Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 05 January 1998


By Jack Nichols


The cover of the most recent issue of Ms. slated to be removed from newsstands today (January 5) is adorned by a handsomely androgynous male version of Barbie. The cover's headline, in large yellow letters, asks, Do Men Get It?

While I consider myself every bit --emotionally and intellectually—a male who supports feminist goals, I find myself— while reading that cover-line—wondering when Ms., or for that matter, feminists who cling to the worthy but presently-battered cause of feminism, will better learn to find more willing listeners.

While put off by the cover-line, I was simultaneously glad that, for the first time in ten years Ms. has turned its cover page over to input from the opposite sex, recognizing that after a decade, after all, its important to give at least the appearance of a dialogue between the sexes.

This is a very hopeful sign indeed. As Ms. Editor-in-Chief Marcia Ann Gillespie says in her editorial, "Many men are searching to find and reassert a unified sense of masculinity and are hungry to bond with each other."

I've always found these two facts indisputable.

Featured in this issue of Ms. is one Andrew Rauchberg, seemingly a typical dude talking to fellow dudes, who imagines, during his NYC radio rap (On the Line, 820AM, WNYC radio) that masculine pursuits most likely include "chest-beating, beer drinking, football playing, and engaging in sex." Wait a minute.

Is Ms. –and are these men really taking up valuable $5.95 per-issue-space thinking they thereby add to a reader's knowledge of masculinity?

Am I too harsh too soon? Perhaps. After the passage of ten years, I'm impatient.

Mr. Rauchberg says he doesn't know what makes him masculine and that he's not sure whether he really feels masculine. Yeah? Well, I perceive he'd probably be a fumbler as a male-to-female drag star, whether he really feels masculine or not. A pecker-checker probably wouldn't help his awareness either, giving him a –what should we call it?—a certification of masculine appearance?

But the real value in Ms.'s publishing of Mr. Rauchberg's befuddlement, I suppose, is in realizing with him (not against him) that he's really nearly everyman in his culture. Unfortunately such is largely the case with his companions in radiogab. The group seems to house not one incisive gadfly, period.

When it comes to truly radical insights into the politics of dominating masculinity, I find myself thinking that these well-meaning guys would probably learn more, as Dustin Hoffman did, by becoming temporary Tootsies.

Are there things to be said that hands to these guys a "more radical than thou" platform?

My favorite statement in the dialogue printed from this all-male group, comes from Joseph Songco, an Asian-American.

"I have experienced feminism," he says, 'in a way where they try and shove it down your throat. My personal theory is, 'I'll listen to you but you have to listen to me. You have to give me some room to think things through. Educate me, but don't patronize me."

A cover-line like "Do Men Get It?"—could be part of the problem, not part of the solution. Its also a part of the problem that there's been only one such men's dialogue in Ms. magazine in ten years, a publication supposedly devoted to the equality of the sexes.

But is Ms. devoted to establishing the equality of the sexes, or simply to the advancement of women alone? What I recall of it editorially has been a mixed bag, though Gloria Steinem did edit and write admirably. I admire her particularly as a person, however, for having learned, in the midst of longtime self-admitted rigidities, finally to live, as Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame once put it.

This has to happen to men too.

Were I to assume the editorship of Ms., what strategies would I donate to its pages?

Its time, I'd say, to stop speaking so much about female lib or male lib and simply to speak of human liberation. Each gender, advises an old Persian epigram, must become a strong wing for the great Bird of Humanity.

The greatest weakness in humanity can only remain its intractability, its inability to open itself to life-sustaining and satisfying change. Rigidity— a mechanical sense of living--sets in after a culture starts to die. The insensitive male lives the life of a zombie, after all. Why not promote values among men that increase their personal satisfactions—removing the heavy chains of machismo that desecrate male psyches.

This would help to expand and to rescue feminism's worthiest goals. Sisterhood is Powerful, and should be. But when this is said, let it also be noted that healing power stems also from what Walt Whitman calls a manly "brotherhood of lovers", a brotherhood that has learned to identify and reject competitive motivating in intimate interpersonal relations.

