|Photo by: Alexis Rhone Fancher|
Julie Dolcemaschio is an author and a poet. She has written several books of poetry, and has had her work published in literary journals.
She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and The Los Angeles Writers and Poets Collective.
Her crime novel, TESTAROSSA, was published by Krill Press in May 2010.
She is currently working on a romance novel. Her research is extensive and time-consuming.
Julie lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
ADVICE FROM THE RABID SHREW AND OBAN THE KNUCKLE DRAGGER
WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE OPPOSITE SEX
By Julie Dolcemaschio
So, what HAVE I learned from the opposite sex, now that I’m…over 40? Why do I care? My eldest son is a senior in high school, and when I was talking to his Honors English teacher the other day, she told me that she had given the class a writing assignment. The assignment was quite simple: What Have You Learned from the Opposite Sex.
Wow. I told her I was fascinated with that idea, especially considering the group she was asking. She assured me that this was going to be an incredible assignment for the kids. She also asked me if I would write something on the subject. Naturally, I said I would. Her unabashed enthusiasm is part of why I love her. The other is that she can open a tequila bottle faster than anyone I’ve ever met.
So, where to start with this impressive and interesting subject? The first thing I thought of was that they are a sad bunch. Then I thought, ‘Oh, God, I can’t say that, can I?’ I mean, how sad can they be? They’ve ruled the earth since Oban The Knuckle Dragger discovered fire, and they still do, no matter how far women have come. But, I do believe they are sad. Sad and hurting, and I don’t mean it as in hapless or incapable, like they sit around and drool into a cup all day. What I mean is that they are hurting deep in their souls. They don’t know who they are supposed to be and they are unable to tap into their authentic selves for reasons both obvious, and not so. And as the wife of a man, and the mother of two men-in-training, I hurt for them, too.
In the 50s and 60s it was easier to be ‘a man’. The expectations were clear; their roles in society, in the workplace and at home were well defined. Rarely did we see a man at home taking care of his children while his wife worked. A man coming home after a long day, and doing anything other than sitting in his favorite chair, snapping open the newspaper, and signaling for his bourbon was a rarity as well. This, of course, did not advance the role of women any, but let’s face it; back then, women’s roles were pretty well defined, too. Society expected her to be a good mother and a good wife, and if she had to help bring home the bacon, she’d better know how to prepare it to her husband’s liking. No bourbon or newspaper for her. The kids better be clean, preferably fed, and ready for bed, and once dinner was served and the dishes were done, she’d better be ready to perform her wifely duties in bed.
Today, a man’s role is less clear. The Feminist Movement, while essential in moving women forward and up in the workplace and in society, confused the issue somewhat for men. Back in the day, a man who helped a woman on with her coat, pulled out her chair, and opened doors was a gentleman, and the behavior was expected. Once “The Movement” took hold, these kind souls were blasted with dragon fire for assuming a woman was incapable of putting on her coat or opening a door for herself. Suddenly the lady of the house wasn’t offering him the paper, a bourbon, hot dinner, and a roll in the hay when he walked through the door; she was handing him a screaming baby, a dinner plate on top of the microwave, and no chance in hell of sex.
In the workplace, his boss—a man—with whom he once shared a nightly gin-for-the-road while listening to exaggerated stories of golf scores and trysts with the hatcheck girl at Sardi’s, has been replaced by a woman who had to work twice as hard as her predecessor to become the boss, and she believes that the only way she’ll get any respect is to behave like a rabid shrew who keeps her employees’ freshly amputated testicles in a jar on her desk. And for the first time in his life, he is being turned down in bed. He is no longer king of his domain and he’s wondering what fresh hell he’s wandered in to.
Is all of this a cliché? Am I generalizing? Have I burned the rump roast? Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus wasn’t on the bestseller’s list by accident. Author John Gray determines that men and women speak different languages. Well, duh. A man does one big thing for his wife, like build her some bookshelves, or buy and install a widescreen HD TV in her office, and he feels he’s good to go for the year. Meanwhile, she’s sitting back wondering why he can’t see that the trash is overflowing, or, God forbid, lower the damn toilet seat after he pees. Little Things vs. Big Things. But really, doesn’t it go deeper than this?
Here’s how I see it, and I have been married for 26 years to the same man—a man’s man, an enlightened man. What I learned from him is that men have a deep need to connect—to their guy friends and to their wives/girlfriends. They want to be loved and understood and honored. Yes, I said honored.
When a man feels he is being honored for the man he is, he opens like a flower. When he does not feel honored, he shuts down. Pretty simple. When he feels appreciated for his contributions—even if it’s shelves or a widescreen—he feels like he is taking care of business. When he hears we’re unhappy that he didn’t notice the new drapes or acknowledge we’ve lost a few pounds, he’s understandably hurt—The Big vs. The Little again.
When a man is honored for acting as the leader and mentor in his house, he will lead. When a man is allowed to bond with his children, make mistakes, and be open about his insecurities without being made to feel like a drooling buffoon, he will nurture. When a man is allowed to love, protect, and provide for his family freely and without being made to feel as if he’s dominating or taking over, he will thrive.
