What Men Don't Tell Women
I JUST CAME FROM this Men and Masculinity workshop. Rose has completed assertiveness training, and she said if she was going to continue relating to me in a broader sense, I needed to go through tenderness training and claim my wholeness. She said, “Won’t it be nice? We’ll hang your certificate over the lowboy, right next to mine.” She has her assertiveness certificate up there. This workshop gives you one in tenderness.
We met in the Pierce High gym. We sat cross-legged on the floor to break down our stereotype image of how men sit. And we related our feelings while empathizing.
We learned how men have lost their aliveness in relationships because we have been programmed from an early age to always be in control. Alec was our counselor in getting us to open up. Alec said we had always wanted to be tender, but the society told us we couldn’t be, but the rapidly growing men’s movement was changing that.
We have to acknowledge that we have always been programmed that men have to always be the strong ones. And instead of using women as a dumping ground for our feelings, we have to not be isolated from other men. Alec told us to put our arm around the next man.
I put my arm around this one man, Neil. He said he was working on getting over his aversion to listening to women talk on the phone. He was getting into nonobjective phone conversation, where you talk to hear the other person’s voice. Also talking long-distance without any sense of time. He said it relaxed him. He said his problem came from his father always yelling for everybody in the family to get off the phone, for Christ’s sake. It took him a long time to realize that relaxing on the phone wasn’t sacrilegious. He said he heard there was a way you could apply for a grant to pay your phone bill.
This other man, Jerry opened up to the group and said his father was not a feeling, emotional man. This other man, with a name like Uli, said his father wasn’t either.
There were these teenage kids coming into the gym bouncing a basketball.
Then Neil said he had something to say that he’d never told anybody. He said he walked past his parents’ bedroom one morning on his way to breakfast and instead of being at the breakfast table already his father was lying there in the bed still, crying. His mother was burning bacon. Alec asked Neil how this made him feel. Neil said it was why he lost his erection every time he thought of bacon.
Alec said, see, that was that whole male myth.
I wished I had my arm around Uli or Jerry instead. What I really wished was that Alec would go ahead and give us our certificates. I could feel Neil tensing up to tell something else. But then these teenage kids said they had the gym.
Alec said no, we had the gym for another half hour.
These kids said no, they had the gym now. Some of them were over messing with Alec’s papers and laughing. Alec wrent and got his papers.
One of the kids said to Alec, “Hey, what’s your problem, man?”
Alec said his problem was all men’s problem, grappling with changing roles. He asked the kids if they’d like to sit in on the rest of the session.
The kid with the ball was dribbling real hard right next to me and Neil where we were sitting cross-legged on the floor. And then Neil stood up and started telling about how we were trying to become whole people and the kid bounced the ball off Neil’s nose.
And then the kids started pounding on all of us while we were getting uncrosslegged and our arms untangled and Neil stole the ball and drove half the court and missed a layup. I thought that was pretty cool, if he had hit it. And the kid Neil stole the ball from pulled out a knife and we left the gym.
We stood outside on the steps. Neil was bleeding. Alec pointed out to us that the kids were caught up in the whole male myth, and we had gotten something out of the experience. He suggested we take turns helping Neil stop bleeding.
So we did, and Neil said his father always accused him of not playing tough when he was hurt. He said one time he had a sprained ankle in the CYO basketball championship and his father made him tape it up and play. “I was eleven,” he said. “My father said, ‘Be a Marine.’ ” And Neil missed four layups and his team lost. Neil said he missed layups to prove something to his father.
Then I said, “Well, can we have our certificates?” They were all jumbled up, and when Alec got them straight and handed them out, somebody had written “FAGIT” in big letters on mine.
How will I tell Rose?
I’LL TELL YOU what Miriam and I can’t talk about. Burt Reynolds. Burt Reynolds almost destroyed our marriage one night.
Originally it was, Who do you find attractive in the movies? Seems like an interesting question, right? Way for men and women to understand each other. Don’t try it.
Miriam couldn’t think of anybody. “I don’t know any of them well enough,” she says.
“No. Wait. Of course you don’t!” I say. “That’s not the point! But, like, for instance, somebody like Burt Reynolds.”
“Oh, no,” she says. Wrinkles her nose.
“What?” I say “You’re not attracted to Burt Reynolds?”
“No,” she says.
“Yes, you are,” I say, “you just don’t want to admit it.”
“No, I’m not!” she says. “And I don’t know any women who are.”
“Wait a minute,” I say. “Burt Reynolds has run through Judy Carne, Dinah Shore, Tammy Wynette, Sally Field, Loni Anderson, God knows who else, and he’s not good enough for you or anybody you know?”
