Dec 142012

I overheard a coworker the other day lamenting us men. “Egos!” she exclaimed. “You all have such fragile egos.”

We do, you know.

I’m so often struck by this. For years, I worked in a high-powered, hard-charging field, populated not just predominantly, but virtually exclusively, by alpha males. (I encountered exactly two women in senior positions in almost fifteen years. Among, literally, hundreds of men.)

Those men in my field – and I was, to all outward appearances, and maybe even substantively, one of them – were almost universally insecure, unhappy, fragile. This all manifested itself in a few routine ways: most “productively,” in a ruthless competitive impulse, a need always to be the smartest, most creative, most aggressive man in the room, on the floor, in the organization, in a given situation, in the broader field. But in other ways too: in a ruthless, even sadistic cruelty to subordinates; in an unthinking snobbery vis-a-vis those in other fields, or even (especially) in administrative, clerical, or other non-professional roles within, or adjacent to, the field; and most disgustingly, in a thinly veiled misogyny that imposed and reinforced a very low glass ceiling, and that made it singularly inappropriate to even appear to have an egalitarian marriage.

I’ve been thinking, lately, not just about the fragility of our egos, but about the ruthlessness with which we insecure men habitually use women to shore ourselves up. This may be in the simple fact of cashing in one of those chits that guarantees that even the hottest woman will laugh at even the stupidest joke, if offered by a man whom she’s not free to ignore. Or it may be more pernicious – asserting power with a just slightly violating leer. Or worse still, a demeaning comment. (Note: I never conceived of my “creep shots” as assertions of power, but several readers helped me to see that they could be read as such, and so they were, and I stopped taking them. Though I dare say I didn’t stop being turned on by them.)

And soon, we cross the road, from the realm of the offensive to the realm of the abusive. I recently read a few web pages about warning signs of domestic abuse, and they feature warnings against all sorts of things of which the mere utterance aloud would seem to reveal their function: to use a physically, and possibly emotionally, weaker person to bolster the weak ego of a physically stronger person. But they also feature warnings against more or less common male activities, and reveal just how slippery that slope from dick-ery to abuse can be.

I read the lists. I suggest you do. I was mortified to see at least a couple of things I have done (though thankfully, none I think I still do) on it. Do you do ANY of these, men? If so, don’t. And women, if anyone does any of these things to you and tells you he’s doing them because he loves you, or for your own good, run, don’t walk.

Say something! (I just did....)