What does it take to speak up for men?
For three years I served on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City. As 1 explained women’s perspectives to men, 1 often noticed a woman elbow the man she was with, as if to say, "See, even an expert says what a jerk you are." I slowly became good at saying what women wanted to hear. I enjoyed the standing ovations that followed.
The fan that my audiences were about 90 percent women and 10 percent men (most of whom had been dragged there by the women) only reinforced my assumption that women were enlightened and men were Neanderthals; that women were, after all, smart women stuck with foolish choices. I secret^ loved this perspective – it allowed me to see myself as one of America’s sensitive new age men. A new Top Gun. Feminists who asked me, "How can we done you?” or “What in your background made you so secure?” reinforced that secret pride. And the three or four invitations for
new engagements following each speech allowed for some financial security.
Years pavsed. As most of the women who were my strongest supporters got divorced, I could only assume the problem was their husbands. The women agreed But 1 observed something my feminist women friends had in common: an increasing anger toward men, a restlessness in their eyes that did not reflect a deeper inner peace.
Then one day (in one of those rare moments of internal security) I asked myself whether whatever impact I might have had was a positive one; 1 wondered if the reason so many more women than men listened to me was because I had been listening to women but not listening to men. I reviewed some of the tapes from among the hundreds of women s and men’s groups I had started. I heard myself. When women criticized men, I called it "insight," "assertiveness," "women’s liberation," "independence,” or "high selfesteem." When men criticized women, I called it "sexism," "male chauvinism," "defensiveness," "rationalizing," and "backlash." 1 did it politely – but the men got the point. Soon the men were no longer expressing their feelings. Then I criticized the men for not expressing their feelings!
I decided to experiment with ways of getting men to express feelings. I noticed men were often most open about their feelings on the first date. On the first date, the woman often used what I came tocall "awe training" – those looks of "Wow, that’s fascinating" in her eyes (if not in her words). The men felt secure and opened up.
So when men in my men’s groups spoke, I exercised some awe training. It worked. 1 heard things I had never heard before – things that forced me to reexamine my own life and motives. The combination created a new dilemma. . .
Now when women asked, "Why are men afraid of commitment?" or feminists said, "Men have the power,” my answers incorporated both sexes’ perspectives. Almost overnight my standing ovations disintegrated. After each speaking engagement, I was no longer receiving three or four new requests to speak. My financial security was drying up.
I would not be honest if I denied that this tempted me to return to being a spokesperson only for women’s perspectives. I liked writing, speaking, and doing television shows. Now it seemed that all three were in jeopardy. I quickly discovered it took far more internal security to speak on behalf of men than to speak on behalf of women. Or, more accurately, to speak on behalf of both sexes rather than on behalf of only women.
Fortunately there is another side. Although it was women’s standing ovations that had tapered off, it was also mostly women who wrote me that these new perspectives were helping them feel much more loving toward their husbands or fathers, their sons, or a man at work. And it was mostly
women who said it would help them if these new perspectives were in writing