Ms., in the past, too long celebrated the competitive marketplace values of the tough-boys in the office, understandable assimilationism, really. While women do, in fact, desperately need equality in employment, this male-value mimic's approach has scared men. They fear women becoming supporters of what they often do not admire in themselves. It doesn't attract them to what goes by the name of feminism.

What does attract them, luring them toward change? Those women who complain about men should know best. How should men be approached along ideological grounds? Brace yourselves, gals. By talking kindly to men's anxious penises, natch. Just tell them how to have more fun. Want male ears to perk up? Dig:

Appeals must be made celebrating the expansion of as-yet-unrealized male pleasures, telling men of the advantages of forms of so-called female receptivity. A more expansive sensuality grows, it must be emphasized, through the adding of such a receptive awareness, an awareness that will work to please both sexes.

Women, perhaps, know more of such sensual expansiveness than do men. Its is long past time for men to learn of it. As it stands, men abhor passivity, fearing it will make them womanly. They know very little about lolling and loafing, lying at ease, observing a spear of summer grass. This makes of them as they reject passivity, males who are half-deaf, half-blind, and half-unfeeling in nature's embrace. Such a receptivity-fearful stance robs men of empathy, their most important visionary tool and humanity's most important vehicle for survival.

To become the best one can work to become without competitive referencing to anyone else will alone develop those unique kinds of ecstatic awareness that are birthrights of every person, male and female. Old fashioned men who equate mere size (women are smaller) with status (Big Guy), still pride themselves for illusive bodily strengths, mere muscularities overshadowed when compared to shows of the mechanical prowess now rampant as the ever-present computer emerges in our times.

Women, you see, are becoming men's equals in cyberspace. Now, in war, missiles can be delivered by pushing a button. Now—on the Internet-- thoughts are the real mediums for communication, not bodies. Isn't this what women—and many men too-- want?

Women, perhaps, should move on to the next level. The seeming berating of males in Ms.—with litigious-sounding articles like "Harassment is Alive and Well and Living at the Water Cooler"—fail to make converts of men to the feminist cause.

The so-called profeminist males courted in the pages of Ms. talk of anti-pornography crusaders within their ranks. I think these crusaders are making a terrible mistake. They think rape is caused by porn? No. Pornography is an outlet for male steam without which, in a poorly acculturated region, many more sex-aggressive male fuses might otherwise be dangerously lit.

No doubt harassment has been highly problematic in office situations. But it is, in fact, a symptom and not, as too often treated, a factor unto itself. Harassment happens for reasons. The reasons go deep. Harassment is caused by an imbalance in a society's value system, thus creating macho-crippled psyches.

Present-day male role-conditioning—arming itself with coercive power by using the hell-fire-scare-word-threat, sissy--builds (by enforcing the avoidance of every so-called sissy behavior) a kind of masculinity defined primarily in negatives. No wonder masculinity can't be generally felt by men. For most its non-existent. Since sissy-avoidance is taught in negatives, people adopt and praise clumsy macho poses in which reality turns into mere shows of "manly" force.

But what makes a man a man?

In fact, men are so fragile and nervous on account of their manufactured role that, on the whole, they die eight years prior to women. Stress. Most of it inflicted because of macho conditioning.

If we as a society would simply celebrate even one good old American value—like equality of opportunity— the ramifications of allowing such a value its place would reverberate through all dimensions of our society, from classes high and low through relations among the races, and finally to the very most intimate relations: those that are sexual, those transpiring between two naked bodies.

But right now the women's movement seems inhospitable to sex, stuck still in a puritanical funk, or the male-blaming mode. The profeminist men most admired by these feminists, it seems, are those eager to help with women-centered male-problem tasks.

What can be said about those many males who insist on being dominant? The whole idea is to get rid of such bossiness in relationships—hetero or homo-- no? And also to take pleasure from each other without positioning ourselves dogmatically before each encounter? Wouldn't this lead to spontaneity and thence to better human relations?

