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Men, Women and "The Net"

Missed Understandingand The Possibility of Reconciliation

Copyright © 1997 by Richard Prosapio, MSW

This article appears in Vol. 1 #1 (Winter 1998) of Men's Voices journal.
 Men's Voices: So men can find their voices and speak their truths


Cruising the Internet one day I happened into an interesting little harbor called the "Men's Board". This was my first journey into these waters and so I began to read the daily postings for the preceding two or three weeks. What I found was a discussion-turned-debate-turned-battle over women monitoring the Men's Board who objected (strongly) to the tendency for men to flirt on both the AOL "People Connection" and on the Board itself.

Never mind the issue of women monitoring the men's "province," let's just say that given the medium there's no way it could be any different. We've been trying to peek in each others locker rooms since the sixth grade. Or before, if you were more precocious than I.

Predictably, women were saying that flirting was "harassment" and should be punished by some sort of social sanction, while men were protesting that it was no more than play time activity that some were bound to take too far on occasion. And if women didn't like it they could log off anytime.

Of course it escalated from there.

In the midst of it all was a note from a, seemingly gentle, woman who urged, in the calmest manner, a little humor on both sides. Her voice was so refreshing in that room full of harangue that I couldn't resist dropping her a note thanking her for her equilibrium and even handedness. Not something we on the men's side see very often when the "sisterhood" gets into a feeding frenzy on the meat of subject "male".

She thanked me in a return e-mail and I returned the message with a query; would she like to hear what I had to say on the subject? She responded that she would. So I spent the next half hour putting it all out there, given the format and my rush of thought at the time, in a very condensed form. She never responded again.

I took this to mean that what I had to say was met with disapproval and began to read and re-read what I had written. In other words, I suddenly felt as though I must be guilty of some social blunder, like a fart at a wake. I searched my prose for tell-tale signs of ignorance, malice, gender bashing, sexist and/or misogynist remarks. Maybe I was blind to them I reasoned. Where had I gone wrong?

Or had I?

Maybe she was just busy. (I'm quite adept at making excuses for rude females.) That was many weeks ago, still no response. Then I ran across this little anecdote about the poet Gershom Gorenberg whose poetry submissions to "Tikkun" magazine had been censored by the editor who said; "I am not fond of how you write about women."

Gorenberg searched his poetry for whatever it was that was offensive to the editor and then realized "…the inquisitor is succeeding admirably: the very vagueness of the charge has driven me to search for my sins, incriminate myself, confess."

I think I have always been poised to "confess" to whatever sin I may or might commit against women whether in deed or in conscious or unconscious thought. And I have felt that way since I was a small boy and discovered masturbation. I was sure I was, and at some level still am, guilty of some dark purpose, capable of some evil of which I am not really aware about sex and women. And there doesn't even have to be a charge against me! Silence; meaning the withdrawal of affection, is enough.

It's that easy to get me, and I hate it that I'm so vulnerable. I'd rather be as pissed off and secure in my right to be as Asa Baber and Jim Sniechowski and a few other men I've read and met who are quite able to hand it right back to the Mackinnon/Dworkin crowd. Or as some women are when a man makes, as defined by them, a faux pas.

Instead, I'm flailing about in a pool of doubt, unsupported by all but my wife who believes as I do, that men in this society are being given a bum rap with all this "patriarchy" crap. There doesn't seem to be much of a forum for men's anger today. Not unless it's directed at the safe (therapeutic) topics of the dad-who-did-me-wrong and the mom-who-seduced-and-used-me model. But that's not what I'm angry about.

I'm angry that the Men's Movement hasn't mobilized in any way over the issue of men being actively targeted in this society as the problem. I'm angry that we, that's me and every man who has passively let this go on without doing a single, active, concrete thing about it, have allowed the media, from the 10 o'clock News to national TV talk show comedians, get away with making men look like assholes for daring to do the work of becoming authentic human beings.

And I'm angry that the "official" feminist movement, the one that seems to have the ear of the universities and the feds, the harpies who follow the party line as laid out by the MackDworkins, have, by lies and manipulation, enthralled this country.

Now we have a new substitute for hope. A "justified" rage based on bullshit. We are afraid of one another as never before and the truth can't be heard because it's too complex to be understood by lazy reporters and be stuffed into a sound bite and not PC enough to get on the best seller list.

And what is the "truth"?

Well; all I have is my part of it.

This is what I wrote that day to the woman on the Net.

One way for a woman to understand a lot of male behavior would be to reference how she feels as she goes through that "difficult" time in her cycle. That time when she gets a dose of testosterone that overpowers her usual estrogen balance. That time when she, and other women, experience this in varying amounts from not at all, to WAY out of balance. That time when she grows course bits of facial hair, feels sexually insatiable, becomes unaccountably aggressive and feels anxious and irritable.

