Man-Eating: Toward a sustainable misandry
One night over dinner with two of my oldest and closest friends — who just happen to be female, who just happen to be lesbian — I was explaining why I’d broken it off with a woman.
What I’d ended was an old and platonic friendship. I hadn’t gone with women in almost a half-century, though the party in question had been dating men all along. She had, in fact, become what I called a “serial dater,” actually made a sport of it, a blood sport, really, why I could no longer like or respect this woman.
My former friend’s mean-spirited hobby began, I told my forever friends as our dinners arrived, seemingly innocently enough back in the 1980s. Village Voice and New York Review of Books personal ads were her original hunting grounds, and I myself had fallen for their promises of adventure, though not as hard as my former friend who, years later, would justify her exploits with something she called “the patriarchy.” Along came the Internet and industrial dating on sites like Match and eharmony. Suddenly, you could flirt, meet up, and then spurn as many total strangers as you wanted, if that was what you wanted. Endless opportunities were abused by many lonely people with other agendas, perhaps old scores to settle, like my former friend whose intentions toward gentleman suitors had never been honorable.
Each morning like clockwork at eleven, the date-baiter phoned me — like Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk — with news of her “latest beau,” usually different from the night before. Like his myriad predecessors, turned away and affections mocked, or if they were lucky, relegated to the stable for a rainy day, this poor slob had treated her to a lavish meal, the theater, perhaps a concert, but had somehow managed to fall short of her expectations.
It was always something. This one didn’t know how to dress. That one was too short. He wasn’t a good conversationalist. His politics were wrong. He had hair in his nostrils. The dinner darling was very hard on her beaus, often belittling them over the very meals they were paying for, correcting their speech, shaming them for their lack of sophistication. A Manhattanite, she took advantage of her edge in ways that local single men, in far greater demand than women, were less apt to stomach. She took gifts from Jersey guys but was turned off by the accent and cringed when they said “I love New York and all it has to offer.” She made no effort to hide her disdain, but somehow kept them commuting back for another chance to spend money on her, and another good whipping.
I was perversely amused by these constant conquests, these elaborate and sadistic games of cat and mouse. If the men were pussy-whipped enough to play, I thought, then they had only themselves to blame. Each morning when the serial dater phoned, I laughed along as she reported on how a new beau had disagreed with her on something and had absolutely no taste, or had committed that supreme gaffe: “I love New York and all it has to offer.” I really did want her to find someone, but as time passed, this didn’t seem to be her goal, not at all. Wooing this woman into settling down, cooing her into settling for any mortal man, whatever good qualities he offered — forgiving the male sex for crimes committed against her — simply weren’t on the menu. Having heard accounts of her manifold toying sessions, all ending in ritual triumph for her and humiliation for the guy paying, I grew concerned when she announced proudly one day she’d bagged “over 8,000 hits” on sites since this campaign of hers had begun. Eating for free and adding notches to her belt, always keeping the men guessing, was how she thought clever women were supposed to stay on top in a male-dominated world.
I knew, before any beaus did, they barely stood a chance of having sex with this professional tease, no matter how many bridges, tunnels, or tabs taken. This not-so-tender trap didn’t seem to like sex much, and when she rarely did give in and deigned to uncross her legs for some frustrated gent who could take it no longer, she always had some complaint about inadequacy to report on the phone the next morning. Somehow, she always got her way, and her free dinner, coaxing naïve men into craving nebulous rewards dangled but not quite promised, turning them against each other with sample whiffs, keeping them paying for as long as she allowed.
This went on for decades. Then came the beau who went so far as to fly this demanding dame first-class to visit him in Europe, offering more good times if she kept coming.
“Why don’t you give this one a chance?” I asked of this very sweet guy, a handsome, generous, thoughtful, self-made British man of working-class origin I’d met when he was in town courting her. He was clearly a straight-shooting fellow who wanted nothing other than someone to love, a soul mate. Never before had I openly questioned my former friend’s motives for going on all those dates. She glared at me as if accused of something when I asked. She had no idea what I meant.
