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The Secret Lives of Married Men — Now With Bingo Cards

I have not, temporally speaking, been doing this here ladybusiness for all that long. (Some would draw a facetious comparison, in fact, to the amount of time I have in fact been a lady, but as that number would vary between never and 37 years depending on whether you asked Germaine Greer or Kate Bornstein, I’ll just move on.)

Yet even that short time, the depressing amount of material that exists out in the lady-hating or lady-indifferent or just lady, get me a beer world can drag you down. Why, you say to yourself as you labor over your blog in a hot kitchen (well, I’m baking cookies, see…) should I address another MRA apologia, tear apart another straw-feminist, or deal with this week’s Exciting Variation on the Tone Argument. (I solve those by getting louder.)

But then, as Sady herself discovered, you come across something absolutely stunning in its bold sweep, all-encompassing douchery, and just plain ol’ damnfoolishness. And yesterday, thanks to Liss at Shakesville, I came across just such a piece: an astonishing tour de force of just about every half-assed cliche in the whole wide world of gender-essentialism, and passive sexism.

Gentlesophonts, allow me to introduce you to “The Secret Lives of Married Men”, a visionary work of genius in the London Times by James Delingpole. To analyze it in detail is something out of my depth–you would need a PhD thesis to do it justice–but follow along with me as I keep a scorecard of the great joys to be had in this exemplary piece.

Wives, here is a fact you definitely don’t want to know about your husband: he wants to shag your best friend. Not only does he want to shag your best friend, but also your second and third-best friends. (And fourth, fifth, sixth, etc.) There’s nothing personal about this. In fact, in a strange way, he means it as a compliment.

With this astonishing paragraph, we are off, already following one of Dillingpole’s main themes: Men, they want to shtup everything, as Lenny Bruce used to say. Fear not, reader! He will return to this them again with shocking regularity in this piece. And for those of you who bought a ticket for our pool, we already have gender essentialism, boys-will-be-boys, and the Unstoppable Male Sex Drive! Hold on to those tickets, this looks like it’s going to be a wild ride!

It’s just one of those many things that Wives Just Don’t Understand.

Um… wow, I kinda thought I’d be out of the first paragraph before he tried to Mansplain something.

You see, as a man and a husband myself, I believe there are certain secrets to which the Opposition – ie, women/wives – should never be privy.

And here we begin to see that the long-rumored Apatovization of the United Kingdom is progressing apace! See, the boy-men are innocent people who want to do stuff their mommy-wives won’t allow! Thus they should lie, hide, obfuscate, and otherwise dissemble, because everyone knows that while mommy-wives are good at keeping house and the occasional tumble in the sack (when nothing better is available), they are in fact universally No Fun.

And what exactly is fun? Keep reading — it’s part of a writerly trick called building tension, as opposed to the living your life trick called being a douchebag.

– it’s an extension of man’s atavistic hunting-and-fighting instinct; the need to conceal his true intentions to fox his prey/opponent and ward off attack. Today, it has an equally important role to play in keeping a marriage together. “Telling the whole truth to your wife is neither realistic nor desirable.”

Ah, evolutionary psychology! What can’t you explain with your fanciful genes and highly accurate caveman thought experiments. (Well, there’s me — try and evopsych your way around me, you frakking… ah, moving on.) The best part of this passage is that it is by a “neuro-linguistic programming expert” named Steve, who also works as a marriage counselor. One wonders what his winning percentage is on that gig.

And lest you think these are just typically male-chauvinist perspectives, here is The Times’s sex expert, Suzi Godson:

See, what I say is truth, not sexism and outdated stereotypes! And you can trust me, because I got AN WOMAN to agree with me! And she’s an expert on the sexy stuff, so pay attention, ladies!

They’d only get the wrong end of the stick, as they usually do. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way; I mean it in a ‘This is what women are like’ way. They think differently from how we do. They’re from another planet. Giving it to them straight would be an act of wanton cruelty – to both parties.

Now, I know many of you are ready to cash in your scorecards — but before you do, I have to point out that not only is this a prime example of gender essentialism, but it’s also an example of completely othering women — making them not even human! And on top of it, it manages to make men the default human — nay, sophont! — species.

We really should have brought more prizes, I’m afraid. So let’s just skip ahead and pull out some more representative quotes. Please don’t call out Bingo until all the numbers are called:

Deep down, my wife probably knows I find childcare a bore, and that she does a way better job of it than me.

And it’s not that I don’t love my kids… It’s just that I like them to see me at my best, when I’m doing fun stuff with them, rather than worn down with tedious ferrying duties: recorder concerts, ballet classes, that kind of thing.