Some women use words to mediate (or deny) this sudden onslaught. They say they are coming into their "power". The indigenous people who valued tribal harmony would isolate women at this time. They believed that women were into a "power" all right. So they created a means whereby that kind of erratic energy could be moved out of the tribal circle before it became disruptive. Some women who go through this time in a heavy duty way know that this is no time to ask why she is feeling the way she is. She doesn't have a clue. The problem is; she is liable to believe she does know because all lines to her intuitive knowing, which she has learned to trust most of the time as accurate antennae, are flooded with incoming signals. Some of this information is accurate, some is exaggerated all out of proportion, and there is no way for her to tell the difference. This is not a time of balance for a woman or for anyone else in the vicinity. A female is not built to handle fluctuations in testosterone.

Males, on the other hand, are built to live with "T" all the time. We carry it, in greater or lesser amounts and live with its effects on a daily basis. We don't go through fluctuations that cause us to doubt our sanity. Living with testosterone just means we feel sexually interested a lot and are apt to be more aggressive than females. There are wide variations on this theme of course. On a scale of 1 to 10, taking 1 as a male with very low and 10 with very high T, most of us fall into the mid-range from 3.5 to 7.5. A 1 male will be passive and have very little, if any, interest in females or sex in general. A 10 male will be very aggressive and insatiable, probably obsessed with sex. The continuum can be inferred.

A 5 male, our average-guy, cannot control the movement of his interest (measured by head and eye tracking) when an attractive female passes by. No matter how much he may try to control it because his mate may be jealous of his interest, he will only be able to mask it with some distracting maneuver and just wind up feeling guilty; caught or not.

This is the foundation we begin with. Upon a billion or so years of biology is, erected if you will, the sociology of mating. Males are taught to be the ones who pursue, females are taught to be pursued. This is true everywhere in Nature. There may be exceptions, but as usual, they prove to be very few and far between. The reason we are taught so easily to play these games is because our socialization follows the stream bed of our biology. Nurture walks hand in hand with Nature, with Nature in the lead.

Oh sure, we can be taught otherwise. Men can become more passive and women more aggressive in the sexual arena. But it will not last long and, unless his T is low and hers high, our trainees will revert to a more natural way of relating after the trained behavior fades from lack of interest. She will become bored with him and want him to be "more like a man" and he will want her to be "more like a woman."

"Well, this could still be all learned behavior." some will say "And it's just that there's a backlash against men acting the ways they have been traditionally conditioned to be by themselves and they don't want to give it up."

But if you want confirmation of the idea that Nature will outlast politically (imposed) correctness, just check out our society today. After all the hoopla about women wanting men to be less aggressive sexually, wanting a "softer" male. And males, being very adaptive (always in order to please and maybe get more sex from more women) and squeezing themselves into odd postures to please them, now women are complaining about there being no more "real men" around.

Now we have movie hero males slouching about half shaved and grunting like imbeciles.

We've had movies like Pulp Fiction up for Oscar nominations and winning for the writing for God's sake, because this is how real people talk??? And Forrest Gump won the Oscar for Best Picture? So the message is; to be an "acceptable" male today you either have to be a primal slob or mildly retarded.

You don't think this is confusing to guys?

A few months ago a (male) friend of mine asked if I had ever gone on-line as a female. I hadn't. "It's very interesting." he said; "and very sad." Without further explanation I decided to try it. I made up a fake bio and "stored" it in the "Member Profile" section and entered the lists. I went on in "high heels". Meaning; I wrote a very provocative bio and chose a no-hold-barred on-line pseudonym. I did it this way because I knew that if I were female, this is the persona I would manifest. A kind of on-line Madonna.

Once on, I couldn't answer the "Instant Messages" (IM's) fast enough. And when I didn't get to them all, a lot of guys bailed out quickly with hurt feelings. The more aggressive males hung in, sent messages over and over, sent pictures, proposed meetings, etc.

All without my saying anything more than; "Hi."

At first it was thrilling. I'd never in my life drawn so much interest from anyone. And it was sexual interest. And all I had to do to get it was BE there! All the males had "sniffed" my scent and were going for it. I found myself wishing it had been that easy to attract just a few females over my lifetime let alone over a few hours.

After two days of about 4 hours total time on-line, I killed "her" off. I didn't like what I was putting the men through, and I didn't like lying and manipulating them. I knew no matter how bold they seemed, they were risking rejection from me and I didn't like having that power.

This is what else I learned; it's hell to be an attractive and available (or not) female. And all females are deemed possibly attractive and potentially available unless otherwise stated, if they are on-line. Frankly, I don't know how women handle it. It would get old after awhile. I know, I know. If you're a male and reading this you'll say; "Hell! I'd learn to cope." You'd say this with a smile especially if your "T" was high. I've said it too.

But imagine dealing with it day after day after day with no let up. And if you were reasonably attractive, that would be the scene. It would never stop. Every interaction would feel loaded. Every "Hello!" would have a line attached to it, or at least after awhile, would seem that way. I don't know about you, but I think I'd want to find something else to do other than fend off the sharks.

So, I get the point. There is such an animal as "sexual harassment." And there IS, as any sensible human being knows, a length to which anything can be taken which is ultimately ridiculous. Case in point; women in a shopping mall video taping males "girl-watching" then subjecting them to a public harangue about "objectification." A 12 year old is suspended from school because he stuck his tongue out at a girl. School authorities claimed it was an act of "sexual harassment." He was "simulating oral sex." The girl, who hadn't registered a complaint, was surprised at the suspension.