I only knew so much about this latest beau because the man-eater under whose spell he fell, whenever in town courting, had extracted many expensive dinners, and not just for her, but for me as well. She wanted to introduce him to her friends, an important step in making him part of her life, I’m sure this naively trusting victim was misled to believe. Fine wines flowed, courses kept coming, and I felt uncomfortable letting him pay, though he wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would she. After our fourth ménage à trois, I told her again that he was “the one.” It had nothing to do with his money, I pleaded, or his willingness to keep feeding us both for free, I resisted adding. He was just a good bloke and should, I repeated, be given a fighting chance. Like her herds of suitors with eyes on the prize, stuck in the stable not knowing why, he’d left my friend perpetually undecided, though he’d certainly won me over. The humbling of having a man pay for me, while he hoped to win the heart of someone else, was worth the pleasure of his charming company.
Then came the game-changer in our relationship. I’m still sad recalling our last dinner. My former friend was beautiful, intelligent, charismatic. This was why men, myself included, put up with her. That night, when the English beau ordered us another round of twenty-dollar martinis and left to powder his nose, I glanced across the table at the dazzling creature I’d known for so many years, and felt as I did in those similar moments of epiphany when falling out of love, only with men. I scrutinized this conniving cow, and for the first time felt disgust, pure, unadulterated revulsion at the sight of her, a feeling I knew, from experience, would last. I could no longer be an accomplice to her clever cruelty. When she called the next morning to report on how bad the sex was, I said I’d always be there for her but just didn’t enjoy her company anymore. She got miffed, hung up, and never called to confide in me again. I’m told she’s still out there nightly, being wined and dined, flying around town in cabs for early dinners and Broadway shows, feeding off the kindness of strangers like a shark on autopilot, spreading misogyny worldwide.
My lesbian friends didn’t see things from my perspective that night over dinner when I explained the breakup.
“Don’t you know that gallantry is sexist?” asked one of them. I disagreed, saying this wouldn’t explain my man-eating former friend’s willingness to be a victim of sexism every night of the week. Letting men pay for the pleasure of her company? There was a word for that sort of arrangement. Whatever happened to women’s lib and independence from men? How, I asked my lesbian friends, successful professionals who’d made their own way in the world with no help from men — how could they sympathize with a greedy, manipulative hypocrite who wanted to have her cake and eat it too?
I outlined my corrective to this social injustice as the dessert cart approached. To be fair and honest about what was, I explained, a simple business transaction in the guise of romance, from now on, when on dates where the man is expected to pay, the woman needs to put out first. If the man decides the sex was good, then, and only then, does she get her dinner. This, I insisted, was only equitable — so long as men were paying.
Having put my cards on the table, I watched one of my friends whip out her own, snatching the check when the waiter arrived. “No, no, we insist,” she said. I put up some resistance, gradually giving in. These two women did make more money than I, a struggling writer, ever would. So I thanked them both, saying next time it would be my treat.
There would be no next time. My lesbian friends still loved me, and our dinner meetings wouldn’t stop that night. On the contrary, I saw a lot more of them but the meals were subject to a strict new policy: Michael never gets to pay. In all honesty, I couldn’t afford to eat out so often, so for the pleasure of my company, they really did need to pick up some tabs. They meant me no harm, but were very smart, and I sensed an aftertaste of irony in their largesse. Not once did we discuss this sudden insistence on always paying, but I knew exactly what they were up to. “Education” is a favorite tool of social justice warriors, as these women proudly proclaimed themselves to be. For my own good, in their minds, they were teaching me what it was like to be oppressed by men.
I embraced their oppression with open arms, and an open mouth, rarely conscious of any pangs of guilt or feeling in the least bit cheap. It was about time, I reasoned, for women to start paying, and this time lasted about a decade, I realize when reflecting on a blur of sumptuous meals beyond my means made matters of course. These two had very good taste. Untrue to the not-untrue stereotype of lesbians, who tend to consciously adopt a less refined, more truck-driverish model for everything from clothing and grooming, to decorating where they genuinely do need help, and food — resistance against male expectations of females? — unlike the more predictable lesbian-feministas, these two were quite refined.
