I am ashamed, I admit, of my it-serves-'em- right attitude. After all, I enjoy a happy marriage, and I'd like to wish others the same happiness. Still I feel just a little bit like gloating.
I've just looked at the May issue of Working Woman magazine, attracted to it by a featured article, "But Does the New Woman Really Want the New Man?" The answer, as you might guess, is a frustrated -- no.
But why does that make me feel, if not good, at least psychically vindicated? I suppose it's because I have long thought that the feminists were playing on dangerous ground. It made sense to me that they wanted to get rid of the gender-specific constraints that had limited women's economic options. It was the next step that made me nervous: that women couldn't be really free unless men also were freed of their gender-specific roles and attitudes. The success of feminism, in short, would require the creation of a "new man."
There was, to be sure, plenty wrong with the "old man." He was inconsiderate and possessive; he tended to define himself by the kind of work he did and to think of the woman in his life as "his." But just as novice remodelers, in their zest to turn their "handy-person special" into a dream house, sometimes make the mistake of removing load-bearing walls, the architects of the "new man" may have eliminated some of his key supporting timbers. The result, according to the Working Woman article, is something nobody wants.
He's no longer possessive, says Margaret Edwards, a University of Vermont associate professor of English, but he is no longer committed. He has given up the notion that the man should make all the decisions, but women find it frustrating that he can't make up his mind about what the couple should do or where they should eat, or even whether to ask her for a date. He neither opens doors nor sends flowers. He has, the author complains, been transformed "from tyrant to fop." Or flop.
Feminists understood clearly that the traditional feminine attributes (cooperativeness, peace-seeking, self-denial) put them at a career disadvantage vis-a-vis men with the traditional masculine characteristics (aggressiveness, assertiveness, competitiveness). But they also understood that it would solve nothing for women simply to start behaving like men -- if only because they could never play that role as well as men.
So they came up with the notion that men, too, would have to change: to become more like women. The "new man" thus created turns out to be a fishfowl that nobody wants. As Edwards puts it:
"Women don't yet admire in men what have been known as the 'feminine virtues.' It took women so long to get out from under these virtues that one can hardly blame them for still being suspicious of them."
The mistake, which Edwards doesn't acknowledge, was not in recognizing that while "feminine virtues" can be a handicap in male- dominated careers, they can be an enormous help in forming strong personal relationships, because they encourage men to do what they are best equipped to do: behave like men.
The "new man," Edwards acknowledges, is a frustration. "He accepts that women have joined him on the fast track, yet their paths seem to be parallel, not intersecting."
Her proposed solution is unlikely to please very many men or women.
"The New Woman," she says, "will have to look past the classic knight on the white charger to find the next hero. . . . She may have to take a chance on living with the type of man who benefits from her energy rather than duplicates it, who admires her clear sense of purpose and doesn't thwart it, who feels inclined not so much to lead her as to enjoy where she leads.
"Right now, her heaviest liability is a likelihood of winding up alone."
With practice, a little counseling and a modicum of consciousness-raising, I'm sure I could learn to stop murmuring: It serves her right.