A man wants to fix, find solutions. When his wife or the kids get sick, he’s pissed he couldn’t prevent it from happening, and even angrier that he can’t fix it. That’s when he’ll turn to his wife and say, “How the hell did you let this happen?” This will prompt her to say, “I’ve been cleaning up barf all day and I’m tired” or, “I’ve been barfing all day, give me a break.” This is his cue to say, “Yes, of course, my angel. Let me make you a cup of tea,” but he doesn’t do that. He wants to know why she is acting like such a bitch, and why the hell she is, or the kids are, still sick, dammit.
This is a good time to acknowledge his need to problem solve, and her need for a stiff martini—or a cup of tea. The bottom line here is he is dying to be understood, and he is woefully incapable of understanding himself. I have found that in the acknowledging, there is acknowledgment. Everyone wins—most of all the man.
The genderless way in which many people live today is not good for men. I’m not sure yet how we women are fairing, but I can tell you it is not good for the men. They need to be men. They need to be able to be open about their needs, their wants, their hurts, and their desires without being labeled a whiner. They need to be able to express themselves sexually, where appropriate, without being labeled a cad or a pervert. They need to be given permission to admire the beauty of a woman without being labeled a leering wanker with a lazy eye.
When I quit my job almost 18 years ago to stay home with my son, I had a hard time adjusting. I’d worked for my own money since I was fourteen, and now I found myself in the position of contributing nothing financially, and on top of that I was expected to have the kitchen cleaned and dinner ready when he got home. When that wasn’t happening to my husband’s liking, he let me know about it. I believe his words fell along the lines of, ‘This is your job now’. Did I enjoy hearing that? No, I did not. But the man wasn’t wrong. It was my job—that, and caring for a baby. He had his own job to do outside the home, and it was damn stressful. He brought home a nice paycheck and he denied me nothing. But, in my mind, I wasn’t an equal in the work force anymore. I was a housewife. I was June Cleaver, and all I was good for was a clean house and smiles at the end of the day, while he navigated through the exciting world of business. I didn’t have my own money, and this made me feel incredibly insecure.
But, wait…I chose this, didn’t I? I decided that I didn’t want to go back to work. I decided I wanted more for my son than a woman-who-was-not-his-mom coming in every day to care for him while I went out and fulfilled my obligation to the feminist movement. Even my mother, who worked all during my formative years, said, “I’m afraid you will lose yourself if you don’t work.” I didn’t. I actually found myself, and when I did, I found a woman, and I liked her. I decided I would be the woman and let him be the man. I decided I would let him protect, I would let him provide, and I would let him cherish, and I would do some things, too.
And cherish he did. I noticed the change right away. It was immediate. Gone was the closed mind, the demanding tone, the business-like way in which he dealt with our marriage. I got back the man that I married, simply because I let him be a man. I was in no way diminished by letting him be who he was, naturally. And from this came his need to connect, his desire to let me know that work wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and that he worked his ass off for me, and for the kids. And he told me he’d rather be home with me than anywhere else, and in those cherish words, those heartfelt love words, in that honesty that I can only guess came from the changes I made, I, too, opened up. I became more, and then he became more. It isn’t always perfect, and occasionally we forget the Mars and Venus stuff and we fuck up. A past-lives expert told me once that in one of our many previous lives together, my sweet boo killed me—quite violently, in fact. I made the mistake of sharing this with him after one particularly silly argument. “And this surprises you?” he snorted. He’s funny, in addition to being manly.
If I had the ear of all the young men in the world, I would say to them the following: Be who you are as a man, every single day. Strive to be a good man, in society and in your home. Love hard and strong and with honor, always with honor. I would tell them that Snookie and Kim Kardashian will never honor them as men, so look and enjoy, but do not bring that home.
I would say be brave in expressing your needs, because unless those needs are taken care of, you will not be able to meet the needs of your wife and your children. Open doors, pull out chairs, and help with coats if that makes you feel good. The right woman for you will take it for what it is—a gesture of love, and not an attempt to weaken or dominate. I would advise young men to connect with their guy friends as deeply as they can. Where a woman lacks, your buddies will fill in. Don’t let the lure of sex weaken you. It will be there, whether you are a dog or a man of honor. Choose honor, and with the sex you will also get respect. Be conscious of how you speak around girls your age. Broadcast that you are not that guy—the guy who thinks of them as nothing, not worthy of respect, or decent language, or a kind word. Speak and act with honor.
I would also like to invite young men to hug their mothers once in a while. You know you want to, so do it. She won’t bite, or offer to change your diaper. She knows you’re grown up because she has felt you drift further and further away from her since you were ten. Hug her and let her honor you as the man you are becoming. She sees it, sees where you’ve been, and where you are going, and it kills her, and it fills her with pride. She knows she has to let you go, because she’s been doing it for years. She can’t wait to see how things will turn out, so hug her once in a while. It won’t kill you.
Last, honor yourselves. Honor the man you are becoming and the one you’d like to ultimately be. Don’t compromise and don’t settle. Honor yourself, be true to yourself, and pass it on to your friends. You’re worth it. The women of the world need you—and we need you at your best.