Friday, December 21, 2007

Swagger vs. Grovel

A primal response of a young male on encountering a beautiful female may be to strut and swagger, but another, and perhaps even more primal response is to be awestruck.

Hollywood movies, notably westerns and action-adventures, have celebrated the taciturn, macho hero — Cooper and Peck, Wayne and McQueen, Eastwood and Bronson, Costner and Stallone. Marlon Brando embodied this tomcat nonchalance as Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar:

Blanche DuBois: “I was fishing for a compliment.”
Stanley Kowalski: “I don't go in for that stuff.”

But another masculine archetype has been on wide-screen display in Hollywood comedies. Here you find grown men reduced to stammering, groveling adolescence by mere proximity to female splendor. Take your pick: Tom Ewell with Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch, Tony Randall with Jayne Mansfield in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Jack Lemmon with Monroe and Kim Novak and other bombshell beauties in any number of comedies.

Male inadequacy is front and center, of course, in the nerdy film personas of Jerry Lewis and Woodie Allen. A perfect example can be seen in a YouTube clip from Hollywood or Bust, which shows Jerry Lewis literally falling head over heels at sight of Anita Ekberg:

The geek-and-goddess romance becomes thematic with Dudley Moore, who was Bedazzled by Raquel Welch (see above) and bewitched by Bo Derek in 10. In the original Heartbreak Kid, buttoned-down honeymooner Charles Grodin up and dumps his Brooklynesque bride to pursue the Minnesota shiksa perfection of Cybill Shepherd.

But it’s not just nerds and geeks who willingly succumb to the power of female sexuality. Check out any strip club in a blue-collar neighborhood (where many tend to be), especially on a local payday, and you’ll see truck drivers, factory workers, mechanics and Hell’s Angel wannabes packed shoulder to shoulder in the stage-side seats, gaping up in idolatrous awe and hanging their hard-earned cash along the railing. These are offerings to the prancing priestesses on high, who do the strutting and swaggering, affording the acolytes below only sneak peeks into forbidden paradise.

Goddess worship could hardly be more explicit, nor the imbalance of power between male supplicant and dominant female more visible. Vive la différence!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Bit of Dickens

Dickens is known for angelic heroines, who, by age 17, are embodiments of human perfection. There is no shortage, either, of young men afflicted with unrequited adoration for these paragons—or for anti-paragons (see below). Dickens himself, as a young man, mooned over and pursued a young lady in this fashion.

One such idealized young woman is the title character of Little Dorrit. But it is her older sister, the vain and lovely Miss Fanny, who ensnares the luckless Sparkler:

“…Mr. Sparkler entered on an evening of agony. .. But he had two consolations at the close of the performance. [Miss Fanny] gave him her fan to hold while she adjusted her cloak, and it was his blessed privilege to give her his arm down-stairs again. These crumbs of encouragement, Mr. Sparkler thought, would just keep him going; and it is not impossible that [Miss Fanny] thought so too... Mr. Sparkler put on another heavy set of fetters over his former set, as he watched her radiant feet twinkling down the stairs beside him.”

In short order, Fanny’s conquest of Sparkler is complete, and he is reduced to groveling.

Of course, Miss Fanny is not an isolated case in Dickens’ novels. Pip, the beloved hero of Great Expectations, is “brought up by hand” by his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who was “much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me.” Pip and Joe both take to cowering in the chimney corner to stay out of her reach—and the reach of “Tickler,” “a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame.”

A final comment on the Victorian wife-led marriage I draw from Chapter 6 of Nicholas Nickleby:

“It is not for me to say by what means, or by what degrees, some wives manage to keep down some husbands as they do, although I may have my private opinion on the subject, and may think that no Member of Parliament ought to be married, inasmuch as three married members out of every four, must vote according to their wives' consciences (if there be such things), and not according to their own. All I need say, just now, is, that the Baroness Von Koeldwethout somehow or other acquired great control over the Baron Von Koeldwethout, and that, little by little, and bit by bit, and day by day, and year by year, the baron got the worst of some disputed question, or was slyly unhorsed from some old hobby; and that by the time he was a fat hearty fellow of forty-eight or thereabouts, he had no feasting, no revelry, no hunting train, and no hunting--nothing in short that he liked, or used to have; and that, although he was as fierce as a lion, and as bold as brass, he was decidedly snubbed and put down, by his own lady, in his own castle of Grogzwig.”

Sunday, February 4, 2007


Is is cool to be "whipped," as in "pussywhipped"? That’s certainly one of the minor messages imparted in the girls' gymnastics movie, Stick It (2006). My 12-year-old daughter liked the movie in the theater and now is renting the DVD.