Our extended orgy of eating was, be assured, no sausage party. Dinners unfolded with champagne and aphrodisiac escargots to prick my interest, then maybe a smooth flan aux moules to keep it going, a rémoulade de céleri-rave to rev things up, or pâté de campagne to keep it rough. These plates were mere foreplay, anyone who’s eaten French knows, and the courses kept coming with breathers in between, the wine list pacing our calculated meals. Barely a year of this treatment and I’d gained a gut, the deal-breaker on gay dates when you no longer match the picture on your profile.
All this oppression wasn’t too rich for my blood, though, because I’d grown up very spoiled and was mainly comfortable leaving the tab to someone else. My father, a hardworking, self-made man, had been a good provider. (Whenever my mother paid, as far as I’m concerned, it was my father’s money she was spending.) He was always giving, expecting nothing in return, so any older gentleman admirers I had later in life, like my didactic lesbian friends, certainly had their work cut out for them.
Admittedly, I’ve sometimes felt funny having men other than Dad pick up tabs, though I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of free lunches — there are such things in this world — and dinners. Once an attractive young gay man who could hold his own in a conversation, I was treated often, and to generous offers to be fully kept, that golden goose it is the life goal of the serious hunters, male and female, to bag. I’ve accepted many freebies, giving only my fair company in return, always stopping short of doing anything I didn’t want to do. I never took the Grand Prize, that fully-sustainable goose. I was too fiercely independent, and not a good enough actor, I knew in my heart, to play the adoring lover in harsh, early-morning light. I’d also been raised a rich kid, and didn’t submit to anyone.
About ten years into being invited by women, I found my relationship with my increasingly militant lesbian friends, who’d started saying things like “intersectional,” “rape culture,” “non-binary,” and “visibility,” had become, let’s say, more complex. Occasionally, I’d made hollow gestures to pay, but my dinner dates were too clever for me, forearming themselves with vows from waiters and maître d’s to say my money was no good around there. Try though I did to pick up a tab, gradually I sank into my circumstances, reasoning that if it brought so much pleasure to old friends to give me pleasure, I could at least give the pleasure of my company on their terms, if only to avoid another tedious mock-argument over who was paying.
Then came the warm-up to our annual dinner for the Christmas season of 2016. Trump had barely been seated in the Oval Office where he ordered in fast food — an alternative to social justice Unhappy Meals — and everywhere you looked on the street, New Yorkers looked stunned and disoriented. We were having cocktails in my friends’ living room (tastefully furnished, for lesbians), preparing for dinner and trying to relax but a bit shaky, nerves frayed, quick on the trigger, like everyone in town. Across the nation, moods were swinging, arguments turned bitter, friendships and families the mounting casualties of a new political landscape we were nowhere near understanding. Though I was still decidedly Democrat, years of Facebook posting left any friends I still had no illusions about my positions on Black Lives Matter and “the war against the black man,” the new anti-white, anti-male feminism, gender hysteria, and the rest of what I considered the same big ball of wax, a coalition of causes seemingly disparate but superficially alike. What, I often wondered, could possibly be their common goal — apart from getting Trump elected in the first place?
I glanced across the living room at two pink, two-pointed hats, prominently displayed like hunting trophies on metal posts atop a bookcase. My friends had also knitted themselves rudimentary orange, one-pointed versions to wear, just after Trump’s election, at an early New York “resistance” march, the point of which was still unclear to me. The new, pink hats were for a much larger, “intersectional” event in Washington coming up in January. I’d been careful, up to that point, to choose my words carefully, or to avoid politics altogether.
