We don't read the New York Times down here as much as we used to, partly out of disappointment. When former Southerner Howell Raines took over the paper, we hoped the Gray Lady might recover some of her lost dignity. While the paper did well with some of its terrorism coverage, it still often reads like a lifestyle rag. Worse still, the lives in question are hardly the robust, barrel-chested, carnivorous, gun-toting, fish-frying specimens we hoped Howell would champion. Instead, there's a lot of Sissy stuff.
It's not only on the front page, though there's plenty of it there. This week, op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about the Deep Weeniedom that infects New York men, or at least the ones who operate at her station of life. We had perhaps forgotten them because of the heroic firefighters and police officers of 9-11 fame. Yet it appears that the Saps are back.
Maureen has always been an item of interest down here because she turns a phrase from time to time, which isn't a common talent in her trade. In addition, the picture that accompanies her column suggests a possibly saucy babe. Better her than Gag Mama Anna Quindlen, pastry-pounding Molly Ivins, or Ellen Goodman, known around here as Mademoiselle Castor Oil.
In this column Maureen wrote of her forlorn love life. The problem, she wrote, is that men are intimidated by her success. The are actually spooked by the very idea of asking out a newspaper columnist. It almost boggles the mind.
To be sure, many of us have never bought into the idea that men are "threatened" by successful women. Instead, we consider that to be one of the most ridiculous ideas of our day. After all, would the typical man rather his wife make $10,000 a year, or $10 million? The answer is obvious enough. The woman who racks in $10 million may indeed put on airs, but we can live with that, so long as she shares (as Mr. Rogers would say).
We also understand, however, that this idea became especially popular when Hillary came along. One quickly lost count of all the columns insisting that people didn't cotton to Hil because she was a successful, career-oriented female without baking skills. That was far from the truth, of course. The reason a lot of people didn't like her was that she appeared to be a scheming, grasping, arrogant, spoon-stealing liar. She also had a whiff of the middle linebacker about her.
In addition, what success she had was largely the result of her husband's status. It is also true that she was most successful at losing her clients' billing records, developing a blank memory when asked about possible illegalities, and at being haunted by a fear of conspiracies.
But Maureen insists that New York men of her acquaintance are spooked by high achieving females -- especially herself -- and we should give her the benefit of the doubt. Clearly, she's not getting any at the present moment, and that is apparently driving her to consider desperate measures.
In the column's opening passage, Maureen told of a man who took her aside to make a sad admission: "He said he had wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages, but nixed the idea because my job made me too intimidating. Men, he told me, prefer women who seem malleable and overawed. He said I would never find a mate, because if there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties. Will she be critical of absolutely everything?"
One's heart goes out to Maureen, who clearly fears that her life's journey, in the end, will have been a solo flight. There will be brief layovers here and there -- she and Howell were apparently an item at one time -- but nothing lasting. And so the deathbed will be lightly attended; there will be no spouse or children to chant the Beatitudes as the Angel of Mercy's wings are heard fluttering in the parlor. The only people to visit her grave will be groundskeepers, who might occasionally bounce dice off her tombstone.
Yet the fact is, if the men around her are actually intimidated by a creature so low as a newspaper columnist, she's probably better off alone. What sad saps these men must be. What is it that sets them to quaking? Maureen would no doubt agree that her work is almost totally attitudinal, as opposed to critical (in the significant sense). There is no sign of high analytical powers. Instead, she starts with high school chatter about dating and quickly devolves to a frightful conclusion:
"Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, live in the equatorial rain forests of Congo, and have an extraordinarily happy existence. And why? Because in bonobo society, the females are dominant. Just light dominance, so that it is more like a co-dominance, or equality between the sexes.… The males were happy to give up a little dominance once they realized the deal they were being offered: all those aggressive female primates, after a busy day of dominating their jungle, were primed for sex, not for the withholding of it. There's no battle of the sexes in bonoboland. And there's no baby bust."
These are the musings not of a literary genius, but of a woman desperate for companionship. One almost fears she may soon be spotted heading for the Bronx Zoo, wearing a small black dress and carrying a sack of bananas. If that comes to pass, we're hoping down here that someone will tackle her and send her southward. There are a couple of guys over at the filling station who will take her in and let her push them around, so long as she brings home that check once a week. It's what we call tough love.
Dave Shiflett is a writer in Midlothian, Virginia. His lovesick new CD, "Time Goes Rushing By," is now available. Click here to order.
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