Bored with nouvelle cuisine? Tired of undercooked duck cowering under kiwi fruit? You can be the first on your block to serve "a hare tricked out with wings to look like a Pegasus, a wild sow with its belly full of live thrushes, roast pork carved into models of songbirds and geese."
Such a literary dinner would honor Petronius, whose description of Trimalchio's banquet was a satire on the eating habits of the Romans. Not so satirical as all that, however, when one recalls the Roman epicure who, on being told that he could no longer afford to entertain in a similarly lavish style, killed himself.
The desire to end it all has been shared by many hosts. The roast has burned to a cinder, the souffle' lies flat in the bottom of the pan and there in the living room are 16 guests, laughing and drinking and waiting to be pleased.
Ah, but how often that desire to please gets out of hand. Consider some other lunatic hosts.
There was Charles V of France, who, when giving a dinner for the Emperor Charles IV, decided it was not enough to have a few musicians strolling about plucking at lutes. Instead he arranged to have a vessel, complete with masts, sails and riggings, advance into the center of the hall, while, at the other end, there suddenly appeared the city of Jerusalem, complete with defending Saracens.
The vessel approached the city and uncorked a bevy of Christian knights, who did battle with the Saracens, overcoming them and taking Jerusalem. All of which must have given a whopping appetite to the Christians and Saracens and presumably gave pleasure to the guests.
America in the second half of the 19th century seemed determined to duplicate such antics.
New York was the scene of a swan dinner, where guests sat at a table 18 feet wide with a 30-foot pond running down its center. Swimming on the pond were four large swans and surrounding it were carefully constructed hills and dales, flowers and song birds in gilded cages. Fortunately, there also was a gilded cage reaching from the edge of the pond to the ceiling, as it turned out to be the mating season and two male swans staged a ferocious battle over the hand (or wing) of one of the lady swans.
In the same period, a man named C.K.G. Billings gave a dinner for 30 fellow members of the New York Riding Club. And, of course, their horses. The steeds were hauled up to the 4th-floor ballroom of Louis Sherry's restaurant in New York, tables harnessed across their withers, while the diners mounted and were served a 14-course dinner on horseback. The horses ate oats.
But surely the most thoughtful gesture was provided by Ward McAllister, social arbiter and creator of "The 400," who once rented an entire flock of Southdown sheep, two yoke of cattle and several cows, so that his fields, to be viewed by guests from the windows during an afternoon reception, would not appear barren
Imagine . . .
A country run primarily by women--where they hold most of the power positions, earn the highest salaries, win the biggest prizes and make most of the critical decisions.
A society whose members live in large complexes clustered around service providers--laundry, day care, errands, meals, maintenance--so everyone, male and female, has a "wife."
A culture in which roles are less defined and opportunities less limited by sex. An America where any little girl or boy can grow up to be president.
A feminist's pipe dream or a male chauvinist's nightmare? Neither, claims writer/researcher Elizabeth Nickles.
"It is a scientifically-based prediction that stems from extensive research into the attitudes and behaviors of women and men today."
America, she contends, "is evolving towards a matriarchal society. The seeds have been planted, and you can see it budding all around you. Within three generations it is likely to be a reality."
The research that led to this startling -- and controversial -- conclusion began simply enough.
"I did some consulting work on how employes view women managers," says Nickles, a Chicago-based management consultant and advertising executive. "I was surprised at how differently people perceive women and men in power positions.
"I started thinking about the changes I felt when I went to work after being a homemaker. In many ways I felt my personality changed. I wondered if other women experienced this kind of metamorphosis, too, and I decided to find out."
With marketing-research specialist Laura Ashcraft, Nickles drew up a survey aimed at uncovering how women who work outside the home differ from those who don't. The four-page questionnaires were mailed to a statistically representative sampling of 2,400 women aged 20 to 50, including an equal number of employed and non-employed women.
Nearly 2,000 women responded, and Nickles and Ashcraft followed up by conducting in-depth personal interviews with about 100. "We reviewed existing research," says Nickles, "and had the results analyzed by psychologists, sociologists and other experts."
The result--The Coming Matriarchy: How Women Will Gain the Balance of Power (Seaview Books, 252 pgs., $13.95)--outlines four key factors that tap women as victors in the battle of the sexes:
* Women will continue to move into the workforce, establishing employment as a financial and psychological necessity. This will force a redefinition of women's value and social status in society.
* The new, emerging profile of the "typical American woman" eclipses the norm of the traditional housewife. This "pace-setting" woman has increased self-confidence, greater personal ambition and a desire for the spotlight.
* Women's basic leadership style will be increasingly more effective and appropriate than men's in solving complex problems of the times.
* As traditional institutions fail to adapt to changing needs, the new breed of women will avoid or short-circuit them--initiating a restructuring of this country's socio-economic system.
The coming matriarchy, says Nickles, "will not simply reverse male and female roles. I'm not talking about women as Amazon-like creatures who will leave tire tracks in men's foreheads.
