Article: 19930401079

Title: Flirting with Feminists

Flirting with Feminists
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
how to make time with the fully enfranchised babe
Glenn O'Brien

how to make time with the fully enfranchised babe

I am a feminist. Honest. So why doesn't she believe me? Because I look like a big lug? Because I have a five o'clock shadow and hit the golf ball from the back tees? Listen, sister, don't discriminate against me just because I have a touch of testosterone running through my veins. You don't have to be feminine to be a feminist--you just have to believe. And deep in my heart I do believe she shall overcome some day.

I believe that women are equal. I believe they have equal rights. I believe in equal opportunity. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe women should have the right to choose and to exercise control over their own bodies and their own lives. I believe everybody should wear the pants. I believe that the patriarchy should be abolished and replaced by a nonsexist society. And still I get in trouble.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to open that door for you. It just happened. Hey, I would have opened it for your brother, OK? I wasn't singling you out. Why am I walking on the curb side of the sidewalk? Force of habit, I guess. Why am I getting up when you come to the table? Just stretching. Why am I lighting your cigarette for you? I give up. Am I trying to kill you? Let's face it, you can't deprogram yourself overnight from years of training as a gentleman. The rise of feminism has created a host of challenges, even for the most sympathetic men. Take me. Please.

Women are on the lookout for sexism, and that means we had better be, too. We might mean well, but as Lou Reed sang, "between thought and expression lies a lifetime." We males have to watch the way we talk. It's humankind, not mankind. It's actor, not actress. And, of course, it's mailperson, not mailman, chairperson, not chairman, spokesperson, not spokesman, etc. That stuff is almost automatic by now.

Then there's the case of the pronoun. When we have to use a pronoun that has no clear gender antecedent, we can always use they or them--sure it's plural, but so what? It's not sexist. Even better to use she. I like to think of it as an affirmative-action pronoun. The masculine gender has always been given the nod. Using the feminine may help correct some yin-yang imbalance out there in the mass consciousness.

Then there are terms of endearment. When I call a woman darling, sweetheart or baby, I guarantee you it's a consensual act. I don't say it unless I know it will be accepted in the same affectionate and egalitarian spirit in which it was dispatched. You have to be careful about this, though. You don't want honey to be taken as a form of verbal abuse. I never address a female waitperson as "hon" unless she does it first. And just to be on the safe side, I call my male buddies honey, darling, sweetheart and baby, too. Some women may question my manhood, but at least they'll know that when "babe" slips out, it's an equal-opportunity babe.

Of course, some words are best unuttered. Bitch, for example, has few redeeming uses outside the canine world. Chick seems to be a word to avoid, though I admit I remember it with some affection and use it occasionally in certain circles. Generally speaking, words that characterize women as animals, fruits or vegetables are going to be met with consternation by feminists. Certainly, foxes and tomatoes have excellent qualities, but women prefer more original terms of flattery. Genius makes a very good substitute for fox, and prodigy will never offend anyone as a substitute for tomato.

When it comes to disparaging epithets, the C word is a must to avoid. For some reason it is a lot worse to refer to someone as the female sex organ than as the male sex organ. I have never been taken to task for calling someone a dickhead, but now I won't even call someone the feline P word when chiding them for lack of bravery. I've gone back to scaredy-cat and, heck, I feel like I'm enriching the vernacular.

Just as we must learn to separate men from boys we must distinguish the girls from the women. Girls are the ones under the age of consent. Some women like to be called girls, but this must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Gal, a term that can be used with true warmth, may be taken by a woman in the same way that a black man may take the term boy. You may get away with it in the usage "guys and gals," but otherwise it could be mistaken for a term of paternalistic condescension or overfamiliarity. A surprising number of women call one another guys, but it's probably not a good idea for guys to call gals guys unless there's an obvious level of understanding already at work. But maybe if you call the guys gals, occasionally you can call the gals guys.

Touching is a touchy area. It can be a warm and pleasant social grace and, of course, it can fall into the wrong hands. Where I come from, we kiss everybody we like. On the other hand, we don't pinch butts unless we know for sure--and I do mean for sure--that the person is waiting for it. But I know that in other parts of the country, kissing and touching are not such casual things and can easily be taken for, and in some cases be, aggressive behavior.

That's why I think our culture has to take the fear out of friendly touching. If you don't want women to be afraid of your touch, don't be afraid to touch other gentlemen. I think equal opportunity, Eurostyle double-cheek kissing is a good thing for the hetero guy. Consider it a strategy to make kissing women's cheeks politically correct as a part of a non-gender-specific cultural practice. Or you could consider it simply a warm way to express true affection. In either case, it's also great fun to do in front of, or to, your father-in-law.

