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Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 1999/ 9 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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The male mystique -- he shops -- THIS DISPATCH just in from the front in the war between the sexes: Men have never had it so bad. Or, to put it in the idiom of Susan Faludi's best-selling book on the betrayal of the American man, men have been "stiffed.''

Men, according to this thesis, have become hollow "ornaments,'' all dressed up with nothing to reflect but a credit card. (They dare not leave home without it.) The conventional interpretation is that the American man has morphed into the dissatisfied housewife Betty Friedan wrote about in "The Feminine Mystique.'' Though published 35 years apart, Ms. Friedan and Ms. Faludi blame the competitive "capitalistic culture'' for victimizing each sex --- the consumer-oriented advertising industry representing business, whose theme song is "Buy, Buy, Baby.''

But the announcement of the unhappiness of the American man is premature. The guys, in fact, have never had it so good. There are exceptions, of course. Certain men are on the edge, out of the mainstream, or in the underclass, but they're not in the majority. Women may be responsible for changing the rules of cosmic conduct between Venus and Mars, but men have taken advantage of their damsels in ascent.

They've gotten what they (some of them, anyway) wished for, liberation from the bondage of breadwinning. Husband and wife can now share that, but Mom still does more child care and house cleaning than dear old Dad. It doesn't make any difference who wears the earrings in the family.

Men and women are marrying later and enjoying sex earlier. But when Venus begins to listen to the ticking of her biological clock, or worse, gets pregnant, Mars doesn't have to join the Foreign Legion to escape her. He can just move on to a younger woman who isn't pregnant and whose clock isn't ticking. The guy won't be stigmatized by his male buddies or criticized by other women, either.

So the American male still has the sexual edge. In the felicitous phrasing of Playboy magazine, he doesn't have to buy the cow when he can get the milk free. The politics of the sexual revolution made strange bedfellows. Playboy magazine railed against alimony in the 1950s, and playboys were caught by surprise when feminists in the following decade joined them in their fight against it. Alimony is a relic of a bygone age.

In the 1940s, young men were subject to the draft. The draft would be brought back today but for one stunning reason. Women enlistees pick up the slack. Ask any recruiting officer if men alone would meet their quotas and they'll tell you they couldn't do it without women. Young men aren't complaining.

Does anyone wonder why male chauvinists have been replaced by male feminists? If the Titanic were to go down today, there would be no "women (and children) first.'' A male coward wouldn't have to wear a dress to get into a lifeboat. Some of the women would help him aboard.

One of our most brutal sports is boxing. Not so long ago it was a joke to think that a woman would even get into the ring to get her brains knocked about. No more. Boxing is an equal opportunity activity. The Washington State Department of Licensing approved of a woman fighting a man. She even won, though it is true the man she beat was old and out of shape. Muhammad Ali, who suffered brain damage when he took so many blows to the head, now sits ringside to watch daughter Laila, age 21, fight. She won her first match, knocking out April Fowler in the first round.

As the female aggressively competes for the triumphs that used to be solely the province of the male, men are rediscovering the joys of hedonism. Hugh Hefner is back, and at 73 he's got all kinds of beautiful women joining him for indoor sport in the Playboy Mansion. Readership of his magazine among college men is up 62 percent over the last four years.

So seductive is the sex with the most testosterone that male glamour spills over to the square and straight-laced. Gary Bauer, the family-values man of integrity running for president, was warned against meeting with a woman on his staff behind closed doors, lest he raise suspicions of hanky-panky. Gary Bauer? "Nothing makes one so vain as being told he is a sinner,'' wrote Oscar Wilde. (Even if it's not true.)

Susan Faludi has it all wrong. Most men don't feel stiffed. They've simply learned that "winning'' isn't everything. They're enjoying the pleasures of not trying so hard. They've learned that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.


10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate