A Fantasy for the Sexes

Male and female gender symbols in fire of love

Op-Ed: In contemporary America, women and men still act out ancient roles. From the point of view of the men, the society is a matriarchy: Women have physically less demanding jobs — with the sole exception of childbirth, by now a rare event in the average woman’s life. Women sustain far fewer injuries on the job, are not required to go to war, take better care of their health, and for these reasons and many others enjoy a lifespan significantly longer than that of men.

In this society, men use their physical strength, when necessary, on women’s behalf.  Women claim to be equal partners when that suits them and claim to be entitled to special consideration when that suits them. They insist on autonomy in maintaining or aborting pregnancies, but at the same time, they determine the fathers’ duties-and rights, if any. Women claim child support. They can either demand or impede fathers’ continuing involvement with their offspring, as the women see fit. The result is that women have advantages over men in child custody suits, just as they have learned to use charges of child sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Though dozens of studies show that women, by their own account, initiate violence against their domestic partners as often as (if not more often than) men, and cause as much injury when weapons are involved, somehow the social mythologies of this country keep that fact from gaining broad public attention, let alone credence.

But worst of all, in terms of the interactions of daily life, are women’s emotional demands on men. At home, men routinely sit through harangues that demonstrate women’s greater verbal skills and emotional agility. Men, inarticulate, try to figure out what is required of them in a given situation. Not by accident, verbal therapies in this society archetypically began with men listening and women speaking. Even as little boys, males learn to be in awe of girls’ verbal fluency. The feeling of ineptness, of being no match for females at the verbal and emotional level, is the common inheritance of all but a few exceptional males.

The matriarchy here described, structured to protect women’s interests as against men’s (and, ironically, having conned men into defending such a set up) puts a premium on women’s special social and emotional skills. Everywhere, women engage men and one another in personal conversation, offering and receiving disclosures, demanding commiseration, giving advice, spreading censure. Men, trained to keep to their workhorse style, are uncomfortably cornered by women, in the workplace, and at home, demanding that they speak from the heart.  When asked “How are you?” women give a detailed and precise accounting. In offices, they spend valuable time discussing personal matters.

Studies are done on the economic costs of smoking and poor health, but not of the costs of women’s work habits.

In the private sphere, women endlessly complain that men are not on their wavelength. An observer of this society, coming into a shop toward the end of a conversation and hearing one woman say heatedly to another, “… stood there like a stone and said not a word!” knows that a man is being described. Or on the street, overhearing one woman say, in anger, to another, “It was like talking to a plot of grass!” knows that an unsatisfactory encounter with a man is being recounted.

At home and on the job, men are reminded of their emotional inferiority and verbal inadequacy. Nowhere are they as quick as women in their emotional responses, their verbalization of those responses, or their acuity in gauging the dynamics of interaction or situation. And constantly they are reminded of this disadvantage. Women berate them, browbeat them, even physically attack them out of frustration at these characteristics.

Somehow it is always men who are to blame. Even in the schoolyard, little boys suffer from puzzlement, pain, and ostracism as little girls make comments and express expectations boys cannot quite grasp or respond to. Thus, boys are trained into a lifelong awareness of inferiority.  At home, mothers demand expression of their sons’ and husbands’ feelings and berate them when they are confused and reticent.  At work, women exchange knowing smiles signifying that   men ‘Just don’t get it.”

Finally, some men are organizing around the issue of emotional harassment, the problem that hitherto has had no name. A sophisticated analysis of the matriarchal bases of this social practice springs up. Everyone denies that it has anything at all to do with biology, which allows women to be fully blamed for this domineering and demanding behavior, highlights women’s shortcomings, and pushes them into corrective political action.

And so, a men’s movement develops.

Men who have been in “denial” for years hear the news, attend workshops, go to counselors, speak bitterness in groups to help them be on the alert for any sign of emotional harassment.

They seek redress and financial relief for the emotional harassment imposed on them by a woman who, perhaps inadvertently, said a wrong word or hinted at an emotional demand, creating a hostile environment and making it impossible for men to participate fully in school or on the job.

Courts, overwhelmingly made up of individuals who feel condescension toward these male complainants, uphold new laws and interpretations that outlaw emotional harassment in school and workplace. The economic costs of the underutilization of men’s emotional capacities begin to be gauged.