"Women will have a superior status in society, but the society itself will be different because women's leadership style is much more group-oriented--like the Japanese style. Both men and women will have a broader spectrum of options and opportunities, so roles will be diversified and far less predictable."
Today, she says, "we're grappling with over-committed women and bewildered men, struggling with outmoded institutions." But in the future, "we can anticipate new systems for child-rearing, new foundations for sexual relationships and expanded technologies to fill the domestic void left by women."
One reason why "women will hold most of the key positions," she asserts, is that "men are very dependent on women. They are conditioned to accept an all-powerful female through their relationship with their mother. Also, women will be in a better position to hold power, and will be more strongly motivated to achieve it."
But Nickles' main argument is a pragmatic one: Women's management style ("beta power"), she claims, simply works better than men's ("alpha") style.
"The male style of power involves personal gain at the expense of others. You've got one chief who hands down orders to subordinates. The female style utilizes a group of leaders--a cabinet-like approach. It involves a sensitivity to those not in power and fosters a more fertile environment for growth and learning."
Both alpha and beta styles, says Nickles, can be effective and are necessary. "But women are more flexible and more able to adopt the male style than men are able to adopt the female style."
Nickles calls a matriarchal society "the natural evolution" of the women's movement into the workforce--"a trend sociologists are calling the greatest social revolution of the century.
"In 1970 only 43 percent of adult women worked outside the home, while today that number has swelled to 52 percent and is anticipated to reach 66 percent by 1990. Since World War II, the number of employed mothers has increased 10-fold."
The outwardly simple process of earning a paycheck, says Nickles, has a strong psychological effect. "A woman reacts differently towards herself and her environment when she earns money, and the more she earns the more differently she reacts."
Nickles calls this attitudinal change "workmutation." While it differs with each individual, "our research showed that three stages usually occur.
"First a woman begins to think differently about her role in life. In a capitalistic society, where money is the basis of status and power, a woman who gets a paycheck feels she is doing something of value and her sense of self-worth is increased.
"Then this honeymoon phase wears off and she experiences ambivalence, since it's hard to integrate a new self-concept without being in conflict about it. Finally comes transformation. The rewards of work outweigh her guilt, and she makes a psychological career commitment.
"Once she reaches this point, her entire life may change. She becomes a person with objectives, self-confidence, ambition--the will to make changes and the means to make them happen."
Nickles, who is in her early 30s, acknowledges that her own marriage broke up partly from her "workmutation" experience. "I began to feel better and more confident about myself . . . I found that I wanted different things out of the relationship."
She holds a masters degree in English and had quit her job as an editorial assistant when she became engaged. She now places herself on "the higher income end" of the "pacesetter" group, which her study calls "the prototypes of the women of the future . . . a uniquely strong, aggressive, independent kind of woman . . . who earn $20,000 a year and up . . . and constitute the fastest-growing group of all women."
As more and more women go through the workmutation process, says Nickles, succeeding generations will have "matriarchal women" as role models. "This will make it easier and more expected for men and women to accept this new female role."
Women are already on the road to a "matriarchal mindset," she says, pointing to recent life-style trends such as marrying later--or not at all--and having fewer children later in life.
For the first time, more women than men are enrolled in college. One fourth of all today's M.B.A. hopefuls are female, compared with 3.5 percent 10 years ago.
"The pool of female management material is growing," says Nickles. "If it takes 25 years to groom a chief executive officer, we're on our way.
"We see women putting in more time at work, and women more willing to accept job transfers than men. And women will have sheer numbers on their side. By the year 2000, women of voting age will outnumber men of voting age by 9 million."
And what's going to happen to men in all of this?
"They'll no longer be raised to feel nurturing behavior is for sissies, but will see the benefits of bonding with their children.
"We'll see men being viewed as sex objects, too. Men won't be able to use money as much to attract women--since women will be earning their own--so they'll have to find new ways to appeal to women. I predict we'll see more magazines for men on how to look better to attract the new woman."
"Marriage," she says, "will no longer be an economically-based, let's-make-a-deal. People who choose to marry will do so for healthier motives . . . like love."
And sex, she's predicting, will be better: "The matriarchal woman will not be a passive partner or trade sex for financial support. But it will probably be less frequent, due to the woman's lack of time and energy and preoccupation with her career. As a result, fantasy sex may increase."
Today's turbulence between the sexes--manifested in the high divorce rate--she sees as a result of the patriarchy's resistance.
"Some men feel threatened. Why do you think the teen-age girl is our new sex symbol? She's today's equivalent of the dumb blonde . . . Naive and non-threatening."
Other men find the idea attractive. As an example, Nickles tells about a radio station setting up what they billed as a debate between her and a leader of a new men's group. "He wound up agreeing with me."
Meanwhile, Nickles is not predicting a utopia. "It will be," she says, "a nice destination."
Getting there, however, "will be a very bumpy ride."