In his early studies on the origins of neurosis, Sigmund Freud came to a damning conclusion about men. So many of his patients had revealed stories about sexual experience in infancy or childhood that Freud decided the “seduction” of children must be the root of all neurotic behavior. When his own sister began to exhibit signs of neurosis, Freud declared: “In every case the father, not excluding my own, had to be blamed as a pervert.”
I consider this statement as I stroke my daughter’s hair. Caroline is ten years old. Her eyes are closed, and her head is in my lap. This should be a tender, innocent scene, but we no longer live in a time when anyone believes in innocence. Blame and suspicion color the atmosphere. As a man and a father, I feel besieged and accused. I am appallingly aware of the trust I hold, in the form of my daughter’s sleeping body. The line between affection and abuse is in the front of my mind. I feel like a German coming to grips with Nazi guilt. Yes, some men are perverts—but all men? Am I?
Freud later rejected his early hypothesis after his own father died. He suspected that many of the stories his patients had related were fantasized. Once he had opened the door on that discovery, Freud went on to formulate the theory of infantile sexuality, which became the basis for many of the insights of the psychoanalytic movement. But now there are those who say in effect that Freud was closer to the truth the first time.
“Men are pigs and they like it that way,” an angry writer stated in the op-ed section of the New York Times. At a women’s political symposium last September, Governor Ann Richards’ ethics adviser, Barbara Jordan decreed: “I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He’s just incapable of it.” At the same meeting, Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire said that men are less intelligent than women. If these female chauvinists had been speaking of any constituency other than men, they would be run out of public life. But men feel too guilty to defend themselves.
Contempt for men pervades the most obscure strata of our society. A magazine called House Rabbit Journal devoted a recent issue to the failings of men as nurturers. “We assume that women perform the primary care-giving role with the house rabbit (as with the kids), and they form the strongest bonds with the bunny,” wrote one author. The magazine advised women rabbit owners who want their men to share in their rabbit pleasures to avoid talking about the warm, fuzzy, cuddly aspects of the animal and instead emphasize its traits of integrity, fortitude, and spirit. “I have found, in my relationship with my husband, that having large numbers of animals living with us has put a strain on our relationship,” admitted the writer. “With each piece of furniture that has been destroyed; each time we had to avoid the urine puddles in our bed at night; each time we’ve spent 300 dollars at the vet for a rabbit I picked up at the pound; there has been some initial resentment on the part of my husband. But ultimately he, too, has learned the value of caring.”
There is plenty of evidence of the damage men do. Look at the battered women in the shelters. Every year about 20,000 women in Texas seek refuge from physical abuse in their homes, but the shelters are able to accommodate less than half of them. In 1990 more than 100,000 women were reported raped in America, the highest total in history and an increase of 12.6 percent over the number of reported rapes per capita in 1980. A prosecutor I know works in the Family Justice Division of the Travis County district attorney’s office. In the seventies, that office prosecuted only a handful of child abuse cases a year. Now, Frank Bryan says, he has more than two hundred indictments on his desk and a backlog of cases he doesn’t want to discuss. “Generally, my impression of men has plummeted,” he told me. “I tell all my friends with children never to hire a male baby-sitter. The things these guys do. …”
But my fifteen-year old son is a baby-sitter. That’s how Gordon earns his pocket money. It saddens me that he would be shunned because he’s a male and therefore a candidate for perversion. On the other hand, I might not hire a male to watch Caroline. Her safety and self-esteem are too important to place in jeopardy.
“Come over and sit in my lap,” a grandfatherly preacher friend of mine said out of a lifetime of habit to a little girl he knew. He was at a gathering of friends and family. Suddenly, the room went dead quiet and every woman turned to stare daggers at him. In that moment, the preacher realized he would never ask a little girl to sit in his lap again. His presumption of innocence had been revoked—not because of his past behavior, which had been exemplary, but simply because he is a man. He has suffered a loss, and so has the little girl. She is being held apart from the love and comfort he has to offer. And at some level she must have understood the subliminal message that hung in the air: Don’t trust men.
Is it possible that nature created two genders, one nearly perfect and the other badly flawed? Well, yes, say the psychobiologists. Unlike women, who carry two X chromosomes, men have an X and a Y. The latter has relatively little genetic information except for the gene that makes us a man. A woman who has a recessive gene on one X chromosome might have a countering dominant gene on the other. That’s not true for men, who are therefore more vulnerable to biological and environment insults,