The constant pressure on men to tell personal stories and focus on the analysis of their feelings is finally recognized for what it is: a gender gambit designed to maintain female superiority by reminding men of their place and of their vulnerability to women’s more high-powered emotional and verbal style. Mass culture is rewritten, and all those strong silent types in film and fiction are now understood to be men damaged by matriarchal values.

Mystified women start watching their every word, guarding against any idle gesture or expression that might inadvertently express something that, to vulnerable men, could be taken as emotional or verbal harassment. Women become cautious, wary, suspicious, ever on guard lest a misplaced word or even implicit emotional demand might cost them their reputation, employment, and family.

Men enjoy women’s discomfit, the groveling and awkwardness that become part of daily interactions as women are put on the defensive. Woke women join the men, fearful that otherwise they too might be targeted as abusers and exploiters.

A new day is celebrated by men, who have at last found redress for one of the oldest abuses in the history of the species.

And, thus, at long last, the entire society moves one step closer to perfect equality.

Adapted from the introduction to  D. Patai, Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism (1998).

Daphne Patai

Daphne Patai

Daphne Patai is professor emeritus in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of, "What Price Utopia? Essays on Ideological Policing, Feminism, and Academic Affairs," among other books,

22 thoughts on “A Fantasy for the Sexes

  1. Consider this question: Why is it that men rule the world?

    Answer: Because women cannot get along.

  2. : Even as little boys, males learn to be in awe of girls’ verbal fluency. The
    : feeling of ineptness, of being no match for females at the verbal and
    : emotional level, is the common inheritance of all but a few exceptional males.

    I never felt this way even once. I have no doubt I’m a better speaker and writer than nearly all I survey.

  3. The scorn and contempt Patai feels for men leaks through in this pretension of sympathetic fantasy. I am astonished that Minding the Campus published this, unless it was to expose another enemy playing sympathetic friend.

  4. Women are supposedly more verbal, but almost all of the greatest writers have been men. Perhaps that’s because women use their verbal skills for interacting with close associates (important if you’re on the distaff, gatherer side of a hunter/gatherer society) while men who are verbal use those skills to interact with the wider world.

    1. Have you heard of the ‘long tail’? Men are more likely to appear at the extreme ends of distributions, here being almost non-verbal, and at the other end being extremely capable with language and its use.

  5. What are little boys made of?
    Snips and snails
    And puppy-dogs’ tails
    What are little girls made of?
    Sugar and spice
    And everything nice [or “all things nice”]

  6. I can’t believe those leaving earlier comments didn’t realize what the author did in this piece. She flipped the whole history of who was oppressed by whom on its head! The wordiness and reiterations were intentional, a bit of hyperbole to show the increasing ridiculousness of the process of “equalization.”
    Fantastic piece

  7. Revenge of men: not to get married until well into their forties, and marry women in their twenties. Men can have babies in their 40’s, women cannot. Younger women who need their mature men’s paychecks are more amenable.

  8. And then any woman who disagrees with you on any matter says, Oh, you’re just a cishet white MRA bro, and shuts down the conversation, confident that by this statement they have won.

  9. This is not the ancient paradigm. That one was rather simpler called might makes right. A woman might get her say until a man had his fill.

  10. Interesting, and lotta truth, albeit with way too many corollaries and particulars. — or, too wordy, but coming fm a woman who specializes in that AND overthinking…. no surprise.
    Women’s lifespan over men isn’t really that significant, from our situations. I’ve done the calcs based on the 2014 Society of Actuaries Tables and for white collar careers, and non disabled, a 65 yr old man and woman have 50% chance of living to age 87 and 89…..so not huge diff.
    As far as women’s verbal skills superiority— yep, but men have invented and perfected virtually everything we use in our daily lives. It’s actually quite revolting that women don’t appreciate it , even to a 1% level. It’s akin to people being paid by taxpayers — ie govt ees, including this author Patai, probably don’t appreciate taxpayers even to a 1% level — in fact they prob feel entitled and feel as if the taxpayers are lucky to have the vastly overpaid govt worker. Which is actually what Patai is, but she certainly wouldn’t recognize it.