Being the main breadwinner has other advantages, too, such as never having to disclose to your wife how much of your earnings you are blowing on your vices.

It’s the wives who do all the real work in the marriage; all the thinking, all the forward-planning. If you can’t give them the lifestyle they want in return, you pay the penalty.

It is not natural for a man to be monogamous. [This is counselor Steve again. --Ed.]

That’s the problem with us men. No matter how old or ugly we are, no matter how secure and happy we are in our relationships, there’ll always be a small part of us that yearns to answer our atavistic urge to spread our gene pool as widely as we possibly can.

There was meltdown, but I remembered a wonderful film about comedian Lenny Bruce, who believed that, even if you are caught red-handed by your wife, you have to deny everything and keep denying it, until eventually she comes round because fundamentally she wants to believe you. And he is right.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — “C.L., anyone can fisk out some silly quotes from any piece. This truly can’t be as bad as you are saying.” Not true, mon hypocrite lecteur! For I have actually shown remarkable restraint in not quoting the whole damn article (which would just get me in trouble, anyway.) And I haven’t even touched the first person stories collected from his extremely scientific survey of the dudes he knows personally, including the guy who estimates that maybe one in eight married men is on the down-low, as the kids say today! Does that provoke a charming episode of gay panic and sideways homophobia? When we talk about an artiste of the caliber of James Delingpole, do you even need to ask? We are talking about the Bard of Dudebros here, people! The Studs Turkel of the man-boy set! The Howard Zinn of douchebaggery! The… uh… Tolkien… of… being a jerk… well, clearly metaphor fails me, for I am no James Delingpole.

“But C.L.,” you might clamor (do try to keep it down, I bother the neighbors enough playing piano), “but C.L., you might have some insight on this. You, after all, walked among these creatures, observed their curious ways, took part in their rituals! You are like a Tiresian Jake Sully, come back to tell us all! Is there any truth in this?”

First, you’re mixing two Eliot poems and Avatar – bad form, Reader! Second, why yes thank you, I do want to reflect more upon the living torture that was my earlier life! I had nothing better to do this evening.

But all right. You clearly aren’t going to get out and let me practice Famous Blue Raincoat for the nth time tonight. So: yes, guys do talk like this, amongst themselves. Sometimes they’re even serious. But, and this is the key, sometimes they’re not; sometimes, they’re just trying to live up to the absurd stereotypes that they associate with the male role. Many men do want to have sex with every woman they see; but there are probably a lot more who don’t, but think that they’re at least supposed to say they do. Or act like the women they love dearly and want to be part of their lives are stern governesses who keep them from doing the things they like — or are supposed to like, anyway. And so maybe even if they don’t feel like the guys in this article, they’ll act like they do — because it’s hard to not do so, and because there’s almost no reward for being humane, and because it’s so much easier to just go along with it, wrap yourself in the privileges of Guyness and ignore the costs to others — because that gets rewarded, and feted, and even gets five page articles in the London Times.

“So, C.L., are you saying that this article might in fact illustrate the ways that sexism and kyriarchy hurt men too? That without taking away from the enormous douchebaggery of the guys in the article, there is a sad commentary on the narrow, childish ways they think are the only way to be Real Men? That there is, in fact, a certain feminist angle you can take on this piece beyond mere mockery?”

Bingo.

25 Comments

  1. Brennan wrote:

    The article was disgusting, but your post is glorious–like the perfect reproductive union of highbrow rhetorical discourse and a really good episode of Mystery Science Theater. Kudos.

    And, as a side note, I love you for using the word “frakking.”

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  2. Shil wrote:

    Excellent takedown. I couldn’t be bothered to look at that article, but it sounds like you provided it’s high points (and I use that phrase very broadly here).

    Sometimes I wonder if this sort of bullshit evo-psych theorizing, and the kind of stereotypes it helps propagate/perpetuate, are more of a Western thing. Spending the first 24 years of my life in India, I almost never saw these sorts of ideas being regularly expressed the way I find them in the US (or the UK, in this case). I also had a lot of male friends there (esp. since I went to an all-male school till the age of 18), and while some of them had ideas about men, women and sex which I considered more than a little stupid, I don’t think I’ve ever had the sort of conversation with any of them which this article seems to indicate is the norm for men.

