Macho men are scared

Elise T. Chisolm

November 13, 1990|By Elise T. Chisolm

LOOKING AT my two daughters-in-law the other day, I thought how wonderful it is that I have lived to see them both achieve in careers that were once male bastions and are still mostly male-dominated.

One is a lawyer, the other is a doctor.

Great. Are women finally making it in this man's world? Bernadette Locke is the first woman assistant basketball coach of the men's team at the University of Kentucky; a National Park policewoman in Washington, D.C., has received the nation's highest award in law enforcement, the first woman to get that award.

We've come a long way . . . maybe.

But as soon as I start counting our triumphs, I read about the locker-room flap between the New England Patriots and Lisa Olson, the Boston Herald reporter.

As you know, Lisa was covering a story in the locker room when she was taunted by several of the Patriots. A special counsel is still investigating the matter, Lisa Olson has been assigned another beat temporarily by the Herald, and the NFL is looking into the incident.

Meanwhile, more and more problems of sexual harassment and rape are turning up at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

From construction workers who yell obscenities at passing women to corporate male bosses who chase secretaries around the desk, sexual harassment remains atavistic male behavior.

But why?

The issue is sexual harassment, but it goes much deeper. It is symptomatic -- an outward sign of an inner turbulence.

All this locker-room stuff and its underlying ugliness says to me that many men are just plain scared.

I think they are afraid that women are taking over their territory.

On Oct. 26 on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, essayist Anne Taylor Flemming said that even though women have tried to storm the skyscrapers they have bumped into a "glass ceiling'' when it comes to top jobs.

"Suddenly we women were everywhere, swarming into their once private places, the clubs and corporations, their locker rooms and law offices, the board rooms and body building contests. I'm sure that's the way it did feel to numbers of men, some of whom are now bunkered in at the top peering down at the rest of the world through the glass ceiling. So what's really at the bottom of this bunker mentality? Anger, yes, but even more than that, fear."

Time magazine has a special fall issue on "Women: The Road Ahead." It covers every branch of women's struggle from the kitchen to the political field, the battlefield, the athletic field, and the road ahead is full of stumbling blocks. The picture isn't all glossy.

Writing in Time, author Katha Pollitt says: "I want fathers to raise boys to respect women as equals . . . some cherished male folkways may have to go -- the cult of hyperviolent heroes like Rambo, for example . . . I want men to confront their own aggression, I want them to tell their tiny sons what I tell my daughter: Georgie Porgy isn't cute. He's mean." The title of her piece is "Georgie Porgy Is a Bully.''

Men are still being boys, sports are still macho games, and some women are still sitting on the sidelines at the workplace.

Male sports stars with high visibility and high salaries do not want their stardom diminished by -- of all things -- a woman. They have not grown up intellectually; they may have the brawn, but they don't have the brain to accept women on the job. And that is not to say a male lawyer or male doctor has not worried about competition from women.

The man who uses sexual harassment as a ploy in the board room or the locker room feels that his masculinity and, worse, his job are threatened. This double whammy is more than he can handle. He is insecure.

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