For the men’s movement, the proprietors of the Chateau Heartiste blog serve as a pack of John the Baptists, proclaiming that the Kingdom of Woman is at hand. Thanks to overly liberated, “hypergamous,” women and laws that may force men to pay child support for children they did not, in fact, sire, the mating game is starting to look mighty treacherous for all but a few alpha types. Though Heartiste writers don’t actually claim that 1% of the male population has succeeded in hoarding all the women (or vice-versa), their tone is one of pure Occupy — the Boudoir, the Chuppa, the Halls of Power, the Dance Floor. I’ll leave them to choose the acronym that suits them best.
In somewhat more muted tones, certain women are conceding that, in certain ways, men now have it harder than they do. In one recent Atlantic article, Hannah Rosin writes glumly of “The End of Men,” noting that three-quarters of the jobs lost recently were once held by men, and that over half of existing jobs are held by women. Since the relational, communicative, sit-down-and-concentrate skills today’s employers value most are “at the very least, not predominantly male,” we should not expect a return to patriarchy anytime soon. At this rate, even Colorado City husbands will be playing second fiddle to their plural wives.
If the prognosis really is that gloomy, I saw it coming a long time ago — at Halloween, when I was eight years old. Since that was 31 years ago, you might expect a little nostalgia, but in truth, there’s nothing to get nostalgic about. Maybe my father, or his father, spent Halloween gadding about with an impi of peers, counting manly coup by way of egging cars, TP-ing houses, smashing windows, lynching labor organizers, and ravishing livestock. I went out with my mother, and my friend, and her mother. My friend and I carried Unicef boxes along with our plastic, pumpkin-shaped candy buckets. Our mothers talked about John Andersen.
That year, I was a werewolf, or rather a wolf man. A few weeks earlier, I’d seen a full-head mask for sale at Gimbel’s. on the shelf, it was very convincing; it made the Styrofoam head look like it belonged to Lon Chaney. Over the last two or three years, I‘d graduated from wearing plastic smocks with the picture and the name of the creature I was impersonating — “CHEWBACCA!” — to plastic pajamas cut like hazmat suits and painted to resemble the creature itself. Relying so much less than before on mass-manufactured magic would mean relying more on my own powers of thaumaturgy. I would pass as a wolf man only to the extent that I could act like a wolf man.
This was not precisely the argument I presented to my mother when she balked at the price — $15, a small fortune in those days. Reducing rites of passage to a familiar shorthand, I invoked Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, which she’d given me to read, and explained that the mask would be, for me, like a training bra. She sighed, but she paid.
When I first slipped on the mask, I discovered that what became a Styrofoam head did not become mine, which was lumpy with hair, but still smaller. The mask hung like a sheet; if it weren’t for my glasses, the eye holes would have fallen around my mouth, which is where the nose holes ended up. I was an imaginative kid, but not imaginative enough to suppose I looked like a wolf man, still less a hooded assassin for the Provos or the Red Brigades, either of which might have done in a pinch as an archetype of manly menace. I looked like a kid in glasses wearing a $15 rubber mask. I had not filled out the training bra.
My friend Christine arrived, dressed as a princess. In her bodice and trumpet sleeves, she could have been a haughty Hapsburg infanta, or the young Elizabeth, appraising her royal siblings through eyes of ice while biding her time. As she twirled for my mother, who clapped and cooed, hers patted me on the shoulder and said, “You look very scary.” I thought about spitting through my nose holes.
Trick-or-treating in Manhattan, at least in a neighborhood of subdivided five-story walkup buildings, meant the pursuit of anticlimax. You entered the foyer of a likely-looking building; your mother pressed the buzzer corresponding to apartment 1A; everyone screamed “TRICK OR TREAT!” The occupant buzzed you in, handed out some baksheesh, and left you to canvas the place. The doors all looked alike; the decorations were minimal. On reaching the fourth floor of the first building, the climb, the dinginess, and most of all the uniformity, had you exhausted and ready for bed. In this sense, New York was a mother-friendly town.
All of it seemed to wear lighter on our skipping, chattering princess than our on sulking wolf man. Chagrined by my appearance, the mask stifling my breath and obstructing my vision, I soon forgot to growl; instead, I took to mumbling, “trick or treat” with downcast eyes. That might explain what happened when we crossed the street to test the good graces of the residents of another building. With a high-beam smile, the man in the first apartment one folded banknote to me and another to Christine before darting back inside. We examined out plunder: my bill was a one; hers, a five.
I did not cry. That story I‘ll stick to under torture. If I pouted, the mask hid it. I an innocent of emotionally blackmailing either of the two mothers whose eyes locked collusively before pounding on the man’s door. When it opened, they told the man in unison that he’d “accidentally” overpaid Christine. With regal unconcern, he told us not to worry.
Really, it could have been an accident. From another point of view, if trick-or-treating is a category of showmanship, or a category of salesmanship, then it’s impossible to deny that Christine bested me fairly. She was cute; I wasn’t scary (except maybe to people who saw today’s moping kids as tomorrow’s spree-killers). I won’t pretend I read the whole future of our genders in the entrails of that moment, but I did sense that, in some hard-to-define way, her gig was easier than mine. Being a cute girl was both easier and more rewarding than being a robust, dominant guy.
Of course that’s a gross oversimplification. Who but Christine herself can say what demons she had to vanquish in order to sparkle so that evening? Only she can say how satisfied she is with how her life has turned out. If she has a career outside the home — or, for that matter, inside the home — she certainly didn’t build it on her good looks and winsome nature alone. She may, in fact, consider herself a casualty in what sociologists call a “gender crisis.” That is, she herself may be dissatisfied with the way current economic realities are culling her marriage (or re-marriage) prospects. If she’s married, she may suddenly find herself having to adjust her life and her expectations in accordance with her husband’s diminishing income. For everyone, it seems, there are more ways to lose than win.
But inserting these qualifiers demands an act of will. In my gut of guts, I’m sure she’s coasting through life while I remain a struggling doofus. She is a bird in a gilded cage somewhere in Greenwich or Hackensack. She retired early after a few years of modeling in Japan. She writes for the Atlantic under the name “Hannah Roisin” or “Kate Bolick.” You get the idea.
And that may be the one real nugget of prophecy handed me that evening (in place of those four extra dollars, which would be worth about $20 in today’s money): I may have intuited that I would belong to the first generation of men who envy women. If that’s true, God save the species.