A postal worker stopped me the day after this ran. He said, “I don’t know what to think about [this column]. Ever since I read it I’m looking at the world different.” I doubt the effect lasted, but one can always hope.
A young man recently boasted to me about one of his mid-week exploits at a local bar. “I got SO drunk,” he said. “And when I woke up this morning there was this beautiful babe in bed with me. I didn’t remember bringing her to my house.
I didn’t even remember meeting her.” “Really?” I said politely.
“So I had a GREAT night, but I’m tired.”
This struck me as an odd way to end his story. So I said, “How do you know it was a great night?”
He seemed puzzled. “Because she was beautiful.”
“Yes, but you don’t even remember what happened. For all you know nothing happened at all.
Or maybe it was terrible and awkward. Maybe YOU were terrible and awkward, and she remembers last night with regret. Maybe she laughed at you.”
Looking back, I see now that my comment lacked a certain basic level of tact. To be honest, I don’t care.
American men have become moral and intellectual cowards. This is becoming increasingly clear to me now that I feel the burden of raising a daughter in a culture that exploits women.
Consider the fact that you can’t even buy gro- ceries without being forced to look at a dozen magazines, each of which is covered with a glossy, air-brushed photo of a woman dressed in something like a piece of string. Standing in line, what can I possibly tell my daughter to help her
understand the difference between the physical facts of life and our inane cultural standards that justify exploitation because “sex sells”?
Somehow I have to explain to her that just be- cause men exploit women for sex does not mean that sex itself is evil. I have to explain that she must view such men with pity, not rage, and that she must not try to win their attention, because their attention is not worth having. These lessons are hard to teach at the grocery store, because there are so many wrong lessons demanding to be learned.
I can tell you what most children learn at the check-out counter. Boys learn that a Man is someone who consumes women, and that a woman exists for his pleasure. Girls, ironically, learn the same stupid message. But since they understand that they are the ones who will be exploited, they also begin to realize that they have a measure of power. If sex is what men want, then they will yield it for a price.
Or consider a scenario most of us see at least weekly. A couple of men – their age doesn’t matter – watch as a young lady, clad immodestly and perfumed like the second coming of Mary Kay, jiggles by. The young lady pretends not to notice the attentive men. But the men don’t even try to hide the fact that they are staring so hard that their eyelids have rolled back inside their heads. “WOW!” one of them says to the other, “Did you see THAT! How would you like a piece of that!”
All women realize that the young lady knows exactly what she is doing, and that what she wants is attention. Women also understand that the young lady gets this attention by emulating a magazine stereotype. What amazes me is the fact that women accept this cultural standard. I would expect them to resent and resist the idea that they exist for the pleasure of men.
And yet, here we are.
This is why I say that American men have become cowards. They have become men without spines. The man who ogles glossy flesh at the grocery store refuses to acknowledge that even something as innocuous as a picture of a woman in a swimsuit can be (and is) a subtle demand for power, and so makes himself a slave to his hormones. The men who stare at the perfumed woman are admitting that they are powerless over their bodies, and over their lusts. The young man who used a total stranger for a drunken one night stand was not boasting to me of having conquered, but of having been conquered. Such men are cowards because they surrender their dignity, their purity, their self-control, their very man-hood without even a fight.
But of course, even though we have become a nation of cowards, we are ignorant cowards, doing what we have been taught, and expecting others to approve. If others do not approve, we get offended and call them prudes, as though they are the weak ones for not playing along with the exploitation game.
Do you see? When Pop Culture flashes me a woman in a bikini, I, like Pavolov’s dog, am supposed to drool. The other dogs resent it if I hold out for real food. They say that I think I am better than everyone else.
At some point this trend to bestialize humanity through sex must either reverse itself or collapse from the weight of what it produces. I suspect that men must be the ones to do the reversing. Only when men begin to communicate that women are valuable apart from their bodies will women really believe it themselves.
My hope is that a whole generation of men will begin to wake up and see that resisting selfishness requires a backbone, that life is more than the body, and that a woman’s power over a man ought to lie in her vulnerable heart, rather than her exposed flesh.
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