From “Desire,” a poem by Stephen Dobyns:
Why have men been taught to feel ashamed
of their desire, as if each were a criminal
out on parole, a desperado with a long record
of muggings, rapes, such conduct as excludes
each one from all but the worst company,
and never to be trusted, no never to be trusted?
Why must men pretend to be indifferent as if each
were a happy eunuch engaged in spiritual thoughts?
The feminists have had their say over the years, and most men got the message: It’s not okay to objectify females, to see them as a conglomeration of body parts, to speak to them as if there is a microphone nestled between their breasts, or to act as if young women strutting the streets in mini-miniskirts and revealing halter tops are the least bit interesting to us unless they also happen to be carrying a copy of Goethe’s Faust. (I just learned that photographers would often stick a copy of Proust or Dostoevski into Marilyn Monroe’s hand before shooting, to round out the picture, so to speak. Ironically, Monroe actually was an avid reader of great literature and, contrary to her two-dimensional, pin-up calendar image, it turns out she was actually a person as well. Who knew?)
I remember as a teenager, the single worst thing a girl could ever say to you was, “Let’s just be friends.” It was the kiss of death. Like Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, it essentially meant, “NO NOOKIE FOR YOU!” As I got older, just once I wanted a woman to say to me, “Listen, let’s just be lovers, I can’t handle a friendship right now.” I once mentioned this in a stand-up comedy performance, and an enterprising lass in the audience approached me after the show and took me up on it. We made a date to get together, but when I got to her apartment, I found it was filled, floor to ceiling, with 32 years worth of the New York Sunday Times. When I inquired, she said if she ever got around to “catching up,” she would most likely begin with Section Two, the Arts and Leisure pages. Needless to say, this opening conversation was not a harbinger of erotic adventures to come, and I left soon afterward, with a 1973 copy of the Book Review tucked under my arm, a consolation prize.
My old college friend Billy had a unique way of dealing with the sex and power issues within a stable marriage. He writes: “Even though as a gynecologist, I knew there were better methods available for birth control, I always recommended the old-fashioned diaphragm to couples because it had a distinct advantage: it had to be stored somewhere, usually in the soap dish or shampoo caddy in the shower. Early on in our marriage, I learned that if I let my wife get into bed first, I could go into the bathroom and check the shower, and I could eliminate the guessing game as to whether that night would be a go or not. If the diaphragm was not in the shower, there was only one other place it could be. If it was still in the shower, then I could get into bed with a pre-emptive strike, saying, "Is it okay if I just hold you tonight?" After our last child and after the tubal ligation, I was back out in the woods, figuratively. When I asked my wife if she would mind continuing to use the diaphragm, and she figured out why, I got cut off for a good two weeks.”
I took a popular workshop in the early 80’s called “Men, Sex and Power” (now “The Sterling Men’s Weekend”) in which the following riddle was proposed as a summary of male-female relations around sexuality:
“How does an 800 pound (male) gorilla make love to its (female) mate?”
Answer: “Anyway he wants to.”
The message was that women ultimately want men to be men, and that they want to be “taken,” often with force (in a safe and mutually agreed-upon, consensual way) and it was high time that New Age men—there’s no better way to say it—“got their balls back.” (I actually don’t think women want to be taken by force, except maybe once by Javier Barden; they mostly want us to beg, plead and clean the house.)
But the message of the gorilla is dangerously close to the belief system of right-leaning Christian groups like The Promise Keepers who assert that a man must reclaim his rightful place as head of the family, the one who “wears the pants,” while the little woman returns to her rightful place as nurturer of hearth and home. Certainly as a society we have thankfully moved way past such
limiting roles long ago. But in the sexual arena, even wise teachers of sexuality such as David Deida, author of umpteen books on the subject, insists that in striving for equality of the sexes, women have become more like men, men more like women, and in that sameness we have lost the fundamental male-female energetic polarity that makes for desire, lust and hot sex. How to bridge this gulf, in which men are men, women are women, and raw, primal desire is real and allowed, yet not cross over into the world of inequality, rigid roles, objectification, and pre-feminist values?
It’s the marriage of love and desire, the blending of Eros and Agape that has been particularly problematic for men forever: if I want you, I don’t love you, and if I love you, I don’t want you. How many men have sectioned off their lives, keeping love in the home and hiding Eros in the pornography closet?
