How can I improve relations between the sexes?

I'm a guy in my 30s, and I really think men and women should get along better.

By Cary Tennis

Published December 15, 2005 11:08AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

It has struck me that lately that the level of discourse between the sexes has really deteriorated. Whether it's angry messages on T-shirts, anti-male sitcoms on TV, sniping articles on Broadsheet, whatever, it strikes me that a lot of women are really, really angry -- at men, at each other, at the government, you name it. Maybe this was always the case and now we have the Internet, we just see it more openly and more uncut.

I also see it in my own personal relationships with women. I have seen more rudeness, selfish behavior and general hostility in the past couple of years than ever before. Many women have gotten a raw deal, many face tough decisions that men do not -- granted. But it seems to me that the current male-female gender relations are almost at an all-time low. I like women -- always have and will continue to do so, but particularly as a single guy in early 30s, I have to admit, I'm concerned. My question is, what can I as one man do to make things better?

Improving Relations Between the sexes ... One Date at a Time

Dear Improving Relations,

This letter makes me want to kick you. It's not that I don't believe you. I believe you. I just want to kick you. I don't want to kick you in a mean way. I want to kick you the way one kicks a well-meaning friend at a party who is about to say something that will invite withering sarcasm and public ridicule.

"You know," the friend says, "I think I'm going to go over and talk to those women about improving relations between the sexes." There is no time to even say, Wha? You have to act. You kick him -- for his own good.

Then later, in the car, while he is sobering up, you have a long talk.

In the talk, you explain that there are certain attempts at social improvement that, however altruistic, can only appear self-serving. For you, "particularly as a single guy in early 30s," to undertake to improve relations between the sexes is one of those attempts -- it's not only misguided and doomed to failure but also invites public humiliation. Why? Because you have no help to offer the sexes in the way of relating.

Just to clarify: When we say "relations between the sexes" there are two things that we might mean. There are relations between the sexes, literally -- individual sexual relationships. Sexes who are relating don't want anyone to butt in and improve things. They are plenty OK. Maybe you wish they needed your help, but they don't.

Then there is Relations Between the Sexes, an amorphous media realm that at any given moment might be proclaimed to be at its lowest point in history, or at its highest point, or on the upswing, or on the downswing, or remaining stubbornly, intractably the same. Any such index of general relations between the sexes is laughable. It's just not real. It can't be improved because it doesn't exist. It's an abstraction.

What may be real, however, is the cumulative effect on an individual who is having a run of bad luck. You go out with several women in a row who say mean things to you. They might be angry and frustrated with their lives and take some of it out on you. You encounter hostility and rudeness. You ask, Is it me? It gets old. It gets difficult.

You begin to wonder what's going on. You search for a pattern. And then you notice some of the flotsam and jetsam of our crowded media world -- half-digested political ideas presented as reasoned arguments, legal conundrums considered by legal know-nothings, average opinions of the average man, fleeting references made by comedians, the unexpected actions of nervous brides, medical discoveries written about by police reporters, scientific findings interpreted by pastors, and "advice columns" written by people who have no expertise whatsoever -- and it begins to look as though your personal experiences may be mirrored somehow in the world at large.

Baloney. There may be some amorphous connection between what's been happening with you and what's happening generally in the world. At any given time, a good number of people are going to be in a bad mood. They will be underemployed, sexually frustrated, behind on the rent, angry at an ex-boyfriend, concerned about the war in Iraq, wondering if there is a God. A good number of one sex at any given time will be fed up with the other sex. They will make jokes about each other. But there's no real correlation between that and whether you're getting lucky or not. Furthermore, none of the women who have been rejecting you need your help in relating to the opposite sex. They will relate to the opposite sexes they want to relate to, and reject the ones they don't want to relate to. They will be fine.

So here's an idea: Abandon all sweeping generalizations about relations between the sexes. Instead, continue working to find an individual sex you can relate to, and have relations.

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