Macho is back and everyone's buying it, according to the paperback book sellers.

The surprise sensation of the summer was "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche -- A Guidebook to All That is Truly Masculine." It is an homage to hommes gone by who were real men: ". . . when all you had to do was abuse women, steal land from the Indians and find some place to dump the toxic waste."

So successful was this virile volume that it has already sired another how-to book called "The Manly Handbook." This book cautions that "Manliness . . . is under heavy assault from an army of left-wing feminizing forces that will stop at nothing to turn the Pentagon into a giant day care center."

"Quiche" and its kin are very funny books. I particularly liked two of the approved manly vacations: "Canoe trip down white water during which you and your companions are attacked by depraved hillbillies" and "traveling to Berlin as a CIA courier under the guise of a tourist from Lafayette, Ind."

These books are not merely arbiters of all that is masculine. They espouse standards for femininity as well, on the grounds that, if women would only be women, it would be easier for men to be men.

The ideal woman, so the story goes, "knows how to do those little things that make men happy, like keeping the latest issue of Mechanix Illustrated in her bathroom at all times."

The feminine ideal is also big of breast and small of brain. She earns less, so he can feel like more. In other words, it takes a tender woman to make a tough man. And when men fail, a woman is at fault. This is a scam as old as Samson, but it amazing how many latter-day Delilahs are still being stung by it.

But we can't blame the he-man handbooks for sexist attitudes. Macho isn't back -- it never really went away. Throughout the hang-out '60s and the hang-up '70s, we had macho men from John Wayne to Jhoon Rhee saying might makes right. The only difference was a public deference to women's equality. It became socially unacceptable to admit publicly that you believed women belonged in bedrooms and not board rooms.

We lost more than the Equal Rights Amendment this year. We lost the public perception that sexism was inherently evil. So it is not surprising to hear reports of the male club atmosphere returning to the workplace.

There's one bigwig who apparently believes working women are as interchangeable as office equipment. He continually confuses a woman I know with her closest female colleague.

This might be understandable except that one woman is a long-limbed lady with straight, streaked hair, whose native language is Spanish. The other is five inches shorter with curly red hair, whose native language is New York. Clearly, the boss is operating on the idea that a woman by any other name can type as sweet.

I don't know whether to view this with horror or hilarity. I still believe that men of quality are not threatened by a woman's equality.

Real men don't eat quiche? In a pig's eye! You'd have to be a real milquetoast to be undone by a little egg custard.