A FRIEND, LET'S CALL HIM K, complains that he is getting a reputation at the place where he works. The word is that he dates as many of the women in the office as he can, that he has slept with a whole bunch of them and that he is forever on the make. He says none of it is true and he is troubled by its implications. It means, he says, that he is considered "easy."
Now truth compels me to say that it was I who put that particular formulation on his problem. K did not. K merely said that he was bothered by the notion that people thought he would have sex with women with whom he did not have a relationship, that he was in the habit of having one-night stands -- that he, in short, saw women as nothing more than sex objects.
Any way you formulate the objection, though, you come down to the same thing. It is the sort of objection that would cause Huge Hefner to have a nose bleed, an almost feminine objection -- the sort of thing women are supposed to say. If men are now saying this sort of thing then Playboy, if not lechery, is hardly a growth business and there is, at long last, something new under the sun. Let's call it the single standard.
Clasically, the old double standard meant that men were able to do what women could not -- that they were judged differently for doing the same thing. Usually, this pertained to sex. Men, for instance, were permitted to debauch, debauch and then debauch some more, but women were not. Women who acted as sexually free as men got what was known as reputations. At the very least, some people said they had no respect for themselves, which is what you say, I take it, when someone does something you secretly want to do.
But if women are sometimes the victim of the old double standard, then men can be the victim of changing standards. Fighting is a perfect example. This is something men are supposed to be able to do, but should they do it, should they actually act violently, they will either be arrested or shunned. Men who do not conform to the times, who fail to distinguish between myths about the frontier and the reality of modern life, are not heroes, but fools. Men are really not supposed to fight.
It is somewhat the same for sex. The male ideal, of course, is to be something of a tomcat, meowing your way up one alley and down the next. Men are raised to believe this myth and they try their hardest to equal it during some part of their life -- usually when they are young and sometimes when the start to get old. It is the ideal, and very much like fighting, it makes for great talk.
But in the same way that men disapprove of a man who is really violent, who does not understand that times have changed and the frontier is gone, so they also disapprove of the man who totally buys the sexual myth and conducts himself accordingly. He is considered immature, boyish -- something of a jerk.
The reason for this is that both men and women are converging on a single standard. It is already based on a concept of the other person as a whole person, as something more than a sexual toy -- on respect, on honesty. Deceit and lying are supposed to play no part in it and regardless of how liberated everyone is nowadays, most people still do not tell when they are merely using someone else. The one word unsaid in my friend K's dilemma, but heard loud and clear nonetheless is "liar."
So you don't have to climb inside K's head to figure out why he is so disturbed by his reputation. It has to be something of a hindrace -- like bad breath. A womanizer does not flatter with his attention. If he is not paying attention to one woman, he will to another. Each women is just a blip on his radar screen, only no the blips sound off. They tell -- often in what men would find gruesome detail --what has happened to them. It is, after all, women and not men who nowadays give men reputations as womanizers.
So for poor K, the world has changed. A reputation that at one time would have been an asset is suddenly a handicap. Because of a new standard, he is held in contempt, not in awe. Woman talk about him, men look down upon him and poor K, a bit befuddled by it all, swears it is all a mistake -- he has been framed. I wonder. There is, after all, something that doesn't change:
Where there's smoke, there's fire.