Anyone who has watched much on classic-movie channels has seen the famous 1964 film “My Fair Lady.” And anyone who has seen the film knows one of its most famous lines by heart.
No, it’s not Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) singing “lots of chocolates for me to eat,” though that could be a nice sentiment for some. The line that sticks in our collective memory is Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison) wondering “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” And after spouting that loaded question, Higgins proclaims that “Men are so honest, so thoroughly square, eternally noble, historically fair.”
OK, we’ll debate those ideas at another time.
Today, instead of men asking why women cannot be more like men, which would get most men who would dare to voice such a thing in public sent off to human resources or op-ed hell (radio host and author Steve Harvey notwithstanding, as he only tells women to think like men but still act like ladies), we have women telling men to start acting like men.
Or to be more specific, we had Christine O’Donnell, who may not be a practicing witch but is currently Delaware’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate, telling her primary rival Mike Castle that he was being “un-manly” and that he needed to “get his man pants on.” There is Nevada’s U.S. Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, who delights in pouring the manly tea on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by telling him to “man up” about problems with Social Security. And then there’s Sarah Palin, who exhorts politicians of presumably either sex to stop being chicken and “man up” and support Tea Party candidates. (She also said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had “cojones” that her Democratic male gubernatorial challenger lacked — but let’s leave anatomical and hormonal matters aside for now too.)
To think that after so many years of women having to fight men to first be recognized as persons (which the British Privy Council stated only in 1929, overturning a Supreme Court of Canada case that indicated otherwise), obtain the right to vote (without which Palin would not have become a short-term Alaska governor, not to mention the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate), and then gain the right to attend law or medical school, become firefighters, police officers or truck drivers, receive equal pay for equal work, own property in their own name, etc., etc., that some women would now demand that men “man up” is pretty startling.
For starters, I just wonder what these women mean when they say men should “man up.” Do they want them to stop waxing their chests and using styling gel, and then go out and eat seven pounds of beef in one sitting and lift weights to bulk up their triceps and biceps? Do they want them to consider any woman living in their domicile to be their personal property? Or will acting like a “tough” guy do, maybe while wearing camouflage gear and hoisting either a rifle or a bow and arrow while screaming at full lung capacity about crazy women who think they can run for political office?
What adds to the complication factor is that since women started to make a bit of progress in corporate America, in politics, and in the home, a great many women have wanted men to make an effort to connect with their “feminine” side. We now see a whole lot of men doing things that at one time would have been considered grounds for dismissal from the male sex: changing diapers and vacuuming carpets, staying home with children, earning less than their wives, reporting to female supervisors, promoting women into roles of real challenge and responsibility, and even tearing up before cameras when something tragic or sad takes place. Women also have asked the men in their lives to stop being so much like “men” and start talking to us as if they are really interested in what we have to say. I am sure Sarah Palin wanted as much from John McCain when she became his running mate.
At a time when people across the country are beyond fed up with politicians of both sexes who sit on any side of any aisle, this sort of reckless talk, talk that should have been left at the playground or the bar after the third cocktail, does much more than demean the already tattered profession of politics. It makes us realize that despite the fact that, yes, men can like interior decorating and still be men and women can fire a bunch of people in one afternoon and still be women, the war between at least some members of the sexes rages on. And now some gasoline has been flicked about the battleground.
I can only imagine what the proper Professor Higgins would have thought about being told to “man up.” But I have a feeling Eliza Doolittle would have found some way to oblige.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in Minneapolis.