    Which, I think, matches well with your point about how men don’t necessarily (or naturally) gravitate to such attitudes but often are made to feel that they should. If placed in a situation or environment where espousing such ideas isn’t presented as the norm or rewarded, they are just as likely not to do so.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  3. Shil wrote:

    And that should be “its”, not “it’s”, in the second sentence. I’ll go off and beat myself with a grammar book now.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  4. Emily wrote:

    And who’s to say there aren’t women who secretly feel that way too? Reminds me of Sandra Tsing Loh’s recent op-ed:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/opinion/24tsingloh.html?ref=opinion

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  5. Mel wrote:

    Wait, so, basically wife/girlfriend = opponent/prey? Why exactly is it that women are supposed to be the ones who want to get married, again?

    Tedious ferrying duties = why I talked to my mom in high school and not my dad. Just sayin’, your kids may bond more with the parent they actually see regularly.

    I feel rather sad for guys who buy into this sort of thing, but sadder for the women stuck with them.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  6. eastsidekate wrote:

    And what exactly is fun? Keep reading — it’s part of a writerly trick called building tension, as opposed to the living your life trick called being a douchebag.

    Brilliant.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  7. I wonder what else that guy’s wife knows deep down. It’s a good thing she has all that deep-down knowledge, otherwise he might have to communicate with her for her to know what he was feeling, and they’d have to discuss things like mature adults.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  8. Gnatalby wrote:

    Oh man, sometimes people reveal really ugly things about themselves entirely by accident. Just because *you* want to cheat on your wife (and announce it to the world) it doesn’t mean every other man is like that.

    Also I would like to lodge my complaint that I hate the term “men on the down low.” It’s like “White men be closeted like this, while brothers be closeted like this!” [Roaring hacky applause and laughter.]

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  9. Jennifer wrote:

    Thank you for this article. A few days ago I was reading Ask Metafilter and this 18-year-old girl didn’t know what to do when 30-year-old men started hitting on her just because she was having a conversation with them, and I was feeling very depressed reading it. The overall consensus was, “If you are a female having a conversation with a het male, he will want to hit on you after about five minutes. So don’t talk to anybody.”

    Nice to hear at least SOME dudes might not just be wanting to boink every female in their vicinity.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  10. ozymandias wrote:

    Um, I’ve wanted to sleep with almost everyone I know* for a long time now, regardless of my relationship status. Does that mean I’m secretly a dude? Neat. I might wear makeup more now.

    *I have some hot friends, y’all.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink
  11. Jenny North wrote:

    What irks me the most is that these are the same dudes who would freak out over the idea of polyamory. “Openness and respect?? But that would ruin the ‘mystery’ of my sleeping around!” “What do you mean YOU want to sleep with other people?!?” “But if you want to have other relationships, who will drive the kids to ballet and make my Hungry Man Dinner???” This is clearly not about being attracted to other women, but about manipulation and control. BINGO!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  12. snobographer wrote:

    Gosh marriage sounds appealing! What woman wouldn’t want to sign up for this? I can’t wait to find my Prince Charming!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  13. Ali wrote:

    Ohhhhh how I love this post. I am very glad that I haven’t happened upon this issue of the Times unprepared, and had to read the article without a post this awesome to soften the blow.

    But while we’re on the subject of the Times, and their ‘This is just what women are like and they Just Don’t Understand the real world, as interpreted by us men, which therefore is definitely The Real World and not at all just our partial view of it. Ahem.’, have you seen their ‘The Trouble With Women’ (I swear I did not just make that up) column in the Style magazine?

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  14. TheDeviantE wrote:

    The couple times I’ve seen posts fisking this article, I’m always struck by

    You see, as a man and a husband myself, I believe there are certain secrets to which the Opposition – ie, women/wives – should never be privy.

    and wondering “if that’s the case, then why don’t you shut up about them right now???!!!”

    I mean really, it would have saved everyone involved a whole mess o’ trouble, but no, ya gotta go ahead and spew your mouthful of crap all over my lovely internet. How thoughtful.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
  15. XtinaS wrote:

    I would just like to take this moment to flail in agreeance with Jenny North, who said what I was coming here to say.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm | Permalink
  16. Jenny North wrote:

    @ Xtinas: Nice! We should invade bookstores together and substitute this crap book Trojan horse-style with copies of Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  17. Mark C wrote:

    James Delingpole is a monumental knob. He has scratched out a career in the UK for a while now with his “trying desperately hard to be a right wing controversialist” schtick.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  18. raddad wrote:

    I am a (cis) male with plenty of privilege (white, USA, middle class, hetero). I both want to have sex with every attractive woman and don’t.
    My analysis is that men are systematically denied closeness from a young age and then as we get to be teens we are told that there is hope to have closeness and intimacy with women. I say, “Ah, a solution to my loneliness and isolation; If I just have one of these special connections with a woman.” Along with that we are sold the pornography/objectification myth of the “zipless fuck” (where I can magically have all this closeness without a real relationship); unfortunately we do internalize it, even though it is silly.
    We are left we “frozen hopefulness” around women. I say frozen because it does not need to be based on what is actually going on at the present time. Just the prescience of women, who are not hostile makes us all hopeful.
    The final result is that you get people who make good soldiers because they do not have real relationships based on actually seeing and treasuring the other based on who they are (see the comment about childcare) and are thrown the consolation prize of fantasy closeness that does not require a relationship.
    -man struggling to recover from the male gender

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:21 am | Permalink
  19. dillene wrote:

    . . . anyway, I never got married.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink
  20. XtinaS wrote:

    …I’ve never seen that book.  Marvelous!

    I just wanted to design a virus to replace all instances of Delingpole with this link:

    http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html

    And then see how long it takes for Shit to Go Down™.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  21. good article, good comments as always. i LOVE this blog.

    i too think it’s interesting and valuable to try to expose the fact that men are also losing out in traditional gender roles. good work.

    and the polyamory stuff y’all are talking about is also SO true.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink
  22. Isabel wrote:

    Hey Raddad (RadDad?) – you do know the phrase “zipless fuck” was coined by a woman, yeah? In a novel about a woman who longs for the simplicity of a stranger while struggling with her marriage, no less. Not to take away from your points (which seem intriguing and maybe true to me, at least for some men – I don’t know, I’m not a dude), but it did strike me as amusing that to describe the cultural male fantasy about women you chose a term with an extremely female origin.

    Anyway. This was a fab takedown, & I feel like there’s also something in here about the way women are sold marriage/relationships as The One True Path to happiness, and there’s this cultural narrative about Your Husband being all you need, or whatever, and so maybe some dudes do think lots of ladies besides the person they’re with are hot, and maybe some of those ladies do freak out about this, and maybe this would be less of a problem if we could all just admit that being in love with one person doesn’t mean other people stop being attractive to you, and more importantly the fact that other people are attractive to you doesn’t mean you are not in love with this person. (not to mention what everyone else has said re: polyamory/open relationships, the fact that some ladies might also feel this way and not all dudes do, etc.)

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  23. mouse wrote:

    I take your point, C.L. and I agree (and am saddened) by the ways patriarchy hurts men, too. But if I can just vent for a moment– sometimes it’s really, deeply, truly hard to muster sympathy. It seems like a good chunk of the time the men that profit least by patriarchy are some of the loudest defenders for the very reason that as confining and deadening as their roles might be at least they aren’t [i]women[/i].

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink
  24. Luey wrote:

    It’s ok, everyone. I’m sure this guy’s wife LOVES being the disciplinarian parent who does all the tedious parenting stuff and who (whom?) the kids do not see at her best.

    I mean, did he even READ that paragraph? Of course no one LIKES doing that part of parenthood – at least not as much as, you know, the actual fun part of things. What a selfish douche.

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  25. C.L. Minou wrote:

    @MOUSE: Oh, I agree with you, and I was worried that the end of the post might come of as to–not appease-y (that’s not even a word) but too…easy? Something like that.

    That is to say, and kinda what I was trying to get at, while yeah, patriarchy hurts guys, and yeah, gender-essentialist and defining horsehockey like this article aren’t good for men or women–at the same time, as a guy you can feel all that, and not do anything about it, because, well, you have it pretty damn good.

    Or more bluntly: it’s easy enough to ignore all the bad stuff that comes with male privilege (like, how it is constructed as a privilege to begin with) because it is so, well, privileged: you don’t have to care about the degradation of women or how half the human species tends to occupy a social rung between pack animal and useful servant in the vast majority of places around the globe. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. And if you do care, or at least express some interest in caring, there’s no upside to it: in all too many cases, to be a guy interested in gender inequality does little more than to cause other men to threaten your privilege. And privilege is hard to give up, even if the only way we will save this sorry planet is to voluntarily start to renounce privilege, and soon.

    This isn’t limited to just male privilege–pretty much everything in the previous graf could be applied to white, or first world privilege; but while I may not be totally convinced of the radical saw about the transhistoricity and absolute uniqueness of male privilege, there’s no doubt that it is ubiquitous in a way that almost no other privilege structure is–since all of the other ones tend to be about privileging a minority of people, and the smaller (more exclusive) the better.

    All of which is to say, I feel your venting, share in it, and minor amelioration to the contary, I really can’t get too worked up about the hardness of being a guy. And frankly, you’re getting this from the horse’s mouth, know what I mean?

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

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