Rarely is it called "The Battle of the Sexes" anymore. Somewhere between the sexual revolution and safe sex, the cliche spent its currency. Went broke. In a decade marked by "relationships," it rubbed wrong the prevailing sensitivities.
But experts on matters of the heart say that doesn't mean there has been a cease-fire between the sexes. The erogenous zones shouldn't be mistaken for demilitarized zones. Even if in recent years matrimony has been on an upswing, a trousseau still is only a truce.
In all this sexual skirmishing, can there be no peace with honor? If you believe the latest blitzkrieg of blockbuster self-improvement books that attempt to reframe sexual references into romance, the answer is an absolute maybe.
"It is not so much a Battle of the Sexes today," says Judith Sills, a clinical psycologist whose book A Fine Romance: The Psycology of Successful Courtship (Tarcher, $16.95) will be published in October. "It should be the Negotiation Between the Sexes."
Connell Cowan also prefers the notion that "we're all in it together" rather than "the adversarial view of the sexes." Two years ago Cowan and coauthor Melvyn Kinder took the best-seller list by storm with Smart Women, Foolish Choices, a book that probed patterns of attraction women have for men that resulted in bad relationships. This year, the two Los Angeles pychologists' new book Women Men Love, Women Men Leave (Potter, $18.95), identifies the patterns of attraction men have for women. And, again, they are topping the best-seller lists.
"I don't think we've ever had to face the amount of ongoing change as we've done in the past 15 or 20 years," says Cowan. "These are things that affect men and women alike, that we're all having to adjust to. There's nothing static or boring about relationships."
Ironically, Sills and some other experts say Cowan's and Kinder's books are among those serving as a hinderence to peaceful coexistence of the sexes. They charge that pop-pcych literature that purports to lend new understanding to sexual strife often sabotages male-female negotiations by exacerbating misconceptions. A survey of the best-seller lists of the mid-'80s says Sills, shows titles such as Smart Women, Foolish Choices, Men Who Hate Women & The Women Who Love Them and Women Who Love Too Much -- all what Sill's calls "women-good-men-bad" books.
"That genre of books reinforces the idea for women that there are no good men out there, that men are too immature to make a commitment, or if something is wrong with your relationship it's because he can't love -- all of those negative myths about men," protests Sills, adding that in her private practice in Philadelphia, 95 percent of the single men and women she counsels are troubled by their romantic relationships -- or lack thereof. "This is a very confused time in the world of courtship."
Warren Farrell calls those books further evidence of "The New Sexism" -- his buzzword for the sexual battlefront of the '80s that, to date, has been characterized by male-bashing.
"The Battle of the Sexes is still on, but it has taken a much different form," laments the author of Why Men Are the Way They Are (McGraw-Hill, $17.95) -- one of the few so-called "relationship" books written from the male point of view to exceed 100,000 sales in a market where women buy about 85 percent of the books. "Men's flags have been down for 15 years . . . the battle of the sexes is really being won where women are saying, 'Men hate women.' But, in fact, what I've been hearing are attacks by women on men."
Among the classics of that antagonism, says Farrell, is Genevieve Richardson's that express hostility toward men, though often hidden in a Trojan horse of humor, are salvos that make peaceful coexistence difficult. "If you had a book called No Good Blacks or No Good Jews or No Good Women, no one would tolerate it," Farrell contends.
But books aren't the only bearer of bad views. When advertisements on television, newspapers and magazines hint sexism against women, says Farrell, it causes outrage and protest. When it's sexism directed against men, it's laughed off. Cartoons in women's magazines are notorious for "the new sexism," he charges. He mentions one that appeared in Woman magazine: A man and a woman are at a party and the woman says, "Are you trying to be macho or just stupid?"
Farrell was recently shocked to discover that 40 percent of the greeting cards in the "Love and Friendship" section of a Hallmark store "were hatemen cards," and non too subtle. "I'm talking about a card which has a competent looking female scientist finding a pesky little bothersome creature who is obnoxious and overbearing," he says. "And what is this creature? Open the card and it's a man. Other cards are saying things like, 'If we could send one man to the moon, why not send them all.' Or 'I want a man with firm thighs, firm stomach and a fat bank account.' There were zero hate-women cards."