    1. You do know what “emeritus” means, don’t you?

      Much of the academic industry is a waste of time, money, and people, but do you think every professor at every public university is a waste of taxpayer money? You want to yield the academy to the gramscians entirely?

      Patai’s on your side whether you believe it or not.

  11. Like so many women before her, she fails to understand men, not to mention the real nature of what is going on globally. Nor does she grasp the magnitude of male pain. Without a dick to cut, how can she?
    Where are these workshops and counselors? These grovelling woke women?
    A loose use of vernacular and an imaginary reality there.
    Women will have something to contribute when then come to understand the centre piece of Western civilization, the Golden Rule. The male Magnum Opus.
    When they develop a feminine ethics model.
    So far we have just the Golden Uterus.
    An orgy of Magnum #Meetoo.
    A gaggle of tired old women trying to emulate the despoiled Virgin Madonna’s, embittered their slave rape fantasy of their fertile years didn’t serve their talent-less stale dreams of fortune and admiration.
    While the suckered stud of their debased and sordid fantasies shows his true mettle by taking maximum security prison (SCI Phoenix,) in his stride.
    In his eighties.
    With an Islamic fervor, they ignore the Golden Rule and wage Immoral War against their own protectors, providers and lovers, preferring instead the hopes of a totalitarian and corporate state, an admiralty lawlessness with no interest in women other than their tits and arses. Farm animals. Breeding stock and sex slaves.
    Mighty is the misery, the stupidity of a woman, weaves.

  12. The question must be – has the hate been evident enough that young men have no reason to think that women care- and as such will not seek this form of redress, but go down the route of isolation instead – perceiving the approach of listening as little more than one more attempt at shaming an manipulating. Will it require real proof in the pudding of change to even move their views?

    It is that women are also often physically violent – but shelters for men have not merely not been funded – they have in effect been blocked. It is that those who have suggested boys need help have been attacked as rape apologists – and misogynists, with what appears to have been the broad support of women. It is that teachers (female) quickly have long said “it is different when a girl does it” so that boys have reason to believe – that not only have women not been fair – they have not cared at all.

    It is that the women who support- cannot be silent – because today – the reality is, the hate aimed at men – has already silenced the young men – women need to hear from most. It is that women need to not just listen but act – on what they should already have heard. Reading for boys – where are the books, why are we allowing the sabotage of boys education? Why have we chased men from teaching – how do we get them to believe schools are safe for them? How do we show men, that parental alienation and the resultant suicides are something that society – specifically women actually care about? Today – it has been made clear – that all of these are not issues that women care about – and regardless if this is true, that is both the belief of politicians and most young men. Silence will not address those beliefs. You cannot hear what he will not say – and “teach all men” and “not all men is derailing” has already sent a powerful message – that well, requires action not silence to undo. It requires – looking to really hear – what was already said. It means listen to the talk Farrell was giving, that feminists accusing him of “rape apology” were trying to block – don’t just hang your heads regarding the fact that your first instinct was to believe the accusation, or think no action is required.

  13. “The feeling of ineptness, of being no match for females at the verbal and emotional level, is the common inheritance of all but a few exceptional males.”
    The numerous reiterations of this message throughout the piece are concerning. I consider this positively – as evidence of female empathy, based on emotion but misguided.
    Male stoicism is more than a match for female emotionality, as it recognizes the temporal instability of feelings. Also, most men are able, if they wish, to parse and dissect feminine verbosity. In the interests of peacable relations, they mostly don’t.

    1. But “more than a match” in what respect? If society privileges verbal skill and emotional disclosure over stoicism, it doesn’t matter how good a person is at being stoic – he is not trading in the currency of his society.

      1. “If society privileges verbal skill and emotional disclosure over stoicism, it doesn’t matter how good a person is at being stoic – he is not trading in the currency of his society.”
        There is society, which is important, but then there is reality, which is even more important, because reality *trumps* society.
        Stoicism is about maintaining composure and poise under stress, which is conducive to survival. Because life is not always rainbow lollipops and chocolate unicorns.

  14. Not such a fantasy. I turned in a female participant at an organization where we both participate for derogatory comments about men, a code of conduct violation against derogatory comments based on gender. Not easy to do, but on reflection, one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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