My magazine editor recently offered me the “Rant” section of the issue, basically free rein to, well, rant, on anything I choose. I wrote an article that he handed back to me, declining to publish it. Our conversation went thus:
Editor: There is no place in this magazine for something so narrow-minded, ill-informed, wrong-headed, depressing and depressive, untruthful–
Me: Why not?!?!
Me: Prissy only if you look at the world through pervert-colored glasses!!
Editor: Your readers will dismiss you as a frigid, frustrated suburban biddy–
Me: I’m OK with that!!
Editor: That is not what this magazine is about.
Me: BOLLOCKS IT’S NOT!!
Editor: Bollocks it is.
Me: (mo’ded silence)
Editor: (grins nefariouosly)
It reminded me a little of my conversations with the director at my old theatre:
Director: Larissa, I can’t cast you in (name of play)–
Me: Why the hell not?!
Director:–because you’re too/not enough (adjective) for the role of (proper name). Don’t worry; there will be parts that suit your (noun) more (adverb). (Proper name)’s audition was more/less (adjective) and she (verb)’s more (adverb) for the part.
Me: Like hell she is/does!!
Director: Don’t argue with me.
Me: (mo’ded weeping)
Director: (glowers nefariously)
Anyway, here I can publish the article in all its prissy glory. In your face, Conde Nast!
(or whoever owns the magazine)
I had an acquaintance for a while whom I didn’t know well, but who seemed worth getting to know—he had pretty red hair and was taller than I (which always grabs my attention-I don’t know why more men don’t try it), and had a relaxed arrogance that I should probably learn to read as a warning sign but haven’t yet. I was curious about him and pleased when he approached me at a recent party in the Village. But when he spoke, his intentions were so unappetizingly clear—so impersonally sex-driven –that out of abashment and instinctive non-whoriness I mentally aborted those embryonic “maybe” thoughts I had harbored for him and felt my loins frosting over as I waited for the barrage of come-ons to end. So unworried was he that his baldfaced bluntness was inappropriate, unappealing, or even downright repulsive to any woman who wasn’t a slipshod floozy, that when I declined, instead of rethinking his tactic and hazarding a different one, he demanded that I explain why I wasn’t interested. As flummoxed as I was at hearing that a one night stand with the likes of him or bloody-anyone should fill my heart with giddy joy or whatever, the second shock of being challenged to justify myself left me stunned. I should have slapped him, and only later did I realize how unfortunate it really was that I hadn’t slapped him, because there was a deeper insult I hadn’t articulated to myself in the moment: He not only thought I was the kind of person (slipshod floozy) who would respond to such crassness, but he felt he could say it to my face. Maybe the way I describe this incident makes the boy sound like some displaced macho freak from a David Mamet play, but I’d wager that his “strategy,” if you can call something so un-thought out and artless a strategy, is not so unusual. Every woman my age I know has endured similar interactions; I wouldn’t be surprised if a good number of girls a decade younger than I had as well. Now, men don’t make a habit of repeating maneuvers that don’t work for them, so I’ll venture that as depressing as it is to acknowledge it, many women fall for this lunkheaded vulgarity.
As a contrast, I’ll offer a short anecdote about my father: In the years following the second world war, he was laid up with TB at the veteran’s hospital in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Though not a misanthropist, he remained somewhat aloof from the other patients, whom he considered to be graceless Yankees. Instead of joining the other men in their regular entertainments: gambling, spitting, and harassing the nurses, he amused himself by resuming a practice his mother had taught him: tatting (a method of needlework used to create lace designs on the edges of fabric). This is not a skill most men learn these days, but in his time, and in the South, it was common for a mother to teach her son the same homemaking skills she taught her daughters. In any case, the nurses were disarmed by my father’s gentlemanly manners and impressed with his artistry, and soon started bringing him their knickers to be embellished. He’d get a plain pair of panties and return them trimmed with pink daisies. The other men, who at first had snickered at his practice of this womanish art, now realized that they had been outdone; for all their gropings and lunkheaded overtures, it was my father whose bed was perpetually flanked by a bevy of squealing, giggling nurses waving their silken underthings in delight. Southern charm had triumphed over Northern boorishness.
