To feel….or….to do

In one of my favorite mindless teen comedy movies from the 80’s, Better Off Dead, the character played by the actor we all affectionately knew as Bugger was lecturing John Cusack’s character about how to handle some situation at school. He says , “I know High School, Ive been here 6 years”. That’s a take on a common humor device also using marriage and divorce as its basis on occasion, as in, “I know about marriage, Ive had several”. Its always worth a chuckle.

I apologize this is a long post, I know its bad form.

Hugo Schwyzer (professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College) has no trouble using his 2 divorces as bibliography for his cutting edge male self effacement in his article:

Poor Pitiful Men: The Martyr Complex of the American Husband

He is responding to a somewhat scatter shot but decent piece by Lisa Hickey called

Are Husbands Really Assholes? Or Do Their Wives Just Think They Are?

In summary of their positions, Lisa is pointing out extreme neediness as what men perceive in women, and even allowing that the perception can be the reality, and making non-threatening suggestions as to how the ravine be bridged, while Schwyzer is simply pandering to women, saying men need to carry their weight in relationship, but making the pedestrian mistake of defining relationship as the mode and manner of comportment between females.

Both writers seem to agree that generally speaking men want to make women happy. (this is a fact I have written about many times from the standpoint that if it could be realized by wives as the underpinning behind men’s actions, much that is seen as dysfunction would be seen as affection, clumsy, maybe, but positive nonetheless) But they both go very different directions with this idea.

Hicks writes:

Often a man will admit that a central issue in their lives is dealing with the irrational-seeming criticism from their wives in a way that isn’t defensive but shows compassion and love, despite the cost to their souls.

and continues,

There is an obvious breakdown of communication in the marriages where men feel resentful and women are oblivious to that resentment. But the saddest thing, to me, is that the breakdown is destined to continue; many men agreed to be quoted only if they could do so anonymously. They can’t talk openly about their marriages without fear of reprisal. The last thing they want is for their wives to find out.

Hickey sees men trapped, afraid to do the very thing that Schwyzer says men should be doing but are socialized not to, that being to share their feelings.

The source of our frustrated inability to connect with our spouses and long-term girlfriends isn’t their elevated expectations or some innate male biological trait that serves as an impediment to self-awareness. The problem is that most men are raised with what is often called the “Guy Code.”

He is convinced that men and women are the same, and it is socialized into men that we are not emotionally literate. He posits that we can simply choose to overcome this socialization, and like some emotional tuning fork, reach a standing harmonic that compliments the waves of feelings washing off our wives. I suppose empiricism be damned regarding physical brain differences in the genders. But Hickey shows that men want to please women, and men want to reveal their feelings to women, but fear something in the response they will receive.

He makes a terrible attempt at analogy here,

The Guy Code teaches men how to pursue women, how to court, and how to charm; it teaches us nothing about how to be in an actual relationship with a woman once we’ve succeeded in catching her. (If you’re getting an image of a dog who looks bewildered and helpless when he’s finally managed to catch the cat he’s been chasing, you’re not far off the mark.)

Are men pursuing women analogous to a dog chasing a cat? Maybe, since the mildly predatory implication fits well his view of men as beast beasts.

He then lays his head on the floor, grabs her boot clad ankle and places her foot squarely on his jaw.

we’re often in awe of what seem like her “naturally” superior emotional abilities. Women seem to have this extraordinary capacity to describe their feelings with precision; they seem to be so much better at remembering the nuances of conversations we’ve long since forgotten.

Really? I’m not in awe of the ever churning blob of unreconciled emotions that shoots out verbal lightening bolts for no logical reason and expects a man to be ready as a grounding rod for them. They have no such capacity. They remember nuances, because it is in nuance that the woman makes her point, and her point is not discernible to any but herself. When two women begin the empathy quest together, they throw situations and feelings out, like trolling for fish, each casting about until they can both say “I know exactly how you feel”. This is the apogee of emotional relationship, feeling like someone feels like they know how someone else feels….whew, a mouthful.

He is hard on the men in Hickeys piece saying ‘

the majority of the men in Lisa Hickey’s piece don’t sound like men who are actively trying to resolve a problem with a partner whom they regard as an equal. They sound petulant and resentful; they sound defeated

They sound defeated because they are defeated. They are not outscored, outwitted, or out maneuvered, they are beaten like the birthday boy in the dunce cap trying to blow out those candles that relight themselves, the women ALWAYS has something else to say and the unique ability to segue with the expression “thats just like”…..and move on to a train of thought that is NOTHING like the previous one.

Hickey talks about female nagging and control also, and Hugo doesn’t really speak to that issue except to suggest that really its not nagging and control, its that men are emotionally stunted that makes us unable to discern between valid criticism and plain hurtful words.

The fact is we are GENERALLY different. Those who equate the utility of emotion to that of the tangible are the same ones who cannot even grasp the basic concept of a generality and its validity or not. In fact its the perfect manifestation of what the good professor is selling, away with facts and figures, in with the feelings, never mind that men are generally bigger than women, not ALL are, and it just doesn’t FEEL right to say so, hence, we cannot generalize.

Hickey gets a little sideways on decrying generalizations herself when she says,

men and women start to make vast generalizations about each other, based on what they see as repetitive behavior in the one relationship they would like to believe is unique

I suppose she sees the claim to marriage being unique as a contradiction to the validity of a generalization. They two are not logically related, not mutually exclusive or otherwise.

Finally Schwyzer makes the mistake of criticizing men for self deprecating behavior, er, right in the middle of an entire article that is nothing but self deprecation. processing things emotionally allows that sort of blunt contradiction to stand.

And all the while, we submarine, self-deprecate, and endure.

Schwyzer  equates word to deed, no, feelings to deeds, with words being the window to the feelings, and then sets the bar for relationship using metrics that are rooted in word pictures of feelings. A professor of history and gender studies can do so, from an insular world where light comes from switches, water from faucets, and we can get our meat at the supermarket where no animals need to be harmed. At root this equating of feelings to deeds is already a problem, and thankfully those in the hard sciences still realize that actions and facts ALSO rely on words as mode of expression, and in most tangible endeavors, feelings are not figuratively building the bridge, transplanting the heart, or giving lift to the plane’s wings.

The rest of us who, lets say when they are deciding how deep to drive piling in the bedrock to build a skyscraper, don’t give a rats hairy rear how someone FEELS about it understand that these two modes of communication or needed, and valid, neither innately better than the other. Its wrong of anyone to base the quality of relationship on their spouse changing to their mode, to have that expectation. Something has rotted the self esteem of western women, creating an ever growing irrational need for emotional validation. feminism teaches that men and women are at once exactly the same, AND each individual little snowflakes. That is another example of plastering over logic with feelings, never mind that those two things are mutually exclusive.

Near the end of Hugo’s piece he really induces queasiness.

It’s tempting—oh, so tempting—to attribute our own comparative inarticulateness to our testosterone, or to our Y chromosome, to God’s plan for marriage, or anything that is sufficiently immutable so as to excuse us from having to engage with these heavily-armed wordsmiths as equals

Heavily armed wordsmiths? Our comparative inarticulateness? Has Hugo checked the gender of most writers of the classics? How about philosophers conveyance of logic, math, reason, chemistry, physics? Has there been an offsetting surge in female accomplishement of same that we can extrapolate out where we reach nirvana equality in gender balance of same? Would that show that effect of the patriarchy?

I suppose it would, not because it would, but because it feels like it would.

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One thought on “To feel….or….to do

  1. Women seem to have this extraordinary capacity to describe their feelings with precision

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Oh mercy!

    “Heavily armed wordsmiths”? What a nauseating little man.

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