Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men & Women in the 21st C by Stephen Marche

Hardcover, 241 pgs, Pub April 1st 2017 by Simon & Schuster, ISBN13: 9781476780153

The cavalcade of sexual harassment accusations beginning with the Weinstein revelations brought the writing of Stephen Marche to my attention. In an op-ed piece published in the NYT (Nov 25, 2017), Marche asks us to confront “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido.” “The men I know,” he writes, “don’t actively discuss changing sexual norms…Men just aren’t interested. They don’t know where to start.”

If anything were designed to intrigue me, it would be this conundrum: that men cannot or will not or are not interested in fruitfully engaging on anything about gender roles except where to stick it. Marche makes reference to the fact that of all the people who interviewed him about his new book this year, The Unmade Bed, only a minuscule number were men.

“A healthy sexual existence requires a continuing education,” he writes. I am remiss here, only discovering upon reading his work recent studies which determine that gender can only really be defined on a spectrum. I hadn’t realized this was accepted thought, or becoming so (though GR friends have told me before). I haven’t kept up with my continuing ed in this field, including the apparently widely quoted study result
“that men who do housework have less sex than men who don’t, and men who do more traditional ‘work around the house,’ like yard work, have more sex than men who don’t.”
That’s me not keeping up, though the results don’t particularly surprise me. Why it is so is what makes Marche’s work interesting.

Marche began his fascinating perspective on our changing gender relations with a chapter on mansplaining, a term inspired by an essay of Rebecca Solnit to describe someone who insists upon detailing a concept his listener knows more about. In “How Much Should a Man Speak?” Marche suggests that the mansplainer bore at a party or at work is probably the end result of years of cultural training to make men more willing to express their thoughts—a weird perversion of intimacy.

Maybe. I think we might have more examples of mansplaining as just straight-on sexist thought, though like he says, men also experience mansplaining. We’ll just have to agree that such behavior in conversation describes a deeply insecure personality and view each on a case-by-case basis.

This book came about when Marche left his teaching position in NYC to move to Toronto when his wife landed a high-powered, high-paying job as editor of a national magazine. His role as house husband became far more family-centric once his son and eventually his daughter were born. Never strong on the role of housekeeping (“my gonads shrink into my body a bit”), Marche describes how he came to think about his marriage, fatherhood, and sexuality.

There are many moments I would describe as deeply insightful, perfectly thoughtful continuing ed which actually includes notes from his wife, the editor, giving her perspective of his comments. But what if men are not interested in reading about what he has learned about changing gender roles?

Maybe now is the time to point out he has a chapter on pornography, including a description of the image that first electrified him. But there is also the notion that
“Masculine maturity is inherently a lonely thing to possess. That’s why maturity and despair go together for men. The splendid isolation of masculinity has emerged from so much iconography—the cowboy, the astronaut, the gangster—that almost every hero in the past fifty years has been a figure of loneliness. Current pop culture is even more extreme: it doesn’t merely celebrate the lonely man; it despises men in groups. That contempt runs counter to male biology. Men, every iota as much as women, are social creatures who live in a permanent state of interdependence and require connection for basic happiness. In periods of vulnerability the male suicide rates spike.”
The cover blurb on Stephen Marche describes him as a cultural commentator. He is that, every bit as much as the feminist writers he critiques. In his NYT piece, Marche suggests that some people think “men need to be better feminists,” but in this book he tells us “the world doesn’t need male feminists…It needs decent guys.” That sounds right by me.

Finally, I leave you with one of Marche’s paragraphs I know you will enjoy, given the exposure men like Louis C.K. have chosen as their contribution to the gender conversation.
“Diogenes the Cynic masturbated in the marketplace and called it philosophy. Of all the wisdom available in ancient Athens, his was the earthiest, the most practical. He refused to condemn the body out of social propriety. If he was built to ejaculate, he should ejaculate, and therefore he ejaculated where everyone could see him. The Athenians loved him for his frankness, which provoked laughter as much as disgust. When asked why he masturbated in public, he answered, “Would that by rubbing my belly I could get rid of hunger.” Diogenes offered the pagan view of masturbation: Why be ashamed of the easiest expression of masculine desire? Why fear the erasure of male sexual appetite by the lightest, the most harmless of gestures?”

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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