Men in the Margins

By June 17, 2012 no comments Permalink

Too often men are either reduced to “cute boys” or “terrible human beings”.

I met Maureen Dowd once. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of The New York Times was at The New School in Manhattan for a live segment of Al Franken’s former radio show on Air America. She was there that day to promote her new book Are Men Necessary? I was there to meet with an advisor during my days as an MFA candidate in creative writing. Intrigued by the production, I popped into the auditorium and watched Franken toss flirtatious comic-barbs, which the comely journalist swiped away with snarky charm. I left when the segment ended and decided to use the restroom in the lobby, which was locked. While waiting, I suddenly found myself face to face with Ms. Dowd on her way out of the auditorium’s stage door, adjacent to the restroom.

“Hello,” she purred. We exchanged lightly-freighted flirtations until her handlers began to gather. “Oh, and congratulations on the book,” I added as a final offering.

“You should get a copy,” she said with coquettish aplomb. “Part of the marketing plan is to have it carried around the city by cute boys.”

Overall, it was a whimsical and pleasing exchange, though I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that she considered me, who was 38 at the time, a “boy.”

I’ve read the work of Maureen Dowd for many years, both before and after our brief encounter. While I’ve often admired her wit and insight, I’ve more often found her phrasing clunky, her ideas heavily borrowed, and her narratives quite thin. She frequently seems to thread together flimsy interpretations with unreliable sources into a definitive proclamation on her subject’s character. Some sort of psychoanalytic autopsy based on convenient interpretations. She does this almost exclusively to men in power with the intent of revealing, through these thin threads, that the emperor, indeed, has no clothes.

A recent Times hatchet-analysis of the President was a perfect example. If you were to take Ms. Dowd’s words for it, President Obama had a very, very bad week. He’d been, respectively, “slapped” and “rapped” by Mitt Romney and The Times, exposed as a lightweight by Bill Clinton, out-charmed by his predecessor at a portrait unveiling all the while facing the economic roosters of his failed presidency come home to roost with poor job numbers and a Dow Jones nosedive on Friday.  Oh, and all of this, according to “Dr.” Dowd is because the President doesn’t know who he is. No other reasons. That’s it.

You see, the President, according to his girlfriend from 30 years ago, wants to be a super hero, but he doesn’t have the mettle because of all of the identity and abandonment issues of his youth. And the intrepid reporter knows all of this, and a lot more about the President, from a new biography in which this erstwhile girlfriend is a primary source. It seems she knew the young to-be-President then better than he knows himself now. And Ms. Dowd knows all of this because she read this biography, or, at least—due to the alarming similarity of cited passages—she read the New York Times review of this new biography (written by her friend Michiku Kakutani).

The country is used to the blatant demonization from the extremists of all stripes, but this type of poorly-constructed yet effective marginalization, particularly of men, is too common these days. Yeah, I know, Mitt Romney drove to Canada with the dog on the roof, but I don’t need to hear about it anymore (thank you, very much, Gail Collins). And, yeah, John Edwards acted terribly, but don’t simply chalk it up to him being a horrible, horrible human being and a dumbass. This sort of high-brow but low-quality character assassination doesn’t inform our discourse in any meaningful way.

Men, and our myriad of thorny issues, shouldn’t be the source of fodder. And this is especially important for those who serve in public office. An honest accounting of their policies and practices should be the focus of intense observation. Let’s avoid being reductive by leaving their baggage—real or imagined—out of it.

E.L. Doctorow said it was the job of a writer to be true to the times in which he lives. I tend to agree, but, as merely a “cute boy,” what do I know?

Photo credit: Flickr / ‘|’||’| ‘|'[]||{ (Timothy Tolle)

Published on The Good Men Project: Men in the Margins

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