Men, a southern outdoorsman once said, were built "to hunt, fight and make love. Anything else is a distraction."
In the polished halls of the Maryland General Assembly today that neolithic notion was taken to task as proponents of a study of "contemporary manhood" called for rethinking the old values.
They are backing a proposed gubernatorial task force to unearth the dark forces that make men so wild and crazy, but they had to look pretty hard for a sponsor in the legislature. The first five male delegates they approached were scared it might anger their female constituents, according to Jack Kammer, the Baltimore radio show host who hatched the idea.
In the end Del. Elijah Cummings (D-Baltimore) agreed to offer House Joint Resolution 43, which quickly won the sobriquet, "the wimp bill."
Cummings is hoping members of the House Judiciary Committee, to whom testimony in behalf of the bill was offered today, will be more supportive.
Psychologists, sociologists, a "social change consultant" and other witnesses told the committee that modern American men are victims of social stereotypes that encourage them to be violent, alcoholic, workaholic, drug-abusing, irresponsible in child support, cold and aloof and criminal.
The witnesses said that because of men's peculiar mindset, more of them die in car crashes, die younger than women by 10 years, are behind most violent crime, have a suicide rate twice as high as for women and are murdered at a rate four times as high -- all of which, they said, constitutes a problem.
The committee, composed mostly of men, took the testimony in reasonably cold and aloof fashion, though there was a moment when at least one legislator appeared on the verge of a guffaw.
That would have been when developmental neuropsychologist James W. Prescott was testifying that American males would be better off if they had had 2 1/2 years of breast-feeding as infants, rather than the average three months.
The committee seemed to be principally concerned about what the legislature could do about issues like that. Delegates Pauline Menes (D-Prince George's) and Albert Morningstar (D-Frederick) asked whether realistic suggestions for state legislation would be forthcoming if the task force were approved.
Gene Martin, the social change consultant, replied that there was plenty of research material to support legislative initiatives, though he conceded that a state legislature was not the ideal forum for a debate on the broad issue of man's role in society.
"But we'll take any forum," said Martin, who hosts a biweekly issues show on WPFW-FM in Washington. "We didn't come because this is the best forum, but why not start here? Maryland has a commission on women; why not one on the status of men?"
Martin said the issue must be tackled because "whatever value the traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity had no longer fit in modern life. They're unfair, unjust and impossible to live up to. We've started to recognize that for women, and we're here to call attention to the fact that it's the same for men."
He said millions of men are suffering "a sense of personal isolation" because they don't measure up to male stereotypes, "and they think they're the only ones feeling it."
Kammer, a technical writer on computer software and part-time host of a Baltimore radio show on men's issues, came up with the idea for the task force after discussions on his show convinced him men were in a pickle.
He compared the plight of men to the plight of the Chesapeake Bay -- not dead but not doing so great, either.
"We're growing up polluted," he said, "beating people up and killing to be in control, getting drunk and driving fast to impress girls . . . ."
Kammer said women's groups frequently contend that society turns victims into villains by blaming them for transgressions over which they have no control. "Men can be victimized the same way," he said.