Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Myth Of Manliness

A few years ago a man was hiking and camping in (I think) the canyon-lands of Southern Utah. He found himself pinned by his own perilous machismo. His arm or hand trapped under a rock too large for him to move. The reason this story got big headlines, was his cutting off of his trapped limb to free himself. I remember at the time thinking that his “heroism” should really have been called “stupidity,” and the story would have been about what not to do in the wilderness, instead of deifying this reckless man. Mostly male reporters and pundits told this story with slavish admiration for such a manly man. I feel far more sympathy for the wolves and coyotes who gnaw off their legs to free themselves from traps set by cattlemen and ranchers on mostly forest service lands leased out for chicken feed. But that’s another story.

I have, over the past couple of years, heard Tucker Carlson whine on TV about his fear that we, the America people, would see ourselves as “unmanly” if we leave Iraq before we’ve finished “the job.” And the first thing out of my mouth as I sit there listening to him say this crap, is “Jesus Christ Tucker, are you so insecure in your manhood, your manliness that you would continue this stupid slaughter just to protect your notion of yourself as virile? “ Tucker, your fear and loathing of the feminine is showing. Wouldn’t we be better served in the world, and in our own eyes, if we were seen as smart and careful with our awesome might, not just reckless and blundering as we have been in our nearly eight years of macho politics and policy, led by the “manly” “cowboy” “from Texas?” I put those last three in quotations because they are inventions, designed to make a rich boy from Connecticut, sent to the best schools money buy can buy, (and who claims to be proud of his gentleman’s C’s or B’s and his inability to speak the English language with anything amounting to grace or intelligence), who was reckless and foolish in youth, avoided real military service during The Vietnam War, a man who never succeeded at anything without the connections his family and his class provided to keep him from being a total embarrassment to them and their peers, steal an election and put him in office as the PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES! !?? Where the hell is the manliness in any of that. That looks like cronies making sure cronies get richer and stay that way.

Tucker, I’m not picking on you. I just happen to prefer MSNBC over CNN, but other than Keith Olbermann, you have all become unwatchable. Chris Matthews can’t ask a question of one of his guests or panelists without interrupting or talking over the guest and answering the question himself. He is so damned rude and dismissive of anyone who doesn’t share his own prejudices that he has become a joke. I got so sick of having him describe our only female candidate running for President as “strident” and her laugh as a “cackle” that I had to stop watching him. Do either of those things have anything to do with her fitness to be President? Are we really that shallow? His manliness is showing a little too much, and it’s embarrassing to look at. Ditto Lou Dobbs on CNN with his rabid hatred of “illegal immigrants.” Is Lou Dobbs descended from Native Americans? I am. And I look at all you white guys as Illegal Immigrants. A pox on all your immigrant ancestors and their manliness behind a gun, spreading “Democracy” and calling it Manifest Destiny (just a code word for pillage and plunder, as far as I can see) in their quest to rape the world of all it’s gifts. Take your manliness and shove it.

I’ve been married three times and when I wasn’t married I usually had a lover. I can speak with some experience about men and their strength. Let’s take illness and the way we cope with it as an example. Every man I lived with and/or loved has taken ill at one time or another. Their illnesses have, for the most part, been minor—colds and flues. But my last husband had serious illnesses throughout our relationship. But in all the relationships there is a common thread when it comes to nurturance. When my loved one is sick, I provide the comfort and care. I get the pail for my love to puke in and put it beside the bed for him. I get the cool damp cloth to soothe his fevered brow. If he needs and wants bathing, I run the bath, wash his back and shampoo his hair and whatever else needs washing. I provide the clean bed clothes. I change the sheets that I washed. I fix the broth or chicken soup. I serve it to him in bed. I do these things out of love and simple human kindness. But God forbid that I get sick and need care and comfort. If I’m sick enough to need that pail beside my bed, you can bet your ass I’m the one who gets it. I have never been nurtured by a man. Not one.

This is not to say I haven’t been treated with kindness or generosity by a man. There’s a difference. I have observed that, in illness and pain, women are far manlier than men. Women take care of themselves, and their family members, and their friends. Women seem to see themselves vitally, profoundly connected to a larger world outside themselves in a caring, careful way. Men seem to see the world as an extension of their egos. Are they manly enough to control it, shape it to fit their image of themselves? Conquest and acquisition seem to be the male model for manliness. Capitalism is the perfect model of a manly economic system. It is brutal, has little regard for any value other than the acquisition of wealth, and it requires an underclass to do the work. It also relies on Family Values (code words for unpaid labor by women, and control of women’s bodies). Capitalism would come to a screeching halt if we gave a monetary value to the slave-labor of women in families. And now that it takes two or three incomes for the working poor to survive in this brutal system, most of these women (so cherished by the right-wing fundamentalist white males who have been our ruling class) now get to work for nothing at home, and for minimum wages in the work place, usually without health care, unless their husbands are lucky enough to have some kind of benefits package that covers family members. That is, if their husbands have not abandoned them and moved on to their trophy-wife phase. Think of the fine example set by Rudy. Think Newt. Think Fred (Law and Order) Thompson. Think McCain. These are manly men. Yeah, right.