A couple of young guys, one blonde, the other dark-haired, friends of the main-character gymnast, hang around the periphery of the story, cracking wise, but also cheering wholeheartedly during the girls' competitions. One of these boys is clearly smitten with one of the other girls, a prototypical bitch (as played by Vanessa Lengies; the boy is played John Patrick Amedori, see photo).

In fact, the blond boy calls her a bitch to her face. She asks the other one, the dark-haired boy who’s smitten with her, “Do you think I’m a bitch?” He answers, “No, I mean, yeah, but I don’t have a problem with that, unlike some other guys.” (Glancing at his buddy.)

The girl proceeds to invite herself to his prom, tells him when and where to pick her up and not to forget to buy her a corsage, then turns on her heel, gymnastically, and prances away. Blonde guy tells his friend, “Dude, you are so whipped!”

His friend answers, “What is wrong with that—ever?”

And blonde guy, as if actually thinking over this macho putdown for the first time in his life, nods his head in agreement, like, Yeah, what is wrong with being whipped?

Just a question. Any comments?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Being Shaped by Her

Is it unmanly for a husband to want to be “shaped” by his wife? I don’t think so, and I’m not alone in the view. A husband-shaping dynamic is very much involved in the idealized wife-led marriage, coveted by those men who pursue this lifestyle. As a recent posting by a husband in the Wife-Led Relationships board explains:

“What I am doing by allowing myself to submit to her is allowing her to shape me into the man she wants me to be. And that man is not wimpy or weak when dealing with the world, but he is very loving and deferential when dealing with his beloved wife.”

As another wife-worshipping husband once wrote (in Lady Misato’s husbands’ forum): “I am proud to be in touch with others who know the true meaning of being a man is found serving and worshipping the woman he loves… [By doing that] you will toss the male ego burden aside. You will be free to grow in your service to her. To be a real man, her man.”

These guys make wife worship sound kind of like a spiritual path, don’t they? Not that they pray to their wives (though they may bend a knee to kiss her proffered hand or even her dainty toe), or actually worship her (in an idolatrous sense). But they do view each day as an opportunity to perfect their service and devotion to her, to make her the center of their life, the focus of their thoughts and feelings. And in this “centering” they profess to find daily bliss.

Amen to that!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Near the Center of the Feminine Mystery

Shortly after posting the Stevenson quote (“The Enchanted Isle” below) I began to hear faint echoes in memory. A quick search of some old files turned up the following from an obviously enraptured husband to an old (and now defunct) Yahoo group (entitled something like “Happy Wives and Trained Husbands”):

"[My wife] has arrived home and my heart is fluttering with excitement! I hurry to do her bidding. I do not feel complete until she is home. I'm near the center of the feminine mystery, an intimate part of the life of a beautiful woman. So close to her, caring only for her comfort and happiness..."

I am reminded not only of Stevenson’s “enchanted isle among the storms of life,” but of how love transforms surroundings. I remember the special magic that pervaded the apartments and neighborhoods of certain females in my younger days, even the freeway offramps leading to these sacred precincts. It is the way Freddy Eynsford-Hill felt “on the street where you live,” as a lovesick sentry posted outside Prof. Higgins’ home, hoping for just a glimpse of Liza Dolittle.

Now, of course, her abode is mine and ours, and the covered playground of two kids. And yet, everything about it reminds me that it is she who created it, who is its head and heart, the leader who holds us all in her loving embrace. I give thanks each day that I live here with her, and them, in her “enchanted isle,” “near the center of the feminine mystery, an intimate part of the life of a beautiful woman.”

Friday, January 5, 2007

RLS and the Enchanted Isle

I begin with this delicious tribute to the woman-worshipping lifestyle from Robert Louis Stevenson, than whom no one crafted more elegant English:

"...Harry was transferred to the feminine department, where his life was little short of heavenly. He was always dressed with uncommon nicety, wore delicate flowers in his button-hole, and could entertain a visitor with tact and pleasantry. He took a pride in servility to a beautiful woman; received Lady Vandeleur's commands as so many marks of favour; and was pleased to exhibit himself before other men in his character of male lady's-maid and man milliner. Nor could he think enough of his existence from a moral point of view. Wickedness seemed to him an essentially male attribute, and to pass one's days with a delicate woman, and principally occupied about trimmings, was to inhabit an enchanted isle among the storms of life.”
(From New Arabian Nights, "Story of the Bandbox")

It is safe to say that the author shared some of Harry’s female-celebrating tendencies. Anyone who doubts need only consult any RLS biography and turn to the chapters dealing with his courtship of, and by, Fannie Osborne.