As far as gentlemanly acts toward women go, I don't think it's a good idea to dump them altogether. Most of these practices are simply courtesies, and courtesies are not something the world can afford fewer of. Once upon a time, a man rose from his chair if a woman arrived at his table. He opened doors for her, he offered to help if she was burdened with packages. Today these practices have been abandoned by many who consider themselves gentlemen. Perhaps they consider themselves nonsexist, but many women who find a door slamming in their face consider their behavior inconsiderate.

Today we find nonsexist men keeping their seats on buses while pregnant women with bags of groceries stand lurching in the aisles. Courtesy should be genderless. Why not stand when a man you respect arrives at your table? Why not open doors for your friends regardless of gender and help anyone struggling with a burden? Remember, if everyone were truly courteous, there would be no need for armies, police or Clarence Thomas.

As to the question of whether a man should offer his arm to a woman, a man should offer his arm to anyone wearing very high heels, platforms or to first-time Rollerblade wearers.

The biggest problem encountered by hetero males in intergender relationships isn't so much getting along with feminist women friends as it is being attracted to feminists.

I am attracted to feminists. I am not what you would call a breast man or a leg man. I am a brain man. That's what I find most attractive about a woman. And that's not really so wacky, because the brain is the most sexual organ. And, basically, the women with the most desirable brains are feminists.

A real feminist is the best kind of partner a he-man could want. Who's going to pull the wool over a guy's eyes? Who's going to take him for a ride? Who's going to sit around eating bonbons all day while he's bringing home the bacon? Who's going to take him for all he's worth in divorce court? Not a feminist. Not a real feminist. A real feminist is enlightened and independent and the ideal sex partner for the ideal hetero man we hetero males should strive to be.

If a heterosexual man is looking for a real partner, he is looking for a feminist woman. Otherwise, he winds up unchallenged, unfulfilled and quite unhappy come the revolution.

But dating in the age of feminism presents many delicate problems, some of which don't have easy answers. Like, who pays? When on a date, should the man offer to pay? In my 1928 edition of Etiquette, by Emily Post, she writes on the "Awkward Questions of Payment": "It is becoming much less customary than it used to be for a gentleman to offer to pay a lady's way." Well, you've come a long way, baby. I don't mind paying for a woman once in a while, but I think it's good for women to pay, too. A woman who gets equal pay should get equal tabs. Especially if she can put it on her expense account. And there's always going dutch.

However, an avowed feminist friend of mine says that men should pay more of the cost of dates because women are required to spend much more on their appearance. I don't know if I go along with the high-upkeep theory, but I admit that I like manicured, pedicured, coiffured, made-up, thoroughly waxed, sublimely scented and erotically lingeried women. Also, I don't mind paying for a female companion's dinner. Does this make me sexist? Only my hairdresser knows for sure. When I pay for your dinner, I don't want you to think I'm expecting sex. So why am I contributing to your beauty endowment? I'm just trying to help make the world a more beautiful place.

I do think a man should offer to see a woman home after they have spent the evening together. This could be interpreted as seeking an opportunity to (continued on page 160)Flirting(continued from page 88) make sexual advances, because it could be seeking an opportunity to make sexual advances. On the other hand, a man should help ensure that his companion gets home safely, and that may mean seeing her home. There is no crime in seeking a goodnight kiss or more. There is a crime in not knowing the meaning of the word no. A feminist man knows that no is not maybe. In fact, a feminist man knows that playing hard to get works for men just as well as it does for women, so long as you make it clear that you are an enlightened, sexually interested he-man and not a friendly, platonically inclined nancy boy. A man can always say: "You may kiss me now."

OK, we love you women for your brains, but let's face it, those secondary sexual characteristics are also quite compelling. So what is the politically correct position on the thong? (Part of me is tempted to answer "on top," but that is the old me talking.) As feminist sympathizers, how are men to react to clothing that is erotically stimulating? I'm not quite sure. I guess with careful enthusiasm and guarded ardor. I don't believe that low-cut dresses and high-heeled shoes are wrong. But I am definitely opposed to foot binding in any form and you can take that to the bank.

