There is a cartoon by Ed Koren in the Dec. 10 New Yorker that carries a slightly delicious, slightly malicious tag line to the decade. Two furry, liberal, midlife-crisis-aged husbands walk into the kitchen where their wives are standing over the eternal hot stove. Side by side, martini glasses in hand, benign smiles in place, they announce: "john and I are sick of hearing about women and their problems."
The irony, the honesty, the self-revelation are all there in that one risky picture. We have come to the end of 10 years during which "women and their problems" have been discussed as a subject worthy of panels and government- funded studies and civil rights legislation. Now, underlying the mixed feelings of resentment and unfairness in that cartoon is a desire, even a need, to talk about men and their problems.
There has been something of an expression gap between men and women in the '70s. While books and articles about women's lives created whole new headings in the card catalog, the few men overtly writing Men's Liberation books sounded as if they were saying what their wives wanted them to feel.
But now we see more and new images percolating up through the surface of men's lives and into the literature and movies. In "the Duke of Deception," Geoffrey Woolf writes movingly about the sinew of love that runs through even the most difficult father-son relationship. Jules Feiffer creates a pointed and riotous cartoon novel, "tantrum," about a 42-year-old man who escapes the stifling responsibilities of adult malehood by turning 2 years old. John Updike goes on tenderly writing about the world of men as husbands, fathers, sons.
In the movies this is the winter of the male "issue" cinema. We have seen Alan Alda laying out the effects of public life on personal life and Dustin Hoffman turning from an absent (or at least absent-minded) father into a tenacious one. Even Burt Reynolds has changed his portrayal of the American male hero from "Semi-Tough" to sensitive in "Starting Over."
In the real world, the same transitions are taking place. Many men in these 10 years have, like many women, changed their ideal of woman from supermom to superwoman. When the ad people at BBD&O surveyed what Today's Man wanted from Today's Woman, they found that "he approves of her going out to work, but wants her to be sure to take care of the household chores and the shopping and the kids." Many want a superwife.
But as women now say no to superwoman, we also see men, especially those at the cutting edge, beginning to look at their own choices and futures differently. The sons of men who submerged the values of home to achievement are struggling with the question of how to lead a more balanced life.
Corporations report that fewer men are willing to move for the sake of the company and at the cost of the family. Pollsters chronicle the fact that fewer young men seem willing to commit themselves to a success trip.
In a recent issue of Esquire, Gail Sheehy analyzed a survey of elite young men -- those who would have once been automatically tracked to the top. She found them obsessed with "trade-offs," or the rewards of a top career versus those of a rich personal life. "New Life Choices," the hot topic of women's conferences in the '70s, is now a subject for men:New Tough Choices.
At the same time, from the Harvard Business School to a living room in California, the two-worker couples are trying to figure out how to hold down two jobs and hold together one marriage. Their decision-making has become geometrically more complicated. As an academic couple in Colorado said: "It was the restaurant business together, or English Lit in Ohio and Economics in Florida." They now run a restaurant.
Some men have experienced relief, others anger, and still others confusion in the fact that today, as Sheehy said, "men simply cannot call the shots anymore." Some feel that they, too, are being asked these days to carry a double burden.
In fact, the question facing many men carries a familiar ring. Can we have it all? Can we only have it all by doing it all?
At the start of a new decade, it seems that the hopes and conflicts of men and women, especially young men and women, are beginning to dovetail again. Together they may reach out to find support, not only from each other but by changing the environments in which they work and live.
It is clear, at least, that men have found a new and different voice and have begun asking for equal time. In the '80s we will hear a lot more about the problems of men than the problems with men. shah to intimate that the senator was playing fast and loose with the li