceed. (Blouse? Skirt? Underwear? Retainers?) Failure to comply can mean dismissal. Date rape is a real problem on America’s campuses, but is a crash course in robotics the way to solve it? That’s the deal, though. Lunkhead men, radical measures.
“Male bashing is everywhere,” author Warren Farrell recently told David Behrens of Newsday. Farrell, who wrote The Myth of Male Power, says it would be a mistake to view the current situation as simply another skirmish in the war between the sexes. “Not with only one side showing up. Women have been doing the shooting and men have been burying their heads in the sand, hoping the bullets will miss.”
Even if Farrell is correct, men probably do not deserve a break. They have ruled the world and made an absolute mess of things. They have exploited, they have belched, they have consorted with floozies. Keep firing those shots, ladies. Boys, keep yourselves covered. This could last a while.
Fred Burning is a writer with Newsday in New York.
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