A Post-Feminist Letter to Men

MEN HAVE ALWAYS been good at talking to each other about women; likewise, women have always been able to discuss men amongst themselves. And throughout the ages both sexes have demonstrated considerable combative skill against each other (although women on the whole have made more impressive use of the frying pan).

During the last couple of decades women have socked it to men and vented their collective spleen in the process. As a result most men now know what women have known all along: that males do not posses a monopoly on intelligence, strength, ambition, or desire. Clearly any man who hasn't gotten the message by now is either deaf, dumb, or decaying inside a donut shop somewhere, clutching a newspaper that reads, "LINDBERGH LANDS."

Now that the shouting has subsided and the smoke cleared, a few hoarse but friendly postwar ruminations on the sexes seem in order.

'She's so cold'

A woman's outlook is shaped by fears and intimidations that lie outside of the average man's experience. Her freedom of movement is circumscribed in ways that a man's is not, because the consequences of her actions are potentially more devastating. A man walking alone at night might be robbed or assaulted, but a woman stands the additional chance of being sexually traumatized. A man wearing running shorts may invite glances, but rarely humiliating verbal abuse. A man can smile freely at women without too much fear of encouraging unwanted propositions.


A woman who exercises anything short of vigilance during her encounters with men is either dauntless or unaware; for as any newspaper reader knows, even policemen, doctors, priests, and fathers--society's protectors and healers--are not automatically exempt from the ranks of sexual abusers. Even some of Harvard's revered faculty members are not inherently above tormenting a student whom they happen to find attractive.

Practically every woman has one or more war stories located along the spectrum from harassment to molestation to outright assault. One illustration: On her bus home one evening, a woman I know smiled at a male passenger out of sheer friendliness. The man got off at her stop and immediately asked her to come to his place for coffee. She declined, but he continued to walk alongside her, down the dimly lit street, taunting: "Whattsa matter? You don't like Wops? Too good for 'em?" As they neared her house, she knew better than to enter it. As the man spit out, "I'll bite your fuckin' tits off, cunt," she turned sharply and walked in the opposite direction for a quarter mile, in the rain and slush, until she felt safely out of range.

'I don't know why she says hello when she means goodbye'

If a man can imagine himself in the ludicrously unpredictable and hazard-filled position of a woman, and if he can comprehend the enormous psychological implications of having one's peace (not to mention one's personal safety) in constant danger of being shattered, he will have come a long way towards understanding female aloofness. My friend's real fears only began that evening after her bus ride, for the man who had menaced her turned out to be a neighbor who jogged past her house each morning.

This is, of course, taken from the harsh extreme of the female experience. But it demonstrates why some women are wary to the point of apparent hostility; and why even the warmest and most outgoing women sometimes greet men with an icy reserve.

A male friend of mine was puzzled by the seeming inability of women to decline dates with an immediate negative. No matter how many times I tried to convey to him the difficulties involved in turning a person down, he insisted that women give evasive answers to men for the express purpose of torturing them.

Until a gay man asked him out. My friend didn't accept, but the calls kept coming anyway because he couldn't find a way to say no. I was spared from becoming a bridesmaid at their wedding, not because he found a way to deflect his pursuer, but because the calls finally stopped (presumably the gentleman found someone to say yes).

Despite the initiative which women have gained during the past generation, men still seem to do most of the asking; which means, of course, that most men still don't know what it's like to be asked. But any man who has been asked out by someone whom he finds unin-triguing or loathsome knows what it's like to be put on the spot by a request which, no matter how cleverly or vaguely worded, essentially means, "Am I attractive and interesting enough for you to even consider giving me a chance?" Few people enjoy getting their feelings hurt: I suspect equally few enjoy feeling responsible for hurting another individual's feelings.

'The girl you want'

It is entirely possible for a man to be adored by his parents, prized by his teachers, valued by his employer, cherished by his friends, and still be viewed as an obnoxious creep by the woman he's pursuing. In fact, it's frequently the Boy Wonders who are mostly irritating to women because they can suffer to a maximum degree from the assumption that courtship is unilateral--i.e., that a man's attraction to a woman is the determining factor in mating, and that a man's affections should be automatically requited, as though it were an asker's market, so to speak. The nagging (sometimes haunting) persistence with which some men chase after women may be flattering in the immediate sense, but ultimately it reveals an insensitivity which can move a discerning female to the point of exasperation or even rage. A modest individual may not perceive this shortcoming in himself, until perhaps he realizes that such presumptuousness springs not only from conceit, but from childishness as well: wanting something without pausing to consider that it may not want you back in the least.