200 years ago, the irrepressible Abigail Adams cautioned women to be wary of men because “all men would be tyrants
if they could.” One wonders how the woman came to such a cynical viewpoint. Perhaps
her husband, John, was too fond of whiskey and raw onions, or spent too much time in the tavern. Could she have been a wounded
warrior in the battle of the sexes? Gender politics started long before her and
probably even before Aristophanes wrote, Lysistrata- in 500B.C.- the play where
women go on a sex strike, shutting men off until they stopped making war.
Speaking of the battle of the sexes, I remember the old brick taverns and poolrooms in Lawrence
where no women were allowed- or their presence discouraged. The old timers that ran things then believed that women in men’s
bars were trouble. The rationale was that men’s behavior changed in the presence of even a single woman. Men who could
be congenial and peaceable in each other’s company felt competitive or conflicted when women were around. Of course we’re not talking about nightclubs or supper clubs, but neighborhood saloons were men would
meet to drink boilermakers, smoke stogies, and talk sports and politics. (Who could forget the old Rocky Club off Jackson St. with its outdoor boxing
ring? Or Kelly and Driscoll’s Tavern in Haverhill? And
scores of other men’s bars?)
Since colonial times the saloon was an almost exclusively male environment. But
after prohibition, tavern owners, realizing a new market for women-who were coming to equate drinking with self-liberation- would partition off a room out back with
a separate “ladies’ entrance” where women could drink without being hassled by men trying to hit on them.
Sometimes a sign at a back entrance would discretely beckon, “Ladies and Escorts Only.” This curious system lasted in Lawrence into
the early 1960’s.
I miss the old men’s
taverns. If my viewpoint is politically incorrect, so is that of women who go to gyms with names like “Women’s
World” “ A Woman’s Place” etc., where women can work out without men ogling them. I like and respect women, especially my wife who is beautiful, patient, intelligent, and my best friend.
But all men need to be away from women from time to time. In other societies, such places do indeed exist, and women are not offended about it. Moreover, women create spaces for themselves, like the Turkish bath for
instance, an entrenched institution within the rigid social structure of the
Moslem world. Such spaces need not imply a denigration of either sex, but an
affirmation of differences, which can be healthy.
Some people don’t get it. They spend their money on John Gray’s books to ascertain that men are different
from women. As if this were an earthshaking revelation. Or they entertain “gender theorists” and postmodern intellectuals
who pontificate that all sex differences are social constructs and therefore acquired. However,
I offer irrefutable proof that men are inherently different from women. To prove my claim, just ask yourself these questions:
What man -if he were not living with a woman- would ever buy a floral-patterned fabric cover for a toaster? What bachelor
would ever buy two sets of towels- one never to be used, but only for show? Can you imagine Ernest Hemmingway or Humphrey
Bogart with two sets of towels? General George Patton worrying about color coordination of wallpaper? I rest my case. As a culture, we argue about things that a hundred years ago people learned effortlessly
from observing what nature brought forth in the henhouse, the barnyard and the cow pasture.