I CAN REMEMBER almost everything about it. I remember it was a rainy day and we were hanging around the kitchen of Robbie Bell's house and I remember that the girl who said it was named Sydelle. She was standing near the kitchen table and I was near the knotty-pine wall and there were some other kids in the room when she said it. She commented on some guy's sexual performance.
I remember that moment because I was both shocked and confused. Certain things were clear in those days and one of those was that it was men, not women, who talked that way. It was men who blabbed and boasted and ran off at the mouth, ruining reputations with abandon. It was men who did those things and that was why you were asked just before anything happened if you were the type who talked afterwards - kiss and tell, I think the expression was. Men were the ones who talked. This was certain and this is what I believed.
So I noted Sydell as the exception and I continued to note other women who talked as also being exceptions and every once in a while when I would meet some guy who was dying to tell you about some woman. I would consider him typical. There weren't too many of them, but there were some. Some would talk and some would merely poke you in the ribs, saying things like, "see that chick over there" - poke, poke. Anyway, it was clear the ladies had a point. We men were the ones who talked.
So I bought the stereotype and when two women at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month published their "Consumer Guide to MIT Men," I sort of nodded my head, clucked and muttered something like, "served those guys right." What Roxanne Ritchie and Susan Gilbert had done, in a splurge of reporting unparalleled since Watergate, was to say they had had sex with 36 men and then rate them according to - it says here - technique, physical attributes and personal hygiene. Gilbert and Ritchie were not ones to pull their punches. In the highest tradition of journalism, they named names.
Predictably, there was a storm of protest and, even the inevitable petition. The publication that printed the consumer guide apologized for using the names of the men without their premission and event he authors said they had erred on that score. But then they had the usual things to say about turning the tables - about how it was high time women gave men a dose of their own medicine. All the cliches were trotted out, but what they came down to was something like tit for tat.
The thing about it, of course, was the most people were willing to take the ladies at their word - that they had really turned the tables.No one came forward to say that their premise might be wrong to begin with - that it is, in fact women who have the big mouths. No one said that and no one said that the consumer guide might just have been the natural extension of what women have been doing all along. The easy thing to do was accept their premise, although in truth I don't remember men in college talking that way and in all of literature I can't recall anything quote as tasteless as the consumer survey. Even the notorious Casanova did not name names.
Anyway, I had my suspicions that something was wrong. In every office, I've ever worked in, for instance, it is always the women who can fill you in on office romances. If you ask them how they know, they will often say they got the information first-hand - from the woman involved. You never got this sort of information from men. Sometimes you would hear snatches of conversations and sometimes you would ask what it is the women were talking about at lunch and sometimes you would meet admirably frank woman who would tell you right off what had been discussed. Always though, I clung to what I learned as a kid. Women did not talk. Women had reputations to think of. Men talked. Men boasted. We men knew no shame.
So when the MIT report came out and some woman asked me what I thought about it, I played it safe and said something I didn't quite believe - something trendy but how they had managed to turn the tables on the men. The woman shot me a disgusted look and then told me what I had always suspected. It is women who talk. It is women who gossip, who rate, who critique and who carry on, in general, the way men are supposed to - but don't. This woman said she knew what she was talking about. She had talked to other women about this.
I knew she was right, but just to be certain I did some reporting of my own. I asked around and while I did not find unanimity on the subject - there appears to be some generation differences - It's clear that the lady who lectured me that day was right on the nose. If anything, the situation may be worsening as more and more women think that the liberated thing to do is to act as they believe men do. Well, the point of it all is that we men really don't act that way and I, for one, wish that women would not neither. Things, after all, are starting to get out of hand, if the MIT survey, the confessions of Liz Ray, Judith Exner and probably worst of all, Kay Summersby, are any indication.
The time has come, ladies, to start acting like gentlemen.