By Sylvia Cary
From October 1998 Men’s Fitness
“Two guys go into a store to buy a brain. The male brain costs $100 and the female brain costs $25. When they ask the store clerk why the female brain costs so much less, he tells them, ‘Because the female brain has been used.”
– joke told by actress Sharon Stone during a March 1998 TV tribute to Betty Ford
Think that’s funny? The audience certainly did. But can you imagine if the joke had been reversed – as it might have been, say, 50 years ago? We’ve come a long way – so long that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, and now it’s aimed directly at you.
Thirty years after the women’s movement began, there’s only one politically correct target group left: guys. Particularly rich white guys, but guys in general will do. Examples of male-bashing are all around us – in books and movies that denigrate men as ridiculously immature and entirely ruled by their little heads, in that make husbands the butt of every family joke, in TV commercial that disparage male pride (if they’re lost, it’s because he’s too stubborn to ask for directions) or portray them as unable to care for themselves (the only reason the macho guy recovers from his really tough headache is because she cajoles him into taking a pill). Meanwhile, the phrase, “testosterone poisoning” has come to symbolize everything supposedly wrong with behaving like a typical male.
Now, it’s not that there isn’t any truth to these portrayals, or that the jokes weren’t kind of funny the first time we heard them. But I have to admit, if I were a guy, I would be pretty steamed by now.
What’s strange about all this is that men aren’t upset, says Warren Farrell, Ph.D., the San Diego–based author of Why Men Are the Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. (Berkley, $7 each) Most have come to accept male-bashing as a part of life. “The war between the sexes is continuing, but now only one side is showing up,” he says. Many men even see a little bashing as their due, adds, Gordon Bruning, Ph.D., an admitting psychologist at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. “Men still have guilt from years of discrimination against women, so it’s like the men are saying to themselves, OK, ladies, we’ll let you get a few licks in.
” Of course, a lot of media male-bashing happens just because it’s easy – who else are you going to make jokes about in the 90’s? Make fun of women, minorities, religious or ethnic groups anywhere outside the Howard Stern show and you’ll get hisses, not laughs.
But it’s also true that some women really are angry at men. Farrell says. This is in part, he argues, because in the decades since World War II, women have had to abandon their “primary fantasy” that men will provide them with lifelong economic security. (Although feminists have argued with this idea, there’s no question that the “knight in shining armor” myth still has a strong hold on our culture – just look at movies like Pretty Woman, or even As Good As It Gets). Instead, many women have found themselves divorced, often facing the double burden of child care and financial responsibilities that used to be divided among couples.
At the same time, women who fought hard for their independence are reluctant to admit they still like the idea of a rescuer in the wings, comments Stephen Johnson, Ph.D., founder and director of the Men’s Center of Los Angeles. It may be easier to believe that men are useless than to admit a need for them, particularly when that need is not easily fulfilled. “I have a hunch that at the heart of it, women are lonely and longing for a good relationship with men, but they’re afraid such relationships are few and far between,” Johnson says. “On top of that is their anger: ‘If I can’t have the kind of man that I want, I’m going to throw stones at the image.'”
If you’re unaware of that anger, maybe it’s because what you hear is just the tip of the iceberg, says Irving Zaroff, a licensed attorney, business man and marriage and family counselor. “When I was studying to become a counselor, I interned at a counseling center with about 30 women,” he recalls. “The only other male there was the director. When I’d go into staff meetings, I had a feeling that certain issues were being skirted.” After a while, Zaroff learned that it wasn’t his imagination. One female staff member told him that in the past there had been lots of male-bashing at these meetings, but that his presence had curbed it. He was left to wonder what had been said behind closed doors.
Dealing With It
What if someone close to you – even someone you care about – says something you consider a form of male-bashing? It could be a joke about men in general, pr maybe something that hits closer to home – a statement that says you’re being a guy, and that there’s something wrong with that.
The first thing to consider is whether it comes out of truth. Maybe you are being a jerk. Maybe you should have been more considerate, put the toilet seat down, done a little less talking and a little more listening. After all, you may not be wrong all the time, but you certainly aren’t right all the time, either.
But if you hear a woman putting down you in particular or guys in general just for being men, don’t just accept it – speak up. Tell her it bothers you, and try to find out where all that hostility is coming from.
In most cases, simply talking about it will dissipate her anger anyway – especially since the main complaint many women have about the men in their lives is that they won’t communicate. Deep down, most women really want to be educated about what men think and feel, Zaroff says. They’re hungry for it. Otherwise, a woman may assume that the man doesn’t feel much at all.
“When you don’t do anything about male-bashing, you encourage it,” says Zaroff. “When the bashing hits closer to home and comes from somebody I deeply care about, my tendency is to be pretty direct. I try to describe how I feel when they make a crack I don’t like.”
According to Farrell, when responding to a male-bashing joke or comment, it’s important to keep things light. “Always maintain a tone of respect in your voice, and make it clear that you’re not taking it too seriously,” he says. “Usually the point is so powerful that you don’t need to say it with a negative tone.”
Most people will get the point quickly if you simply reverse the roles involved, Farrell adds. “If they say some version of ‘all men are stupid,’ then say, ‘How would you feel if somebody said all women are stupid?’ Or, to put it in racial terms, ‘How would you feel if someone made a similar remark about blacks? Would you still consider it to be just a joke?’ What’s helpful about this is that it allows people to see things in a way they haven’t before.”
Trading information and insights about male-bashing can really help, so start educating yourself and your female friends about the issue. It would be nice if there were an influential men’s organization to help you do this – but the nascent men’s movement never really got off the ground after it was depicted in the media as a bunch of hairy idiots drumming in the woods. (Talk about a bashing!) Recovery from that period is still going on, Johnson says. But individual men and women talking to one another will make for a good start.