I’m sick of all the pious bullshit I have to take everyday from almost everyone because I smoke. I’m sick of the righteous, zealous indignation of non-smokers who know I’m addicted to a dangerous legal substance (that was pushed on me from every corner of my society since birth to fifty) yet still expect me to STOP! because they think I should. Why not the same kind of fascistic attack on the civil rights of drinkers? No drinking in public places. No drinking in the presence of children. No drinking in your own apartment! Thank God I own a house. I hate cell phone users who talk on the phone non-stop when they are out to lunch with a friend or sweetheart. Should we prohibit this noxious behavior because it offends me?

I was born in 1944. My dad was fighting in France when I was born in Paris, Texas in the hospital on the Army Base there. I’ll bet the doctor who delivered me was smoking while he whacked me on the bottom. My mother was smoking in her hospital room while she fed me from a bottle while her perfect breasts pained her no end as her milk began to dry up. It was the thing to do in 1944.

We moved to Salt Lake City before I was three and the years went on. I survived in our turbulent family, and just before it split into it’s sad little parts, my mother taught me to smoke. I was remarkably good at it. Granted, smoke is always better fresh than second hand. I learned to French inhale in short order and was amazing her friends at cocktail parties. I could do plenty in the smoking department. It’s the only thing I was ever praised for. Well, at least the most normal thing I was praised for.

I was five when our family flew into it’s individual pieces. I got sent to Sherman, Texas to live with my mother’s brother and his wife. They were childless and happy to have me, so made no objections to my smoking. Everybody smoked everywhere, anyway. And it was kind of cute. I was well cared for at my aunt and uncles. Taught things, too. Like, how to shampoo my own hair, roll a pin curl, scrub my ankles with soap and water. My mother never showed me anything except how to smoke and she groused about all the work I was for her. When she came to visit me on my birthday, she called me a prissy little thing. Said I looked like a poodle. Then when she whirled me around playing airplane with me, my sweaty hands slipped out of hers and I went flying into the backyard table and broke two ribs. We smoked a cigarette together and then she left.

Six months later, just before Christmas she came and got me and we rode the train to Salt Lake smoking all the way. There was even a special car on the train called the smoking car. That didn’t mean you couldn’t smoke everywhere else. We smoked in the dinning car. We smoked in the toilet, we smoked everywhere. Everyone did.

She married into a well-to-do family, and everybody in that family smoked. My new grandfather was one of Salt Lake City’s most prominent physicians. Chief of Staff at St. Marks and Holy Cross Hospitals. He was a general practitioner and surgeon. He smoked. Everywhere, all the time. While he was examining you in the office a smoke dangled from his fleshy lips. He probably smoked in the operating room.

In every car we rode in everyone smoked summer and winter. Every time we ate, someone had a cigarette going at the table. We smoked at the movies.

Now I’m 63 and remarkably healthy. I have high blood pressure. Everyone In my family did. No one died of cancer. All the men died of heart attack and all the women in my mother’s family died of vascular dementia. I took care of my mother once she couldn’t care for herself anymore. She was incontinent, didn’t recognize anyone, not even herself. She quit smoking in her fifties. She died in her early eighties when her brain stopped sending the signal to her mouth to chew or swallow. She died on Christmas morning, two days after her birthday.

My doctor, who sees me seldom (because of my relative good health), never fails to lecture me about the dangers of smoking. He listens to my lungs and shakes his head, unable to look anything but disappointed that they are clear. No, cancer doesn’t scare me.

A Man We'll Call Ted

I know a man. Let’s say his name is Ted. And he works for a big multi-national conglomerate like Microsoft, or IBM. Let’s say his salary is a nice simple number like $300,000.00 , plus bonuses, stock options, commissions, and a great retirement and benefits package. He owns his own home, and it was paid for twenty years ago. He drives a nice conservative, understated little silver sports car. According to Ted, he’s played the Market since he was in his teens, at an average annual rate of overall return on investment at 22%. But he hates to spend money that won’t have a tangible, predictable, advantageous (preferably monetary) rate of exchange. He is both so cheap and fussy, he takes his laundry to a Laundromat and irons his own shirts, which despite the fact that they are clean and well pressed are hopelessly outdated.

He wants what he fantasizes the love of a good, pretty woman with long hair, of child bearing age, will bring to his cold, emotionally impoverished and affection starved life. He’ll never get what he craves, because he places no value on those very things that will transform his life--the labor and love of a good, pretty woman with long hair, of child bearing age. And Ted, while we’re talking here, take a look in the mirror. You may be a nanosecond under fifty, but you’re bald and gray and wrinkled, honey. If I were you, I’d be using a good (and therefore expensive) exfollient daily and consulting with a good plastic surgeon for those dark bags under your eyes, and that incipient double chin. And as long as you’ve undergone the risk of general anesthesia, why not get the small pot-belly and that spare tire you call “love handles” liposuctioned. He needs an image consultant, and if I were Ted, I’d pay a top notch interior decorator to make the college-guy-apartment-style house of his into something inviting.

So Ted, please, pull your bloated wallet from your sagging back pocket and stop asking your good, pretty, women-friends with short-hair, who are over child-bearing age, and have too much to do already, to re-decorate your fucking house for free. Grow up fellows. Get a clue. If you aren’t as pretty as the women you want to date, offer something else of equal value. This is capitalism! This is America! Why the hell shouldn’t she prosper? Buy her a car! Set her up in an condo! Buy her big-carat diamonds set in platinum. This isn’t Rumania, and it isn’t 1950 for Christ sake.