Nearly every other mass circulation women's magazine remains devoted—after three decades of "feminist" complaints-- to promising readers as many as thirty-eight or more ways to improve opposite-gender sex? Some of the complaints are, I agree, justified.

But why not see if men won't listen to the same type pitches? So-called feminine values (sensitivity, as opposed to the novice's wham-baam, thank you ma'am sort) could thereby be slipped under the doors of the deaf.

Will Ms. continue to avoid sex-bed realities, blaming men for the impasses? Will it fail to reach men on a larger scale in that dimension where certain feminists accuse men of being perpetually located: their crotches.

Strategies to liberate men are, manifestly, best-presented not as feminist creations for men by women, but as ones meeting more personal or private concerns of those millions of men suffering male-role fatigue.

Why not help men launch, instead of only anti-rape counseling centers, something that will lead to ending the aberration we call rape, a product of faulty, outdated male-values conditioning. Why must both sexes remain forever in the trenches, ministering to long, hapless lines of victims and batterers at shelters?

Instead, unfortunately, the women's movement seems too often to offer little to men other than the equivalents of tantrums in bed. What these men need are discussions of the benefits they'll enjoy by being role-free in bed! Benefits, not scoldings. Does Ms. get it?

If a man can reach out---assertively—to touch a consenting woman—then why, I must ask, does it still make so many men nervous when certain sexually liberated women assertively approach their bodies?

Does a sexually-active consenting male find himself recoiling from a sexually-active consenting woman simply because she's being physically assertive? Can't he visualize himself in such a circumstance? Why not? Is it not her right to reach forward and to gently or passionately touch or feel him at her will? Must this be the prerogative of the male only? Is the missionary position, male on top, the only respectable kind of sex for men? Do not these rights—to touch a man assertively, to climb atop him too—amount to women's right to equality of opportunity?

There are all sorts of inter-gender dialogues that need airing, not only in Ms., but in other publications too. If men flee passivity, as many have been taught they must in order to avoid seeming womanly, they cut off half of the awareness process. Passivity is receptivity. It is being felt as well as doing the feeling. It is listening as well as speaking. It is allowing experience, not always attempting to dominate it.

Readers must encourage Ms. to allow more such dialogues in the venerable magazine's pages –dialogues that don't refer to liberated men only as profeminists—as happens in Michael Kimmel's lead Ms. article. Let males become self-liberators finding ways to toward a humanizing based on cooperative values.

Competition—a questionable value-- is a root problem American women experience with men. Both sexes are brought up in a society that preaches competition. A value such as this intrudes on the boudoir. It finds a man racing to outmaneuver some imaginary horsedick bigger than himself instead of indulging himself, sensing his own inner joys.

A man attuned to himself and to his own personal rhythms is rare. The same might be said of many women. If value balances are askew in society, they affect both genders whether in or out of bed. A man who thinks he must be on top, in control, dominant, active only, punching forward, positing an energetic savagery as a part of his "male" image, is a creature living in fear of potential control failures and losses in relationships.

Losing in an unacceptable word in the macho lexicon. But everybody has to do it sometime. Why demonize the prospect?

Fear of losing—as in a war--make machomen dork socializers, in fact. And that's part of where rape originates, in my opinion. Men hear others boasting of female "conquests".

Sure, rape is an act of violence, but its also a kind of anxiety-stricken personal assertion. It is a taking of something "important" one fears can't be had in any other way. It is an assumption of power over the weak by a being who thinks he should always be on top and feels weak at his core and cannot bear it. Not being able to exercise such imaginary male powers as boasted about regularly by others, frightens many men.

They've been told in macho-socialized peer groups that there are mainly two unforgivable states of mind, impotence and attraction to one's own gender. If men find themselves unable to relate to the opposite sex, they may strike out to give themselves proof of what they consider their threatened topmost treasure, their mistaken "masculine" images.

Working men need to be told they can relax without guilt. The male in our society, saddled with the "protector-provider" role, trying too to be, at the least, a financial functionary who can support his boob-tube-watching babies and his ever-reminding wife, is a stressed individual.

