Monday, September 27, 2010

fish need a bicycle.

Wodek Szemberg,a director of ideas segments on TVO television, has suggested a topic for me to discuss on the program. He asks "Is the bumper sticker slogan A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle more then just snarky expression of feminist hostility towards but an early apprehension of the diminishing importance of men to women." Wodek then suggested I read an article in Newsweek called 'Why we need to re-imagine masculinity' (

First of all just a point of clarification. Many people think that Gloria Steinem originated that phrase but Steinem says she got it from an anonymous author who painted the slogan on a wall at University of Wisconsin in 1969. The slogan was a twist on the philosophical text 'A man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle'.

It is interesting how it has caught on from graffiti and the phrase is used today as though it is new. However, it was coined over forty years ago. If you haven't heard it you are probably from another planet.

Why does the phrase say so much to so many women? It is having a renaissance in the last year or two since the topic of males falling behind in education and in so many other categories has been discussed in the press.

You can talk about the 'feminization' of the school system' and the other injustices to males all you want, but the fact remains that females have made major changes since the sixties and males have not. If men don't want to make changes then of course, they are going to get left behind in a changing world.

I don't blame men for not wanting to make changes. After all they held all the power since the beginning of civilization and now they are digging in their heels rather than give it up. It may take a century or more for the change to happen. ( It may take even longer given the fact that so little change has happened in the last half century.)

When you look at the rise in male alcoholism, depression, and joblessness, in psychological terms, you can see that males are conflicted about making the necessary changes and may in fact be at a loss on how to make those changes. All they conscioulsy feel is that they don't fit in the world as they used to. To be fair we give males a double message and as we all know double messages always make you slightly crazy. First we say we want more nurturing males. Yet when a male says he is a nurse, as in the film Meet the Parents we silently snicker and think to ourselves, 'Hey isn't that a girl's job'.

Women have headed into the workforce. I often give talks on my new memoir After the Falls about what it was like to be a teenager in the 60's. When I talk to girls in high school, they are shocked to find out that it was not politic if you wanted to date in the early 60's to be smart. You were supposed to hide that. They are also shocked to learn that the term assertive was not used in connection with females until 1966. So what were you called if you were assertive before 1966? How about bitch, mouthy,or bossy. Anyone over 50 knows what I mean. There was no positive word to use. As these high school girls listen to this incredulously they say the opposite is true now.

Gradually over the last forty years the expectations for girls have changed. Law and Medicine now have more females than males in their programs. Women had to make changes. They had to stop being passive and looking at getting their Mrs. as their goal in university. Women actually said that proudly in the 1950's and 60s when I went to university. Women had to learn how to negotiate, head into the boardroom, be assertive and make it stick. Still they had families in the hope that their husbands would make changes as well and do as much work as they did on the home front.

Guess what? They didn't. Most males act like their father's acted. They do less than a third of the child care, less than 20 percent of the housework, and in terms of personality traits they have not changed one iota.( That's why Monday Night Football was invented.) Of course there are exceptions. However,I am talking statistically.

They have actually fallen behind as fathers since there are more single mothers than ever before and more dead beat dads hit the pavement every day and they are not going to the employment centre. How are they getting away with it? Of course they are not. They are lost and often depressed, refuse to communicate, and act out.

As one of my patients said to me-- I can get sperm in a bottle and then I never have to plead with any man to change a diaper.

It is naive to think that when women change as much as they have over the last four decades and men stay the same-- there will not be conflict. I find it interesting that as the decades go by the gender gap in terms of males' behaviour does not narrow.

Girls in high school today say that they don't know what the slogan I went to university to get my Mrs. means? How long will it take before girls and women don't know what is meant by the phrase A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?

1 comment:

  1. You know I love everything you write, Cathy, so I was confused by your statement that men have held all the power since the beginning of civilization. I guess it depends on when you are defining civilization as having begun. Was there not a time when it was a matriarchal society? I see males as having taken control from the females, having screwed it up for centuries and now the pendulum is oh-so-slowly and painfully swinging back. Perhaps it will stop at a point of balance and equality.