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August 19, 1999

You & Michael Segell

author of

In this book, Segell -- who wrote the popular "The Male Mind" column for Esquire and is now a columnist for MSNBC and the New York Daily News -- hits the road in search of the new alpha male: a lover and a fighter. Well? Where is he? Who is he? What did Segell hear from male and female GenXers about their romantic malaise? How come he doesn't think the Promise Keepers are misogynist wolves in geeks' clothing? What on earth is this "sexual payback" he's talking about? (Well, okay: it's when guys say no -- sometimes, Segell says, just to be mean! Eeuw! For real? -- leaving women to wonder "Why can't he, just once, have just one thing on his mind?" ) Sigh. Can't we all get along? BG says sure, and Segell thinks so, too. But how?

Susan76 writes, "Is the male desire for power even stronger than the male desire for sex? Will a man withhold sex just because he doesn't like (or is afraid of) a sexually aware and sexually confident woman?"

MICHAEL SEGELL: It may be, because historically men have had to acquire power before they could acquire a desirable sexual partner. So: no power, no sex. And despite all that has changed in the culture, despite the fact that women are capable of acquiring as much power as (if not more than) men, those same psycho-mechanisms are still very much in place. Powerful women still favor powerful men. Because women have so dramatically improved their general power status, they've upped the ante for men, so that men feel they need to be even more powerful to attract them. As a result you have a lot of guys throwing in the towel, refusing to compete at that level (and thus giving up sex, at least with women with whom they'd really like to have it) or, on the other hand, feeling rabidly competitive with women, which doesn't do much for their sex lives, either.

As to the second question, men withhold sex for a variety of reasons, but most often simply to humiliate a woman. Over the eons, men have become used to being rejected and don't take it so hard when a woman says no. For women, this is a brand-new experience. Regardless of how much self-confidence and self-esteem they acquire from professional success, they still measure themselves by how attractive they feel they are to men. So, a man who's a little jealous of a woman's success -- angry even -- and wants to hurt her resorts to sex. He can't lord his economic and professional power over her any more, but he can demean her and stick it to her where it really hurts: he makes her feel unwanted and ugly. Women who have experienced this admit that it's a very effective offensive weapon.

The second most common reason a man withholds sex is that he's simply afraid of the dynamic female libido. Feminism has unleashed the female sex drive and men--who have spent thousands of years trying to contain it, with chadors, holding pens, harems, female circumcision and the like--find it kind of scary.

Romeo asks, "I am a lover AND a fighter (sometimes). Why is it we men are damned if we do/damned if we don't? EXAMPLE: Cute married coworker -- don't flirt with her and I'm arrogant and stuck-up; or flirt with her and I'm a total scum-pig. Is this just convenience on their part, or is being fickle the only power powerless women have in this 'man's world'?"

MICHAEL SEGELL: Political correctness has led many women to believe they can act any way they like--and without consequence. Political correctness mandates that men refrain from interacting with women in a potentially romantic way in the workplace, and that creates some problems. Many young single women have admitted to me that when a man expresses interest in them they immediately size him up for his long-term potential--that is, whether they can imagine marrying him. So if a guy comes on to a woman at work and she's not interested, she can hide behind the "harassment" screen--get rid of him not by taking responsibility for herself and honestly rejecting him, but by actually getting him in trouble. But if a guy she's interested in doesn't come on to her he's judged to be a wimp. In both cases, she's held unaccountable by the PC police. The hipper women in this world hate the PC culture and are willing to take responsibility for their own feelings and actions.

BG can't resist adding: about "don't flirt with her ... because she's married?" That's not the PCPD, that's manners. Click here and here for my point of view on harassment.

Powrgrrl asks, "If a real standup guy believes that men must pursue women and that women must choose, how does he react when a woman makes the first move? Does he decline the date because he perceives her actions as aggressive? Does being the pursuee emasculate him?"

MICHAEL SEGELL: The Standup Guy wouldn't feel emasculated if a woman makes the first move. Historically, women have always made the first move, but they've done it in a way that makes the man think he's making the first move. A confident man would be flattered by a woman's interest, and, if he were interested in her, he would very quickly assert himself as the pursuer. This is not a power trip, because in reality a woman who feels she has to pursue the relationship will always doubt whether the man was really interested and, secondly, whether he has the confidence and courage to take an aggressive role in the relationship. If he's passive in the relationship, she knows, he'll probably be passive in other areas of his life.

There's also a very deep long-evolved psychodynamic here. When a woman very aggressively pursues a man, his antennae go up. If she's this way with me, he thinks, where has she been? And with whom? And how many times? At play here is a very highly evolved suspicion mechanism related to something called "paternity certainty." The ulterior goal of sex is to get your genes into the next generation. When a woman is pregnant she knows she's extending her genes. A man can never be sure. It's not practical for him, from an evolutionary point of view, to be caring for another man's baby, so he's very sensitive to signs of waywardness on his partner's part. The same antennae that are raised when he suspects infidelity go up when a woman is sexually aggressive with him.

Hippiechick asks, "Woodstock '99: Rape, verbal abuse, rampant misogyny. What's the deal?"

MICHAEL SEGELL: Deranged woman-hating criminals can show up anywhere, particularly at heavy-metal concerts, which are refuge to a lot of alienated, lonely young men. But something else was at work, too. Some men feel that the culture has been unfriendly to them over the past decade, making fun of them in TV shows, magazines, etc. A lot of men are just mad and they feel that because women are freer today about belittling them it can be open-season on women, too. The gender war has increased in hostility. The gloves are off.

David asks, "How does being in an organization like New Warriors make you a better man?"

MICHAEL SEGELL: I don't know if being in the New Warriors makes you a better man, but I think a lot of men feel alienated from the world and developing friendships with other men is extremely helpful in getting them reconnected. A New Warrior weekend has some corny parts but also some deep psychological work that most men can benefit from. Men have evolved to be emotionally constrained--it's a good quality. But it can get out of hand. We repress things that bother us, try to ignore the abuses in our lives, pretend our failures never happened and our weaknesses don't exist. In the exclusive company of other men, unworried by a judgmental female presence, we're free to let a lot of negative stuff out in a safe place; we're permitted to exorcise the parts of ourselves we hate so we don't send those parts out into the world where they'll hurt people we love--like women. Most men find this a very liberating, useful, and lasting experience.

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