Men on the Timeline
The other night I was at the Franco-Tunisian café where I go to get some of my writing done. A sizeable group had taken one side of the section where I found a round table. They were chatting about the high-placed people they knew. I would have eavesdropped, were I not busy with my own work.
“Hey, this is getting to be a pretty classy café.” I said to Beth, their server and mine, when they left.
“The one seated on the left made a remark to me that was really out of line,” Beth responded, shaking her head. “When I deflected it, he said he’d speak to my boss and I’d be lucky to work at MacDonald’s. The rest of the group protested that ‘it’s 2019 and you can’t talk like that anymore,’ but still … .”
Still, what a memory of her working night to have to take home!
“In pre-feminist days,” I said, “my women friends and I would confide in each other. I never heard of the bizarre, freakish and grotesque behavior one sometimes meets with now, or reads about. It didn’t happen and it wouldn’t have been tolerated by other men! Maybe some of it was going on and women now feel they have permission to protest. But I doubt that’s the whole explanation. In the world I grew up in, stuff like that would have been left to criminals!”
“I wonder,” Beth speculated, “if these outbreaks are male pushback against women’s new assertiveness. A kind of revenge?”
“That’s interesting. Let’s suppose we are all more connected than our current science admits. Imagine that our minds float in the same ocean and that there’s less of an impermeable barrier between us than appears. What may have happened is that women were focusing on their own unprecedented steps toward new self-definition. We’ve been fascinated with ourselves and with each other. And we’ve not devoted time or thought to men’s role in this new world. We’ve lifted ideality from men, leaving nothing but the law of the brute. We’ve not thought about positive models. Instead we’ve pretended we want men to be more like women. We want men who can cry.”
We both laughed. Crying can’t be equated with sensitivity. We’ve all known women who could cry at will and used their tears to manipulate whoever was around them. We’ve known studs who pretended they wanted feminists to train them in the new sensitivity.
“We don’t want that,” Beth said.
“We want protection.
We want chivalry.”
We looked at each other as women will who share a secret.
Last night, Jerry and I decided to see a movie and follow it with dinner at our local diner. For us, that’s a big night on the town. We saw “Cold War,” a Polish film that’s been showered with international awards and praised as a perfect example of the romantic genre.
In the film, the couple meet after the Second World War in a Poland then under communist rule. Being musicians, they must conform their talents to the heavy tread of The Party Line. When they manage to make their escape to Paris, they come under a different pressure, this one economic: to brand themselves in a way that Upper Bohemia will find “interesting.”
On the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain — Ideology.
On the Western side — Nihilism.
Believe what you secretly sense to be false! Or else believe in nothing!
Filmed in black and white, there was the Paris I remember, with its steep, dark, empty streets, long shadows, and the quais of the Seine where lovers still walked beside the speaking river. Eroticism on the French model: Tristan and Iseult. Love as sudden as a “stroke of lightening.” Without past, without future. Intensity without history. A cheat, sooner or later.
In the film, the girl loses faith in her own life because the man she loves has become unreal to himself. It was a story I recognized in lives that had been part of mine.
The world we share depends very much on men in whom we can believe. Realistic men who
keep intelligent hope alive.