All one of my friends needed to do, as we prepared to put down our glasses and leave for a holiday meal, was mention “Trump” and the “misogynist” he was for “grabbing pussy” and then bragging about his conquests. I launched into a tirade on victimhood culture and the new sexually-uptight Puritanism. The Uber car waiting downstairs, our dinner reservation in jeopardy, I nearly foamed at the mouth, uninterrupted for a good twenty minutes, about how history would show that sheltered, completely out-of-touch gay, lesbian, “queer,” feminist, PC, POC academics, their graduates in the press, their acolytes on social media — all the same people, in my mind, and in theirs — were responsible for putting Colonel Sanders into the White House in the first place. Each day, I spat, unsavory characters like Milo Yiannopoulos, and Trump, whom he called “Daddy,” seemed more like necessary evils to counterbalance a fanatical intolerance far more dangerous to our freedom, for the moment, than the new so-called “alt-right,” a neologism being used to describe even lifetime liberals like myself.
Uncannily familiar after my years of observing a man-eating mistress in action, the social justice activist strategy, despite claims to the contrary, was apparently not to have historical debts, real or inflated, repaid, to balance accounts or to reconcile anyone. Peace was not the point of these new, mean-spirited times, however many hippie love-ins reenacted in Washington Square and green spaces around the country since Trump had been elected. On the contrary, any satisfaction from the newfangled “progressive” movement, which like a shark had to keep moving or die, seemed to come from whipping old enemies and extracting new confessions and apologies, for eternity, if possible.
Here it was, if left unchallenged, a terrible creation to behold, an effective and sustainable logic for keeping the upper hand, no matter how unkind. Who were they, I asked my “woke” lesbian friends, to be claiming the world’s “oppressed” as their own with this strange new tool of “intersectional” voodoo-science? Where did they get off, forging tenuous ties, without permission, to an unlikely coalition of other women, to black people, transvestites, immigrants, the disabled, an unwitting and sundry group, including many individuals who didn’t feel “oppressed” at all, or that their “identities” intersected anywhere with my radical lesbian friends?
“Intersectionality” and the new “gender spectrum” converged into a most powerful weapon. What right did they have, I asked my friends who sat silent, to take it upon themselves to force us all, under threat of shaming and banishment, to memorize an ever-expanding menu of elaborate, made-up “preferred pronouns,” gobbledygook meant to keep us on our toes as if perpetually ordering Starbucks nervously for the first time? Passing laws in New York City, and tomorrow the world, coercing people into unconstitutional, compelled speech? What the hell did they think they were doing?
I knew exactly what they were doing. Here was the ultimate test of surrender, a pledge of allegiance to the cause of demanding the unpayable. As in any profession of faith, where the most absurd and implausible things are said, it wasn’t what was said that mattered — no one in his or her right mind would believe in such nonsense as transubstantiation or transgenderism — but rather the subtext: “If you can make me say I believe in such silly things, then you can make me do anything.” Coerced into repeating anything long enough, at some point people begin to believe.
Barring acts of sabotage from a Luddite like me, my lesbian friends had in their hands the ultimate victim-generator. The mechanics were simple. Each freshly baked “identity” was a “marginalized” minority by the very fact of its self-invention — the mere claim of a self-identifier to his/her/&c. “own truth” was all required to give it credence — so every single holder of yet another corresponding made-up pronoun (this could be as few as one person) was, by definition, “oppressed,” and we all knew by whom. So long as enough people were willing to cower before this academic word game, and not resist for fear of losing their jobs and more, this was an awesome power to wield, the perfect machine, a myth made functional, self-fueled and self-maintaining, progressing ad infinitum.
“You’ll just have to remember all of them,” answered one lesbian friend, and with no hint of irony, the other nodding her head in agreement.
We three had trouble swallowing dinner that night. It seemed clear to my dear old friends that all their education had been wasted on me. They picked up the tab, as usual, and while we’d remain forever friends, our soirées grew less frequent, and my gravy train slowed to a trickle. It was back to the bike for me, most nights, picking up Chinese food to go, peddling and reflecting on how power corrupts, savoring my freedom.