In any sexual relationship, or potential sexual relationship, there is an elaborate courting behavior, and that code is being changed by feminism. Not only is it OK for a woman to ask a man for a date, I think it's necessary. Not all the time, but some of the time. If women can fly military aircraft, they can also call me up for a date. (Not that I'd go out with a combat pilot, that was just an example.) The same is true when it comes to making a relationship more intimate. There's nothing wrong with the woman making the first move. In fact, with the burden of political original sin carried by males, it's an act of charity for the woman to make the first move. Perhaps our restraint is borne out of respect for a woman's right to choose and to control her own body. So hurry up already. We're waiting by the phone. We're waiting for a kiss.

When it comes to actual seduction, feminism has altered the rules a bit. Flattery is still OK, but it had better be realistic. Promises are still OK, so long as you keep them. But remember, surveys have shown that many women consider verbal coercion a form of date rape. This would seem to make pleading an obsolete strategy. I find the most modern seduction line to be the simple, elegant and touching "I just want to be held."

Has your girlfriend referred to your relationship as sleeping with the enemy? You could be on the verge of serious trouble. She could be making a general observation about the war between men and women, but she may be dropping a hint about the specific location of your differences. One of the best ways to promote peace, love and harmony with a feminist lover is to make sure she comes and comes again. There are few more legitimate gripes a hetero woman can make about a hetero man than that his interests in bed are selfish. When in bed with a feminist, use your head.

The thing we must always remember in our dealings with feminists is that things can only get better. In the short term we may have to accept blame and anger that we feel we don't deserve. It may be caused by the actions of other men. But, as in the case of race relations, we must be understanding and tolerant. Women have reason to be pissed. As our culture straightens out, things will get better on a personal level. We must be prepared to question our own behavior, but we must always remember that we are men, and that is OK. But if we aren't part of the solution, yo, we're part of the problem.

The point at which we should get worried is when we start wondering if heterosexuality is sexist. At this point we can only hope that it is not too late for us. On an episode of Seinfeld, Elaine carries a gift on the subway on her way to a lesbian wedding, a fact that she lets slip to an older woman who reacts with horror. "Oh, no," Elaine says. "I'm not a lesbian! I hate men but I'm not a lesbian."

Let's face it: We live in a world where there are many heterosexual men and women whose attraction for the other gender is proportional to their dislike for that gender. But if things are ever going to improve, if men and women are ever going to find love, they had better find like first. Think of the thousands of songs, poems and films devoted to the subject of love between man and woman. And think how few are devoted to the subject of like.

If you are a man who is interested in women sexually but has no women friends, then you are a dinosaur. You may as well turn yourself over to the authorities right now, darling. Maybe you'll receive some consideration as an endangered species. Either that or take a course in feminism. The more you learn about women, the more you'll learn about yourself. And maybe you'll meet some informative and educated females in the process. Male chauvinism is a dead end. Male feminism is the only way to achieve the desired bonding (or what you might call "getting laid") in today's political climate. So you'd better support the feminist agenda before it sends you reeling into the past with a historical sucker punch.

One way to support the feminist agenda and bring joy into your life is through affirmative action. Hire more women and pay them more than you would men in a similar position. To hell with equal pay. Give them more. I'm paying war reparations. And I hire women every chance I get. Every person I have employed in recent years has been a woman. You may question my motives here. I know I have. But I am comfortable working with women--and besides, the last male assistant I had would routinely apologize for mistakes by saying, "Sorry, I must have spaced on it." My female assistants have generally not apologized at all, and they have never spaced.

But as men dealing with feminists, we must always be prepared to apologize, and when it comes to our behavior toward our beloved, esteemed and desired sisters, we must never, ever space on it. We must examine our lives, our words and our ways of thinking and behaving. In a way, men and women grow up in quite different cultures, and what we say and what they hear us say, and what they say and what we hear them say are sometimes radically different. Above all, we must learn to speak the same language.

How do we do that? The simple truth is that honesty is the best policy. It's more attractive than a Macho-vellian bedside manner based on cornball seduction rhetoric. If you don't want your love life to be a war, stop seeing women as conquests. Because if it comes to a war, you'll be the loser. History is not on your side. Women will not be denied. And women's equality is the cause of every man who truly loves women. Don Juan was just another bimbo. In the future, heterosexual bliss will be known only by the feminist male, dudes. Surrender. It's the only way you'll win this one.

On the other hand, there are many ways we can help the women we love achieve freedom. If you want to know the tune I'm singing as I bop around the house dusting and vacuuming, it's Rahsaan Roland Kirk's Volunteered Slavery. It goes something like this:

If you want to know how it is to be free, woman,

If you want to know how it is to be free,

You've got to spend all day in bed with me.

"There's nothing wrong with the woman making the first move. Matter of fact, it's an act of charity."

Illustration by Victor Sadowski