Now she’s getting upset.
“Look,” I say “I’m not Burt Reynolds. I don’t know Burt Reynolds. I don’t imagine I have to worry about your ever meeting Burt Reynolds. We’re just, you know, talking about a guy on a screen. You can level with me.”
She won’t say anything.
“Okay!” I say. “Okay! Who are you attracted to? There’s got to be somebody. I mean one big whole point of the movies. . . Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you’d be a pushover for Burt Reynolds. I’m not saying you’re mooning over Burt Reynolds. I’m not saying you admire Burt Reynolds’s life-style. I’m just saying, in your heart of hearts. . .”
She won’t say anything.
“Okay. Never mind Burt Reynolds, who. . . But never mind. There must be somebody.”
“Well, okay,” she says finally “Ed Asner. ”
Ed Asner! She gets turned on by Ed Asner! She’s twenty-eight years old and she claims she’s hot for Ed Asner!
Hey I like Ed Asner. Who doesn’t like Ed Asner? But when Burt Reynolds and Ed Asner run into each other somewhere, on or off the screen, I don’t think it’s Reynolds who’s thinking, “How does he do it?”
Ed Asner. Now every time I’m looking into Miriam’s eyes I’m thinking. . . Damn it! I’m thirty-four years old! I’ve got hair! I work out! I’m married to a woman who is turned on by Ed Asner?
“Okay,” I say to Miriam. “Ed Asner. To me, he looks like a good guy; no doubt about it. I’d love to have a few beers with Ed Asner. Probably rather have a few beers with Ed Asner than with Burt Reynolds. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about, you know, somebody who—like, for me, I’d say, for example, Ann-Margret. You know. Does it for me.”
“Whuh!” Miriam says. “Ann-Margret?” She looks at me like I said Peter Lorre.
“Of course Ann-Margret,” I say “That’s the whole point of Ann-Margret. Why do you think they make Ann-Margret movies?”
And it’s like I just destroyed the whole basis of our relationship. Miriam is appalled. Because I said Ann-Margret did it for me.
“Listen,” I say “Come on. I’m not saying me and Ann-Margret would be compatible. I’m not saying there’d be any future in it. I’m not saying we’d have much to say to each other. I’m just. . . See, the whole point. . .”
Miriam wound up spending the night with her friend Wendy. Who I can’t stand. Who now, whenever the movies comes up, Wendy makes a point of saying how Burt Reynolds thinks he’s so cool.
I don’t say anything.
I tell you what. People talk about a ménage à trois. How does anybody ever agree on the third party?
BEFORE SHE GOT a job she was always complaining, “Every time I want you to do something with me, you say you have to work.”
I would say, in a level tone of voice, “That’s just clearly not true. I could bring anybody in off the street, and they could listen to what you just said, and they would say, ‘That’s not really the case.’ For one thing, I did something with you yesterday. For another thing, I’m not just saying I have to work, I do have to work. Be reasonable.”
And she would look at me and say, “I wish you could hear vourself. ‘Be reasonable’!”
You know, a woman can take something you just said and repeat it back to you in this tone of voice like it’s obviously exactly the kind of statement Adolf Hitler always made.
“Be reasonable,” she’d say. And she’d look like I just—like anybody could plainly see that I just hit her with an ax. And then she’d say, “I’m telling you how I feel.” And then she’d look at me like she just said something that any decent human being would realize was the bottom line of the universe.
And I’d say—I tell you what I wouldn’t say. I wouldn’t say, “So?” For some reason, it is universally regarded as fascism to say “So?” to a woman who has just told you how she feels. I accept that. But, say, maybe I would say something like, “Okay. But. . .”
And she would explode. “But that doesn’t mean anything to you!” she’d say. “Because men don’t know anything about sharing feelings!”
So then she got a job, and now every time I want her to do something with me, she has to work. So I complain.
And she says, “Now you know how it feels! So just don’t complain!”
So I say, “Wait a minute. You always complained. Now you know how it. . .”
She says, “You’re critical! You’re not supportive! You don’t want me to work! It’s all right for you to work. But when I work, you feel threatened.”
So I say, “Wait a minute. You say men don’t know anything about sharing feelings. But when I try to get you to feel the way I felt when you felt the way you used to feel, let alone try to tell you howit feels for me to feel the way you used to feel, you want me to shut up and feel the way I used to feel when you complained all the time and the way you used to feel when you complained all the time—and yet you won’t let me complain!”
Only I don’t say that. Because I get lost about halfway through.
It’s no contest. Women can bitch better than men. Women can hold down a job and still bitch better than men. □