Who really looks silly here? 12 year olds will razz each other and may even call each other names. This is normal stuff.

Men will flirt. Women want men to flirt. Women don't want to feel pressured, but they do want to feel wanted. They want to feel worth being chased, but not hunted. They want their ritual "nos" to be overcome so that they can say "yes" without losing themselves. But they do not want their real "nos" to be ignored. (Women do have a responsibility here to sort this one out too.) Where is the middle ground? It seems fairly obvious that we don't really want the basic mating game to change. Maybe we just want it to be played more honestly and with more responsibility from both sides.

A step in that direction would be, women who read this will not believe it, to listen to men's stories as well as women's. To hear what we have to say and honor it as a valid experience of life as-we-know-it. We have been encouraged to hear women, and I believe we are trying to do that for the most part.

Of course we men listen differently too. And that must be taken as valid by women.

And! We want to be heard as well.

The reason the myths about men persist can be seen on the Net in such places as "The Women's Board". Here is an (almost) perfect representation of why men aren't listened to. When one sees a topic heading like; "Testosterone Poisoning" one need look no further. But do. And what you will find is the usual means by which women come to find out about men. They swim in pods of like thought and share myths with which each in the pod agrees.

They gleefully exchange war stories about men-I-have-known, the latest MacDworkinesque convolutions about "patriarchy" and defend against outside input (outside the pod) with sarcasm about "backlash", the latest male bashing Steinem quotes from Ms and Cosmo, and factoids which support the status of victim hood.

Rational, balanced input from other women is met with statements like the one I saw the other day which was put up in response to a woman who had said that perhaps it wasn't true that all 13 year old females went into depression because they at last realized they weren't going to be called upon as much as the boys were in school and thus their intelligence would never be validated. The response was; "Well, it seems to me it is true." Then followed a wave of agreements that indeed it was true and hadn't it been proven in a national survey?

And woe to the man who ventures into this arena with any truth of his own! We used to call them "martyrs". The originals though had more of a chance with the lions.

Wallace Stegner once wrote; "Verifiable knowledge makes its way slowly, and only under cultivation. But fable has burrs and feet and claws and wings and an indestructible sheath like weed-seed, and can be carried almost anywhere and take root without benefit of soil or water."

We have a lot of weeds growing in this country and on-line these days. Perhaps it goes without saying that not all women take part. But many do and they dominate because there is so much applause for their excesses. So it does need to be said.

And it needs to be said that some males collude with them for at least two reasons. 1. Men learn to go-along with the women they're with. It's a hangover from being raised by dominating mothers and passive fathers, and they are afraid to lose what they've got. And 2. Men really don't think very highly of themselves. They often think that they deserve this kind of bashing.

I am reminded of seeing a (female) comedian on TV a few months ago ridicule men while the females in the audience laughed in concert and their male dates grinned sheepishly. If the situation were reversed, the women would have been outraged and their dates would have been led out of the club by them as they left. Not to say it hasn't been the other way around ever. It certainly has. And it needed to change and it has. Only to be replaced by another sexism. This is progress? This is what all women want?

I don't think so. And slowly the voices of reason are being raised. It has had to come from the women first, because male protest still will not be heard. Witness what the media did to the Men's Movement.

Christina Hoff Sommers book; Who Stole Feminism and Nadine Strossen's; Defending Pornography are the beginning. Not of backlash, but of a resurgence of reason and balance.

And the emergence of "The Women's Freedom Network" based in Washington, DC is a sure sign of building bridges of understanding and mutual compassion for men and women BY men and women.

I hope more men will stand up on- and off-line to speak their truths. You'll have to persevere, guys. To be heard over the jeers and hissing and the put-downs, you'll have to hang in there just as Asa Baber did in a heroic, but failed, attempt to be heard in his public debate with Susan Faludi in 1992.

And you'll have to maintain control of your temper as well or be labeled "abusive". Of course you may be labeled anyway just because of your gender. But that's the nature of the beast these days. The challenge is; don't roll over and play dead. Every man, and well meaning woman, in the country needs your courage. And maybe, just maybe, one will hear and take heart. It's got to start somewhere.

That was the message I sent. Was it received? I'll never know. It helped me to say it all, to bring it up into my awareness. And maybe it'll help you bring it up too. These are not little events, these attitudes about men that are going around. A New York Times Magazine article of October 27th, '96 by Bruce Feiler notes that; "Clown agencies in big cities are now being asked to send female clowns to birthday parties instead of males." He goes on to say in this very disturbing article that; "…a climate of mistrust, a sexual McCarthyism…seems to be spreading across America."

Joe McCarthy destroyed as many lives as he did because nobody took seriously his ability to tap into and sustain our paranoid fears of difference. Good hearted and intellegent people thought he would just fade away. But it didn't happen until people began to take a stand against the witch hunt madness. As then President Truman said; "If you think someone is telling a big lie about you, the only way to answer is with the whole truth."

The only way we, as conscious men and women, are going to stem this tide is by speaking out against it. It will take courage and consistency in speaking our truth. And it must be done starting now, because the lies are poisoning all of us!

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