Gender Battles Latest Update

I recently came across a review in the Atlantic magazine of two timely books; The Bitch in the House, authored by a prominent New York editor, and it’s accompanying volume, The Bastard on the Couch, by her husband. The books, currently racing up the best-seller lists, are collections of essays by UAYP’s (Upwardly Arrived Young People) describing their struggles with life, parenthood, and what, these days, passes for marriage.

Of course I haven’t read both books, or even one of them who has time? In fact, I neglected to peruse much of the rather lengthy review. But I took in enough to get the general idea, and, for a guy, that’s enough.

The gist is that contemporary UAYP women are, shall we say, profoundly discontented with having it all: big time job, kids, husband, house, cars, money. Having everything, of course, turns out to be not all that it was cracked up to be. Everything is, by a long shot, not enough. There is still fatigue, exasperation, disappointment, pain, mortality and, let’s face it, an unyielding bout of profound existential rage. Thus, the bitch in the house.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the bastard sitting on the couch, feet up on the light colored fabric, watching a baseball game, who smiles and says, “Yes, dear,” – but doesn’t move – when he is presented with a carefully delineated list of 50% of the day’s domestic responsibilities. It seems the New Man sensitive, verbal, good hygiene isn’t really all that much different from the Old Man; he rolls with the punches, gets the job done, understands that saying less is more supportive of communication than saying more, uses what works when what is wanted is not available, and generally finds life, even when it is most arduous, pretty enjoyable. That, it turns out, is the most exasperating.

The Gen X’er’s reluctant realization that strife and struggle are an essential element of the full life was discovered albeit tardily – by the Boomers before them, and by countless generations before that. The surprise is that well, the surprise is that it’s a surprise to so many to discover that unremitting bliss is not among the options presented to us in this veil of tears.

The issue then becomes how well even privileged Americans cope with the vicissitudes of life; women have been set up, if you will, to believe that they can, and even should, have it all. This expectation predisposes some women to feel disappointed, short-changed, downright ripped off, when they realize that what they have is less, maybe even much less, than all.

Men, conversely, have for generations put little widgets together in factories, dug holes, painted houses, fixed toilets and in general performed tasks that, while not inherently all that gratifying, made loaves available for consumption on the family table. Survival was the goal. Anything beyond survival was a bonus and even, perhaps, vaguely sinful.

This was the Lesson of the Nuns; they invested great effort in convincing the sixty of us crammed into our fourth grade classroom that we were scum, and we deserved to suffer, and if we suffered with a sufficient degree of silent nobility we might, if we didn’t swear too much or enjoy sex or make too much money, earn a reward in some other place we could not even imagine. Pain and frustration were the normative human condition; pleasure, surreptitiously obtained and enjoyed, was always accompanied by a degree of surprise. There’s nothing like winning when you expect to lose.

This orientation, while, admittedly, one of significant maladjustment, has its upside. It engenders patience, tolerance, acceptance. Most of all, it leads one to try to make the best of a mediocre, or even bad, situation, and to realize that some lemonade may be able to be made from all those lemons. This is not the UAYP attitude.

What else apparently is missing from these books not having read them, I only surmise is a deep discussion of the effects of UAYP’s attitudes on children. It seems to me that excessively positive domestic expectations contributes to two classes of child maladjustment, both of whom end up in the same place. I see many adolescents, rained in such unchallenging environments, who appear to believe that life should be easy, and therefore distress is a sign that something is wrong. Thus they pursue constant good feelings through television, fantasy sports (rather than the realistic struggle of genuine athletic effort), food, sex, and drugs not always in that order. A second group, with less demanding expectations, still experience a world without real limits and thus find their way to peer-induced drug abuse and dependency. They both, eventually, end up talking to me in jail.

The first group has a poor prognosis; every twinge of physical or psychological discomfort elicits anger and panic, and a demand for an immediate solution. Many of them will have great difficulty understanding that tolerating discomfort is essential to long term success at anything, and will lurch again and again toward short term gratification.

Individuals of the second group are often a joy to be with; they take responsibility for their actions and wonder if they have what it takes to undue the wreckage that an excess of freedom has wrought. They have to learn to be 100% responsible for supplying their own limits, and for that the UAYP lifestyle has not prepared them well.

The bottom line is that, whether your in the house or on the couch, or both, life is, at best, an intermingling of joy and suffering and – if you’ll promise not to tell the nuns learning to appreciate both is the secret to another level of satisfaction that the UAYP’s may never discover.