Much of what I recall having read in Ms. earlier (I'm no real scholar of this magazine's contents) has consisted of blamings with little understanding of the male creatures blamed. Gender-blaming must become kaput as we turn the corner at the millenium. Anger, as any decent East Asian philosopher can explain, is insufficient to achieve women's goals.

The truth is that men are changing. Some are loosening up. But most—unliberated-- are still products of a nationwide/ worldwide patriarchal system—better strategically to call it a "gender system"—in which women are often co-torturers with other men of men, bringing about on planet earth the social equivalent for these men of an insane asylum. Getting hit by both genders, the better sides to men's personalities drown hopelessly as they sit trapped in low-self-esteem baths.

Lest I seem too tough on Ms. let me draw back and remove my gloves. This issue of the magazine has an instructive piece, after all, titled "Time Flies When You're Changing the World." It contains a 25-year history of certain important events in the worldwide struggle of women for equality.

My eye wanders to the treatment meted to unhappy women in theocratic Iran. Yikes, just think of those beekeepers uniforms they must wear to hide their supposed charms. Heavy stuff.

Almost 25 years ago, I advised members of the fledgling men's movement to use positives, not negatives, in its appeals to anxiety-stricken males world-wide. "Don't use the word 'Against' " I cautioned. Its not psychologically-sound strategy to do so. In a new movement, such as ours, one that redefines the perimeters of socially-acceptable masculinity, men want to be encouraged to be for something—something positive—rather than being against something as nebulous-sounding as being against sexism, for example.

What is the major profeminist male movement now sadly called? Why, what else? NOMAS—the National Organization of Men Against Sexism.

Thanks a lot, fellas.

And thanks, NOMAS, for hosting those dumb dumb diatribes by author John Stoltenberg, the anti-pornographic crusader. Stoltenberg, and other such fringe blitherers as his companion-in-life, Andrea Dworkin, generally have exactly the opposite effect that these anti-sex ideologues pretend that they want for men.

The impression has been expanding for some time among men that feminism means anti-sexualism. This is a lie that weakens prosexual feminism, and the women's movement generally. It becomes laughable in the eyes of those who approach sex as a joyous positive. In particular it puts these "feminist" antisexuals on the outs—as thinkers-- with men, damaging legitimate feminist hopes.

On page 85, however, Ms. delivers another sign of hope, a review of Bonobo, The Forgotten Ape by Frans de Waal and Frans Lanting (University of California Press). Frankly, Ms. editors seem somehow subliminally to see these Bonobo apes might make more attractive feminist models for present-day human societies. Human see, human do.

What does the Ms. reviewer, Winter N. Miller, quote from author de Waal? De Waal talks, she says, of a "female-centered, egalitarian primate species that substitutes sex for aggression." Make love, not war. An old hippie slogan, popular when the second wave of feminism was born. Remember?

Mutually enjoyable sex, as said, requires friendly cooperation. And equality of opportunity. Only sado-masochists need believe that it takes submission and domination to enliven sex and it would appear that gender wars will rage just as long as domination, control, and other imaginary "male" characteristics are insisted upon as male values in a market-driven society.

Fortunately Ms., in its present incarnation, seems aware of earth's ecological imbalances caused by global corporate powers. And caused by male illusions of domination not only in sex but over nature itself. "Breast Cancer Conference: Clean the Earth, Save Lives" on page 12 is a promising direction. Its blurb says: "We must address political apathy and corporate power if we're to break the silence about the real causes." Amen, comrades-women!

If women do little else but agitate for women's equality in the established Global Marketplace, attempting to emulate conventional masculinity's financial amorality, equality of opportunity in business will provide lush temporary opportunities for many, but will spell planetary death in the long run.

By competing with men as push comes to shove, women will lose their most precious heritage, those values surrounding "female" nurturing—which should also be transferred to men— encouraged so that both sexes can then extend such nurture to our ailing planet.

© 1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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