Don't You Boys Fret

In a recent radio broadcast, two announcers were chuckling at a phone call they had received (and recorded) several months prior. At the time, the San Francisco Giants baseball team had been in a dreadful slump. A woman with a heavy southern accent called in to say, “Don't you boys fret. We're goin' for the pennant. “ Every day they played that recording and wondered at her intuition.

And then they asked if she could be a witch.


Enter the deep-seated male fear of the female , couched in the language of the locker room. Popular phrases such as Seth MacFarlane's “Venus Envy” come to mind, or “Venus is hot. Mars is not.”

As women emerge, slowly, into a few realms of power, more men seem to feel disenfranchised, stripped of their traditional roles and uncertain how to respond. Men have dominated institutions, of religion, finance, politics, power, for so long that any tilt toward possible balance is cause for alarm. After all, if you were white, grey-bearded, costumed in ceremonial garb (even Nixon wanted his gold epaulettes), and paid life-long annuities by adoring masses, wouldn't you resist change?

Have you ever heard of a Buddha getting her period?

Men have become accustomed to using women as weapons of war, on the battlefield and in the bedroom. Let's face it: most men are physically superior to most women in strength and endurance. That's why so-called penis envy may really be penis fear: men are simply bigger than women. It was not until 2008 that the United Nations Security Council defined sexual violence as a weapon of war. The Los Angeles Times described rape as, traditionally, “much like looting, as regrettable collateral damage rather than as a war crime”. They go on to say, “As many as 2 million German women were abused by conquering Soviet troops after World War II. The Nuremberg Tribunal did not prosecute sexual crimes”.

When men can't use size to seize power, they use words. A woman's spirit can be battered just as viciously as her body. How many men, even today, are comfortable buying tampons? Discussing menstrual cycles? Giving feelings the same validity as a hammer and nails? Consider these words written by Malcolm Gladwell in our Readers Feast selection this month: "Women, it was believed, simply could not play (classical music) like men. They didn't have the strength, the attitude, or the resilience for certain kinds of pieces. Their lips were different. Their lungs were less powerful. Their hands were smaller".

Women buy into this fallacy as well. A recent email announced that a former classmate of mine was a “web mistress”.

TILT again.

Never mind that she didn't know what a URL is. Why would any woman in the 21st century want to be a mistress? In its primary sense, the word connotes servitude, dependence, secondary status, bowing to the trousered world. Does she really want to lead a Mistress Class, get a Mistress of Science degree, mistress the art of sword-play? Is the problem here language, or attitude?

The truth is that we don't know what to do with men's superior strength. We honor it on the playing fields of sports. We give medals in bronze and silver for prowess on the battlefield. We train men to kill fiercely in war, and then expect them to assimilate quietly into our neighborhoods. Can you clean a bayonet and clean a diaper with the same ferocity? Should you be expected to? On the optimistic side, Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker magazine describes some veterans who "shine with the quiet feeling that, from now on, life can never get quiet enough."

Our radio announcers were be-witched, not to mention bothered and bewildered, by a female intruding into male air space. And she was right? Chicken Little, there goes the sky again.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2010

Notes: In 2008, the Los Angeles Times featured an opinion piece called "Rape in the U.S. Military". The United Nations has just declared that rape is being employed with increasing frequency as a weapon of war. And the BBC reports on the rise in the number of rapes as an instrument of social control. On a lighter note, Adam Gopnik's "On the Way Out" is in the October 25, 2010 New Yorker.