The great state of Virginia has been producing some newsworthy quotes lately, the most arresting being made in connection with the charity "roast" of Virginia House Speaker A.L. Philpott, which featured a sideshow of dancers who were attired, to use the word loosely, in pasties and G-strings.
The stag luncheon, which attracted 400 legislators, lobbyists and government officials, was sponsored by Richmond's chapter of the Circus Saints and Sinners of America charity group. The event attracted attention from places far beyond Richmond, however, in part because the initial story on it contained some eye-popping quotes from chapter chairman H.H. Howren, who used less-than-elegant terminology to describe portions of the female anatomy.
That was before the event, and, needless to say, the event itself received more news coverage than it might have otherwise warranted. Some pickets showed up, and so did Richmond attorney James A. Baber III, who organized the event and saw nothing wrong with staging a sideshow of nearly naked women. "We did not exclude women, we didn't invite them," he told Washington Post reporter Tom Sherwood. "We don't try to go to the women's club." (This is probably a wise move on his part.)
In answer to a question about women being treated as sex objects, Baber said women "have made great progress . . . I'm not down on women. I think they should stay at home, raise children, clean the house and take care of their husbands."
The Saran-wrap philosophers are alive and well in Virginia.
It would be comforting to think that the reporter had uncovered a mere social aberration, the remnants, perhaps, of some 18th century cult that had somehow survived in a dank corner of Richmond. But the melancholy fact is that there is a lot of evidence that a cultish adherence to this view of the social equation is flourishing well beyond Richmond.
Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz in "The Superwoman Syndrome," cites a 1983 survey conducted by Marriage and Divorce Today (a professional newsletter for family therapists) that found men and women agree that they want fidelity, affection, open communication, intimacy and appreciation from their spouses. Beyond that, there were striking differences in what men and women want in relationships.
"Women expressed a need for sex as a loving experience. Men expressed a need for good and frequent sex," Shaevitz writes.
Women, she writes, wanted such things as security, responsibility, respect, honesty, equality, sensitivity, someone who cares and can talk about feelings and pay attention. They wanted love and trust.
Men, she writes, said they wanted "obedience; some amount of inequality; to be in charge; an understanding of the importance of their work; warmth; freedom to pursue individual interests; freedom to go out with the guys; for her to be there home when he wants her; not to be controlled; a good wife and mother; someone to tend the house; for her to be content and loyal; low pressure fewer demands ; fair sharing of expenses; help in recognizing feelings; validation of the breadwinner role; commitment; quality time; marriage and family as priority rather than her career."
"The survey," she writes, "revealed that women have generally accepted the goals of the feminist movement, but men have not, regardless of location in the country. And this dichotomy is the cause of conflict.
"Men still want a woman whose sole function (or major function) is to satisfy his needs and support him in his career. A number of respondents emphasized that men view the 'independent woman' as bossy and nagging."
The attitude revealed in the survey can never add up to a sharing, giving, equitable partnership. It may have worked economically in the days before divorce became prevalent, but now, a man who consigns a woman to staying home puts her in what is probably the highest economic risk category there is: one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and 90 percent of the children live with their mothers. The Census Bureau found that of female-headed households, 34 percent are classified as poor, as are 51 percent with children under 18 and 65 percent with children under 6.
Whether a woman chooses to work at home or work outside the home is no longer a decision that lends itself to primitive dictates about women's proper roles. Too often, the mothers who lived their marital lives according to the doctrine of Baber, end up with their children in poverty.