I began this article intending to extol the second manner of wooing I described, the artful over the obtuse, but then I realized that this would be akin to saying I want a man who will trick me out of my panties, and decided to reconsider. I am inclined to appreciate the gentleness of my father’s manner, not to mention the implied understanding that a woman must be too intelligent and classy to succumb to blunt propositioning (an understanding clearly lacked by that boy I should have slapped). And it angers me that there are so many men who need to be slapped, and so few women who will slap them. After all, the proper response to being objectified, underrated, and insulted is not to sleep with the offender (which must happen often enough to make it worth men’s while to continue to act this way), but to slap him down, yes?
But on second thought I see that it’s no better to surrender to the charming, artful, and subtle, than to the crude, brazen, and heavy-handed. Behind them both is the same coarse pragmatism that should be recognized for what it is: not a genuine interest in the woman as a human being and individual, but rather an undiscriminating quest for poon, however elegantly dressed. My artful father was not a lecher, but he could have been, and a very successful one. I suspect that the artless boy I regret not slapping is also a successful lecher.
Now my question is: Why is it that, whatever the current and local trends are for seducing women, whether they involve straightforwardness or dissembling, women can be counted on to respond positively to them? Who cares if a few hardheaded icequeens like me won’t stand for it? Men seduce on the principle of carpet-bombing: throw enough missiles and you’re bound to hit something. As I said before, enough women must respond to these techniques to give men reason to continue employing them. They sleep with men who have not given any convincing indication that they love or respect them, and then whine that the men they’re sleeping with don’t love or respect them. What else, besides shoes, was Sex and the City about?
Perhaps I am just more frustrated than my peers at the atmosphere between the sexes, which to me appears cluttered with miscarried intentions and run-down hopes. But even I am not entirely pessimistic. Something must work; people do fall in love and enjoy satisfying relationships, even if such sweet tales are spectacularly upstaged by epics of failure and regret. But regardless of how a romance turns out in the end, there are ways of approaching a woman initially which don’t insult her intelligence or outrage her class. I believe a woman can always tell, though she may be awash in denial about it, when a man is merely putting his boner on hold until he can come up with that perfect line which is the “Open Sesame” of her pants, and when he is speaking to her because he genuinely finds her interesting and might want her company for activities other than boning. It is to keep the terrible debilitating loneliness at bay that she will hold onto her denial even when her instinct tells her she’s being scammed. In Tennessee Williams’s brutal play Orpheus Descending, fallen belle Carol Cutrere explains why she sleeps with man after man despite the physical danger to her frame, too slight to survive childbearing, too slight even to endure the weight of a man without agony: ”The act of lovemaking is almost unbearably painful, and yet of course, I do bear it, because to not be alone, even for a few moments, is worth the pain and the danger.” Even a hardheaded icequeen (my editor adds, “prissy auto-didact”) can understand this choice, this lethal need to forget, however briefly, how alone we actually are. To silence that inner howling for intimacy we will go with the boorish propositioner or the eloquent playboy–will knowingly accept the ersatz for want of the genuine.…and as the howls rise up again, we feel ourselves turning into the bitter cynics we never believed we could be.
Or perhaps not. As much heartache as is out there, perhaps…….the devices one sex uses to get closer to the other aren’t really to blame, are rather just that, devices, not the substance of the problem. I guess it didn’t do me any more harm to be subjected to the artless boy’s blunt invitation than it did those nurses to loan their underwear to my skillful father. Such villainies seem rather twee compared to the disaster of a full-fledged, authentic love falling apart, the hopes of two vested people destroyed, which truly is the frightening thing.