What would a “Masculinism” movement entail? Preferably, something other than the Bly-inspired Men’s Movement that usually had us sitting in sweat lodges and drumming naked in the woods, desperately trying to reclaim our primitive roots. (Some children’s summer camps try to instill these male instincts early: my friend’s son came back from one such place with the new name, “Flows With the Dolphins.” When I heard that, to honor my sweat lodge experiences, I briefly became “Shvitzing with the Schmucks,” but it didn’t stick.) I don’t think becoming imitation Native Americans is the answer for guys like me, or most men I know. Somewhere between Ward Cleaver and Geronimo the answer lies.
My friend Charley, however, a veteran of the Men’s Movement, points out, in its defense, that “Men in America are divorced from the earth, the sky, the air and fire and water and every thing that made men men for thousands of years because they were close to nature.” (I beg to differ; when I was a kid, there was no such thing, for example, as indoor malls. When my mother took me shopping for clothes, all of the stores were right out in the open, exposed to the elements. And she often allowed my brother and me to set up our little pup tent in the living room, where we kept a window open so we could hear the crickets and other wildlife sounds of the Fair Lawn, New Jersey nights. Cut off from nature? I don’t think so.)
Charley offered me a few other ideas: “My solution to the problem of keeping masculinity/sexuality alive in a loving relationship has been:
a) “to honor the "deep masculine"—the part of me that's earthy, dirty, politically incorrect, crude, rude, and wild.” (See above re: my camping out adventures. I think I’m right on track there.)
b) “surrounding myself with men in my life: good men who prove their love for me by kicking me in the butt whenever I am full of shit. And seeing them often!” (I’m sadly undernourished on this front, although I did see Charley himself three months ago, for about an hour, which counts for seven regular man-hours; it’s like dog years.)
c) “never getting too close to my wife. Oh we spend quality time and I adore her and love her more than I've ever loved a woman. But I limit my time with her. Otherwise, Mr. Dicky dies of Domesticide.” (Clearly, I have to cut Shari’s hours way back; lately it seems as if I see her practically everyday! And to make matters worse, we share the same house and bedroom. This has got to stop.)
d) “remembering that f***ing is more animal than human, and acting accordingly. Also, even though animals don't fantasize, I do. And in bed, anything goes. As Woody said, ‘If sex isn’t dirty, why bother?’” (My difficulty with this one is that when I allow my animal instincts to take over, the animal I most often become is a giraffe; talk about necking. That’s as far as we ever get. And my most recurring sexual fantasy involves several women from Cirque du Soleil, Mrs. Filas (my 7th grade science teacher) and a papaya; don’t ask.)
e) ”keeping a hunter's eye out for other women at all times. I don't f***, feel, or kiss other women, but I flirt with them whenever I can. It keeps my testosterone up, which helps me keep my sexual edge in bed with my wife.” (I do this as well, but only when I’m home. And since we live alone with three female cats, all my flirting seems to rapidly escalate to heavy petting as well. That does seem to keep my testosterone levels up, though.)
f) “having a therapist I meet with weekly who's wilder and crazier and more aggressive and alpha male than I'll ever be, and using him as my role model.” (Okay, he’s got me on this one. I chose for my therapist a short, pudgy Jewish guy. When I use him as a role model, I mostly find myself ordering takeout at the Chinese place.)
g) “remembering that for us Jewish guys especially (but not only), nice is a Yiddish word roughly translated as gender victim.” (Thank God, I’m not really a nice guy. Although I do regularly send money to the Save Tibet campaign and the Vote Yes on Cannabis committee.)
h) “and finally, and this goes along with not being too close: if you try to be ‘spiritually correct’ through being completely open and transparent with your woman, your sex life will sink. Erase the boundaries between you, and you blur where she ends and you begin, in which case you might as well go f*** yourself.” (I know exactly where Shari ends and I begin. She’s right over there, sitting on the couch. See for yourself. Wearing a fake beard, for some mysterious reason. I think she may have some sort of sexual fantasy about Tevye she won't share with me. Might explain why she walks around the house singing, "The Papa......the Papa!")
To summarize, an effective and true Masculinism Movement would help men very simply reclaim their full-blooded desire in a way that simultaneously demonstrated to women that it is both safe and desirable—for all parties— that men be released from their sexual cages.
To end, I quote Dobyn’s “Desire” again:
What is desire but the wish for some
relief from the self, the prisoner let out
into a small square of sunlight with a single
red flower and a bird crossing the sky, to lean back
against the bricks with the legs outstretched,
to feel the sun warming the brow, before returning
to one's mortal cage, steel doors slamming
in the cell block, steel bolts sliding shut?