What fuels this female offensive? Farrell is convinced that despite their advances and triumphs of the past two decades, many women feel rejected. 'What adds to the Battle of the Sexes from the women's point of view and from the man's point of view is that the male has a number of reasons that he is hesitant to commit," says Farrell. "One reason is that when she says, 'I love you,' the next step for her is 'Well, why not commit if we love each other?' For her, commitment means intimacy.
"But if they commit to each other, particularly if they have children, she is going to be fully three times more likely to leave the work force. So that commitment doesn't necessarily mean intimacy for him. It means intensifying his work commitment to provide for a family." The result: Men often feel cornered into weighing the intimacy of a relationship against the increased economic responsibilities commitment may require.
But where Farrell blames most sexual strife on the roles and constraints society has imposed on both sexes, Sills insists the biggest problem is timing in courtship. The sexes, she says, just aren't synchronized. "Men are as eager for love and attachment as women," says Sills. "But they have different obstacles along the way. There are certain stages that you go through from when you meet to when you become a solid couple. Those stages of development are inevitable. At each stage, there are potential psychological issues to overcome and those tend to be different for men than for women."
For example, after about three or four months of courtship, says Sills, "after the seduction has taken place, after the man has pursued the woman as traditionally the man does, the couple hits the switch where he backs off." Sills calls this "fear of entrapment"-perfectionist thinking by both men and women in which "they suddenly look at this person and say,'I can't believe her shoes,' or 'I always wanted a woman who wasn't so flat chested,' or 'I can't believe she grinds her own coffee.' Now usually he was the one who pursued and she started off holding back a bit. So right when she stops holding back and gets connected, he backs off. His fear of entrapment gets aroused. That's why so many relationships fall apart around three months."
Another stage of bad timing comes with love making, says Sills. "At this point, women are more likely to experience sexual anxiety. That does not simply mean being uncomfortable about sexual intercourse. It also means being anxious about the consequences of the sexual involvement. She gets emotionally involved when she gets sexually involved. He does not necessarily.
"Men and women are at the same point of the continuum of courtship, but different points are scarier for different sexes."
Connell Cowan believes nothing is scarier for men and women than a little knowledge-particularly of each other. But, he claims, that is what will eventually end the war. "What has caused a lot of he confusion between men and women is that, in some ways, women have not wanted to know men because to know men means you give up some of the illusions about them. If you are going to know who they are, you have to give up who you wish they were-because there are discrepancies there.
"Women are very reluctant to give that up. They want men to be open and expressive. But what they really want to for their man to be open and expressive about his love for them. So when he starts talking about needing them, or feeling anxious about work, or being intimidated by the boss, they don't want to hear it because it breaks the image of strength and protection...women still wish to be with a man whom they see as strong and capable of protecting her.
"And men have been reluctant to expose themselves for fear of women's disapproval. They don't like to come across as being tarnished and seen as weak. They have not come forth and talked about how they feel, what they need in their lives. There is still a mythology that women have about the man as the prince. But some of that is changing. Women are slowly giving up the notion of the prince, and men are slowly giving up the notion of the handmaiden."
Most experts agree that the most influential agent of peace and understanding between the sexes has been the blurring of traditionally limiting sex roles that has emerged from the women's liberation movement. Women who know, firsthand, professional responsibilities and success, they say, can better relate to men. And men who find access to their emotional nurturing side can better relate to women.
"I see those gains as equal for men and women," says Sills. "For both men and women it is the freedom we've gained from the very rigid role requirements that burdened a man economically and burdened a woman socially. And it has given all of us an opportunity to work out a relationship that is comfortable for the two people involved."
Sills says she thinks an appropriate euphemism today for "The Battle of the Sexes" would be "The Ballet of the Sexes." Trade combat boots for toe shoes? Sill insists "that has always reflected the reality of it. But sometimes the ballet feels more like a battle because it makes people angry when they need someone else.
"The bottom line is that we need each other and nothing is ever going to change that."