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Jewish World Review July 25, 2001 /5 Menachem-Av 5761

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Consumer Reports

Boom, Bust, Male Pain --
THE coming recession will bring fundamental change to the relations between the sexes-change that cannot come quickly enough for me. Where we are now is best summed up by a recent headline in London's Daily Telegraph; it caught my eye precisely because it was no surprise to me: "Career Wives Who Moan Are Danger to Men." I've faced that danger time and again. I've seen it in marriage after marriage (speaking only of my own).

Dr. Fiona Jones, of the University of Hertfordshire, ushered in a new epoch of understanding when she told the European Congress of Psychology that, compared to women, men "are more affected when their wives or girlfriends bring their stresses home. We found that [men] became more depressed. A lot of the times, they became withdrawn."

Let me translate: these are health issues. When a woman innocently complains about a setback at work, she places her husband or boyfriend at risk. It would be far better for us men if women were to light a cigarette and blow smoke in our faces, rather than indulge in such deadly and selfish griping.

This withdrawing business is no joke. There was a dreadful instance in my life when a woman for whom I cared deeply insisted on telling me about her problem at work-specifically, that her bonus failed to match an amount double my entire income. Telling me about it made her feel better, no doubt, but the result was that I had to withdraw-at her insistence-into several martinis at Elaine's.

Women have it much better; in fact, Dr. Jones discovered that they "felt happy just talking" about their career problems to their men. This "talking" sounds harmless enough. It suggests all sorts of fashionable buzzwords like "communication" and "relationships." Important clients pay p.r. people a pretty penny for these things, and we mustn't dismiss their value. But when you think about the depression --- and withdrawal that this communication wreaks upon my sex, it's not so simple. The means don't always justify the ends.

We men, according to Dr. Jones, make the mistake of trying to solve-well, of at least vaguely wishing we could solve-our wives' or girlfriends' career problems. Women are not so foolish. When they're under pressure, they don't look for solutions from men. Instead (Dr. Jones discovered), they "become tearful or energetic, some turning to housework." Take that, Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House!

As I suspected, housework turns out not always to be its own reward-like when it's used as a weapon to undermine our self-confidence.

Men simply don't have these outlets: weeping does none of us any good, and doing housework is worse than useless. And can any of my women readers imagine her man becoming even more energetic than he is already?

How will the recession help? To answer this question, we must turn, as we do so often, to the lessons of the Greatest Generation, as interpreted by my mother. When I was a little boy in the 1950s, Mother told me about her Depression girlhood. Her stories created a wonderfully vivid picture of domestic life in those meager days, of which the keynote, through tragedy and triumph, was a single stirring leitmotif: a woman leaning out the window, screaming at her man in the street. To walk the streets -- of our cities in the 1930s -- was to enjoy a symphony of tellings-off-to husbands and sons, to fathers and brothers. But it wasn't merely esthetic: what ensured survival in a family was the woman's ability to give a man enough hell. Those families in which men were indulged and forgiven, sadly, fell by the wayside.

This "hell-giving" was not "talking about problems." It was not moaning about careers. It was not feeling better about things after sharing. It was insisting that a man get out, try to get a job, bring home some money, make a contact, put off a creditor. It was the job of the men to act, and it was the job of the women to cause men to act.

Since 1970, when the women of my generation decided, almost as one man, to enter the workforce, capitalism has done a wonderful job of absorbing into the economy not only the sons of the Greatest Generation but the daughters. But not even capitalism can absorb all the hot air swirling out of the "new economy." If job losses continue, two-income households will be forced to live on one. Girls' soccer teams will crowd into the backseats of used sedans. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons will drop their pinochle games and Daily Newses with delight when a rare client arrives. Starbucks baristas serving Frappuccinos will go untipped.

On the plus side, millions of men will be spared the soul-destroying depression caused by listening with patient sympathy to the women they love.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman