A conversation: An older woman I know – call her “Karen” – once had the pleasure, along with her roommate, of meeting Senator Ted Kennedy when she was in college, back in the sixties. When she mentioned this to me, I had to ask, “So, did Senator Ted Kennedy make a pass at you?”
“I have to tell you, my roommate and I were both terribly offended,” Karen deadpanned, “Ted Kennedy didn’t make a pass at either one of us!”
It’s a funny story. But at the same time, the way she said it, it was hard not to think that, at some level, Karen and her roommate really were offended that they were not the object of Kennedy’s affections. (By the way, let me state the obvious in that there is nothing inherently terrible about young women having such desires. Yet to the extent these desires exist I think it’s helpful to discuss them honestly and openly.)
Another conversation: There’s a friend of the family that Karen and I both know – call him “Fred.” Fred has a worthless degree; Fred’s wife has a more useful degree. Fred stays at home with their two small children; Fred’s wife works. One day I was talking with Karen and somehow Fred’s name was mentioned.
“You know,” Karen winced, “he’s kind of a house husband.” Kind of a house husband. Karen said this in the same tone of voice you might use if you were talking about someone’s drinking problem or obvious weight gain. Kind of a house husband. Not a compliment.
I mention these two stories together because I think they illustrate the two lessons that young men often learn, at least from some feminists. There’s the explicit message: “Be nice and be kind. No need to fight for status and power. Just be the best you you can be.” And then there’s the implicit message: “You’re going to be graded on a sliding scale, pal, so you damn well better claw your way to the top. And for crissake, don’t be a househusband.”
Men who are a little slow on the uptake learn only the explicit message, but most men learn both. Smart men learn to hide from others their knowledge of the implicit message, and really smart men learn to hide from themselves their knowledge of the implicit message – yet still act on this knowledge to their own benefit.