ANTHONY ASTRACHAN is a pioneer. He documents for the first time many of the emotions of an American social revolution. This is a revolution we are living right now. We experience it hourly because it's both ongoing and incomplete. We cannot know how it will end. We do know, however, that women in America finally have answered Sigmund Freud's question. What women want is equality. American women, says Astrachan, are "claiming rights that society denied them for millennia: to traditionally masculine jobs, to a share of power, to the two fundamentals of equality and choice in both public and private life."
Astrachan set out to examine "the way men respond to this revolution" because he himself had trouble with it. A former reporter and foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, around 15 years ago he married another Post reporter, Susan Jacoby, and nearly everything went wrong. Almost immediately, suggests Astrachan, Jacoby was perceived as his wife rather than as "one of the paper's best young reporters." When he was assigned to Moscow, she could not get accredited even though she coauthored some of his dispatches. As a free-lance she was insulted by Soviet press authorities and excluded from all-male gatherings of diplomats and correspondents. Back in the U.S. the marriage came apart under the pressures of sexism in journalism and the tensions of competitive careers as Jacoby began to publish books and her reputation perhaps surpassed Astrachan's.
Dostoevsky said there is no education without suffering, and out of the pains of divorce, the death of a parent, and the ensuing "anger at the way men had wasted talent because it happened to be female," Anthony Astrachan began in 1974 the research and interviews that would become this illuminating book.
To find out "how men feel about women's quests for independence, equality, and power," Astrachan tracked down through classified advertisements and other sources some 350 men "diverse in age, race, income, education and occupation" and "from four different parts of the country" who "had had some experience of women demanding changes at work or at home." Along with around 50 women, he interviewed these men repeatedly during a seven-year period, often recording their emerging or changing attitudes as their experiences with women broadened.
Astrachan makes no pretense at science. His sample "was in no way representative or statistically random." What he wanted as he spoke to lawyers, architects, physicians, police officers, soldiers, warehousemen, and the others was the feel of emotions -- the masculine pulse. And while getting it Astrachan gave himself so thorough an education in contemporary social issues that his notes and bibliography run to 26 pages.
After all the evasive tape-recorded conversations, the qualitative differences in responses, the nuances of meaning and variations in expression among his taxicab drivers, psychologists, aviators, window dressers, truckers and others, Astrachan comes to one conclusion that underlies everything he says in How Men Feel. It's an unattractive one, and there is no quick remedy for it. Astrachan believes that most American men can only relate to women on the job in terms of their sex. Men transform women from co-workers or colleagues into fantasy sexual partners, versions of their mothers and daughters (sometimes wives, too), or stereotypical babymakers or housekeepers. Or if the women on the job are particularly competent and surpass the men in performance, then the women may become imagined lesbians.
Behind all this, says Astrachan, is men's nearly pathological fear of losing power. To keep power men must deny that women can do what they do. To maintain control they must invest their labors with a ritual masculinity and their professions with an elitist masculine "sacramental character."
ASTRACHAN turns psychoanalytic to find reasons for men's hostility and denial, and for their transformation of women at work. "The dominance of mother in childhood is literally the first cause of men's anger and fear and our other negative feelings about women's demands for independence and equality." The male child experiences mother "as omnipotent" and she draws "the first love and the first rage." In order to separate from her, the male child learns "to devalue the female." Men thus go through life with a "subconscious fear of women that is really fear of maternal omnipotence."
Everywhere Astrachan looked he encountered sexist rationale among men who argued that the women working beside them were wrong for the job:
Architecture? "Unable to work an architect's hours' because they had children."
Computer programming? "It's electronic, it's logic, but it's almost mechanical. . . It's like tuning a car, it's more a guy's kind of thing."
Law enforcement? "They're not aggressive enough, and they can't do the job physically . . . I don't think a woman belongs on a job where she'll confront to all the violence and blood."
Medicine? Women break the sacramental code. "Women have a natural function in life, which is to produce babies. Most women doctors in my experience have gotten married and become encumbered."
Women in an oil refinery? "They didn't have any idea of coming out here and being a producer. . . They knew that if they got with the right person he would protect them, protect them in quotation marks."
On an auto assembly line? "With a woman on the job, I can't talk the way I want to."
As shipping clerks? "The jobs that require manual labor, they're not really qualified to do."
Astrachan's book suggests a vast and pervasive historic psychostructure complete with masculine rituals of bonding (profanity, sexual horseplay), codes of behavior (peer collaboration, drinking together), monopolies of occupation (hunting, butchering, metal forming), techniques of intimidation ("21,000 women a year face rape or attempted rape or assault connected with work"), and hierarchies of authority (only men may kill or speak for the deity). It is a psychostructure created to maintain masculine power, says Astrachan -- or the illusion of power, since few men anywhere truly possess power. It's a system that must resist penetration by women because "if a woman can do a man's work, the job is devalued." Worse, if a woman can do a man's job, he may feel . . . emasculated.
Astrachan says there is only one way to create change -- destroy the feminine monopoly on child rearing. Hopefully, he cites evidences of more "active fathering." But "we're still a long way . . . from the change that will mark the real victory of the revolution: the day when men do half the work of child raising from the moment of birth, freeing women from half that burden and changing the pattern of mothering that reproduces the fear of women in every generation."
How Men Feel has the feeling of the way things really are. Any man who reads it and doesn't see himself somewhere has slept through his life. Astrachan is electric with insights. He makes a sure connection between the women's movement and gay liberation. He sees both the economic irreversibility of the women's "revolution" and its emergence from the "degradation" of the family and from the new legitimacy of sex for pleasure. He sees the right to life movement as an attack on women's right to power.
BUT I'm less convinced of his insights into causes of events or conditions than his insights into their origins. Since girls as well as boys are reared by mothers and they, too, would sense all that earth-mother power, why do so many adult women pass up a lifetime of it and have only one child or none at all? The lights of psychoanalysis are too dim to fully illuminate 100,000 years of social injunctions called into question by the women's movement.
My own unscientific research among women colleagues in business says they have had the same problem as Astrachan's men: they, too, see men first in sexual terms -- as imagined lovers, dads, brothers or -- finally, as possible homosexuals.
Despite all his hard work, Anthony Astrachan needed more and better organization of his material. A book as provocative as this one should be less repetitious, not quite so tedious, and disciplined enough to prevent its author from telling us everything he knows about everything.
These are qualifications, not denials. Anthony Astrachan may have thought harder and longer, deeper and with more concern about men's responses to the liberation of women than anyone in the country. His work surely won't be the last on this subject, but it will be one of the few that define the terms on which the subject will be discussed in the future.
Webster Schott, a corporate officer for 20 years, trained in transactional analysis at the Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy.