Now and then we wonder who the real men are


Image result for manly man
Image from Sippican Cottage.

In 1982 — a year that’s suddenly taken on great significance — Bruce Feirstein published a book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.” It was meant to be a satire, a tongue-in-cheek look at the difference between manly men and what were once called metrosexuals (does anybody use the term “metrosexual” anymore?), but Feirstein’s jokes were sharp enough that, for a time, they passed into the language. Quiche was a frou-frou French dish, after all; real men ate bacon and beef jerky, probably at a campsite after pissing on a tree. We all knew what a “real man” was, never mind that it was largely real men who cooked quiche and other frou-frou dishes as knife-wielding chefs in Michelin-starred French restaurants.

The book was a response to the growing role of women in society. All these women taking jobs in corporate America, making real salaries (or presumed to — the truth was somewhat different) and dressing in clothes resembling men’s suits — how were men supposed to act? You mean you couldn’t send women out for dry cleaning and coffee anymore, and chase them around the desk like in some old sitcom?

(Just the concept of “Mr. Mom” sounded … emasculating.)

But society adapts slowly. There were still remnants of 1952 in 1982 — in fact, perhaps because of the Reagan presidency, they were asserting themselves for the first time since the ’60s. (Caitlin Flanagan sums it up well.) It was a clash of cultures.

Some things never change, do they?

I was 17 in 1982, the same age as Brett Kavanaugh, who’s about six weeks older than me. I wasn’t a drinker — I’m still not much of one — and I tended to hang out with a small group of friends rather than attend boisterous parties. When I got to college that fall, I decided Greek life (which, whatever the truth, I perceived as filled with hard-drinking partying) wasn’t for me and also hung out with a small group of (male) friends, as I was awkward around girls and barely dated. Which is to say, I had only second-hand knowledge of the Georgetown Prep/Yale frat-type atmosphere that’s been talked about these past few days. It wasn’t my crowd.

But, of course, there were always whispers. Back then, it wasn’t any louder than that. I’m glad they’re not whispers any longer, though I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through the pain of what I’m readingĀ in the stories that are coming out.

Because — aside from the left-right politics, if that’s possible — a lot of the Kavanaugh drama is about “becoming a man,” and what “being a man” means.

I can remember feeling that I wasn’t quite cutting it as a “man” in 1982 — I didn’t drink, I was sexually awkward, I didn’t even lie a good game. I may as well have ordered a big plate of quiche. I’d like to think we know better by now, that the definition of a “man” is more about integrity and honor, and has nothing to do with gender stereotypes and treating women like objects. Be a man, indeed.

But some things never change, do they?

Here’s a song from 1982.