It's hard to be a man these days

    Boy, do I feel stupid.
    It seems that men my age are having a big masculinity crisis, and I didn't even know.  What's worse, none of those losers I call my friends bothered to tell me about it.  No calls, no letters -- nothing.  Wait, let me double check my e-mail.
    Still nothing.
    I sure am thankful to have found out this is going on – I saw it right on the cover of Newsweek. Feminist author Susan Faludi (or in anagram form: usual fads in), has a new book hot off the press entitled "Stiffed – The Betrayal of the American Man" in which she explores what Newsweek called "the unseen war on American men."
    She says life for the American male is "under siege."  I tell you, this woman can feel our pain. The Alamo?  Bastogne?  Khe Sanh?  Those were picnics.  We're talking real anguish now.
    Well, Faludi is talking about it anyway.  She writes, " Modern debates on how men are exercising or abusing their control and power neglect to raise whether a lack of mooring, a lack of context, is causing men's anguish."
    There it is in black and white -- it must be true.  Men all over the country are apparently coming home from work to their wives and girlfriends (or waiting for their wives and girlfriends to come home from work), bravely holding back the tears until they can weepily admit to their companions something like, "Honey, I just don't know how to be a man anymore."
    Faludi, as she did in her previous book "Backlash -- The Undeclared War on American Women," refers often to movies and television show roles as stratagems in a gender war. In the "Backlash" telling, the counter-assault against the women's movement was evidenced by such things as the whiny distaff characters in the TV show "Thirtysomething, " and Glenn Close's wacked-out character in "Fatal Attraction."
    In "Stiffed, " Faludi says we could have seen the men's crisis coming: "As early as 1957, the boy's diminished future was foreshadowed in a classic sci-fi film.  In ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man,' [the title character] has a good job, a suburban home, a pleasure boat, a pretty wife.  And yet, after he passes through a mist of atomic radiation . . . , something happens.  As he tells his wife in horror, ‘I'm getting smaller, Lou, every day.'"
    And I thought that movie was really a play on the dangers of unleashing the atom. Now, I feel doubly stupid.  Also, since Lily Tomlin did a remake of that movie as "The Incredible Shrinking Women," wouldn't that mean both sexes are getting smaller?  Then why are they having to make stadium and movie theater seats wider these days?  Maybe Faludi will explain that in her next book.
    Thankfully, Faludi tell us the sorry state of affairs for my generational brethren and me is not our fault – it's our dads' : "The culture that 90's men are stranded in was birthed by their fathers' generation – by men who, weary of Depression and wartime deprivation, embraced the new commercialized American dream.  When ‘Dateline NBC' produced a documentary based on [Tom] Brokaw's book, celebrating the World War II ‘tougher than tough' heroes, especially relative to their pampered sons, the troubling subtext was . . .how inadequately they'd been prepared for manhood by their ‘heroic' fathers. . . The men I came to know in the course of researching this book [pointed] inevitably to the small daily letdowns: ‘My father didn't teach me how to throw a ball. . . '"

    Mark McGwire is sure one lucky son-of-a-gun to have had a Mom who taught him how to swing a bat like that.
    A jaded reader of Faludi's treatise might think her methodology is a bit scrambled, since the jumping-off point for her research was hanging out for a few months in a support group for guys who abuse women.  But she must know what she's doing -- she's got a Pulitzer Prize on her mantle and they don't give those to just anyone, do they?
    I don't want to convey the impression that Faludi comes off as some bra-burning, hard-hearted, hairy-legged female dog -- she's not a bad-looking filly herself and she has a lot of compassion for we boys who have been,  well, cast as geldings in the stable of history.  I can just see her holding a hankie to her eye as she penned, "The more I consider what men have lost – a useful role in public life, a way of earning a decent living, respectful treatment in the culture – the more it seems that men are falling into a status oddly similar to that of women at midcentury."
    I'm going to have to start wearing pearls when I vacuum.  And I guess this means Liddy Dole will be the next President.  And she'll name Oprah Winfrey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  That's okay by me as long as there is a very visible Cabinet role for Xena, Warrior Princess.  In full costume, of course.
    It's a mighty safe bet "Stiffed" will shoot to the top of the bestseller list faster than a launch from Cape Canaveral.  Its millions of readers will nod sagely as they turn its pages and bask in the epiphany of it.  Talk-show hosts will climb all over each other for the chance to interview Faludi. And maybe the end result of it will be, in Faludi's words, " to create a new paradigm for human progress that will open doors for both sexes."
    But I feel like Groucho Marx when he said:  "Why, a four year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four year-old child. I can't make head or tail out of it."

October 11, 1999