The Man Beneath The Bed

When Shadows Twist Through Medieval Twilight

Hooboy. I'm trying to understand the truculence toward men that is now the default position of American women -- the chip on the shoulder, the blisterish sensitivity, the vigilant search for litigable slights. It's tiresome. It's unwholesome. It approaches medieval dementia. What did men do?

Nothing, I submit.

Ponder the following phenomena:

To begin with, there is the hysteria on campus about rape. Across the country, college girls hold nocturnal processions to "Take Back The Night." Overwrought co-eds tell each other to applause that sexual assault waits around every corner, under every tree. Rape, they insist with enormous satisfaction, is a constant danger. All boys are to be feared.

Princeton among other former institutions of learning has blue rape-lights to illuminate any spot on campus where a bogey-rapist might lurk. College boys are often forced to go through anti-rape hazing resembling the brainwashing engaged in by religious cults. College girls apparently live in a demon-ridden mental landscape drawn by Hieronymus Bosch.

And yet the actual incidence of rape by Caucasian males -- who are uniquely the targets of the hysteria, despite being far less inclined toward rape than are various minorities -- is very low. As we will see, most of the distaff hysteria involves (a) beliefs that are demonstrably false, and (b) profound sexual anxiety.

Next, consider the plague of eating disorders -- anorexia and bulimia -- that seem common among women, but hardly existed forty years ago. These are imagined to be the fault of men, who are thought to want emaciated women, and therefore in some way to force women to starve themselves. Again, the false premises -- men do not want stick figures, nor force women not to eat -- and again, sexual anxiety.

Then there's the recent wave, finally being slapped down by the courts, of "repressed-memory" lawsuits ("induced memory" is more accurate) in which women, usually in their thirties, decide that they were raped by their fathers. They supposedly repress the memories until a therapist helpfully recovers them. Typically there is no corroborating evidence, no reason to believe that incest actually occurred, or that memories in fact are repressed. As always, the false premise, and the undercurrent of sexual anxiety.

Closely related are the reports, usually by women, of suddenly remembrance of being forced to engage as children in satanic rituals. In these they recall being forced to sacrifice babies, or being sexually violated in strange ways. There is never any supporting evidence. Like the incest stories, these mental aberrations are statistically rare, but based on falsehood, and rife with sexual fear.

Next consider the widespread notion that women are unremittingly victimized by men -- sexually harassed, underpaid, abused, denigrated, stalked, beaten, undervalued, everything but stuffed and mounted over the fireplace. But in fact American women are not oppressed. The charges are just ritualized paranoia.

The preoccupation with sexual harassment is salient. As with the nonexistent rapists on campus, nonexistent harassment is seen everywhere. Did the guy in the next desk have a photo of his girlfriend in a bathing suit? He's demeaning women. Did Bob use the "F" word, which women haven't heard and never use? He's creating a hostile environment. An off-color story? Virtual rape. Harassment must be detected everywhere and suspected everywhere else -- rooted out, punished, exorcised.

This is nuts. Somebody needs to say it's nuts.

We tend to think of feminism as asserting that women are as strong and able as men. The more profound current beneath the bravado is that women are weak, helpless, and threatened. They aren't, of course: As a matter of everyday observation, women function perfectly well, show no signs of fear, and seem quite able to take care of themselves. The entire enterprise of radical feminism, like its component sub-hysterias, is based on beliefs that are easily discovered to be foolish. And on sexual anxiety.

What is going on?

A guess: Women have just undergone, as men have not, a profound change in their relation to society and to men. The change has created stress and confusion for everybody, but far more for women. Men are puzzled by the hostility, wary of charges of harassment, weary of affirmative action, but pretty much doing what they have always done as they have always done it.

By contrast, women have left the secure role, if subordinate and perhaps boring, of being wives and mothers, to enter into self-conscious, avowed competition with men. So far as I know, this has never happened before, anywhere. A lot of women aren't sure they like it. Many don't seem suited to it.

We are not supposed to notice this. Part of the required nonsense of daily belief is that women behave differently from men only because of (imaginary) oppression. In particular the zeitgeist urges that instinct doesn't exist, that upbringing determines everything, and that sex roles are "social constructs." None of this is true. Pretense engenders problems.

As anyone knows who has dated childless women in their thirties, children are painfully important to them. For women the conflict between career and children is clear, distressing, and fundamental. For men, it isn't.

Security is more important to women than to men, and women have lost a lot of it. Universal divorce leaves them at 35 trying simultaneously to work and raise kids, without help. It's just awfully hard. But it also isn't what they expected. Biologically women want men to protect and care for them. They don't need protection today, and earn their livings just fine -- but that somehow isn't what was supposed to happen.

The new order isn't easy. Men are bruising competition. There are women who can keep up, but more who can't -- or, perhaps more often, don't want to. Thus the cry for affirmative action. A question for women is how to handle the change emotionally, how to be a prosecuting attorney until five, and then be a woman at six. Men don't have the problem. Other enigmas abound. For women the male workplace is unaccustomed and largely uncomprehended: They just plain don't understand men. (They know how to manipulate them, but that is a different thing.) Women are uncomfortable with male ways, for example with the combative verbal sparring that men enjoy.

I suspect that women suffer a sense of psychic displacement, that things are not as they should be; which leads to a diffuse but potent anxiety merging into diffuse but potent anger, all revolving around relations with men. Women personalize: When they are angry, they find someone to be angry with. Bingo.