Monday, March 12, 2007

Sympathy for the Bedeviled / `Backlash' author Susan Faludi finds the American man insecure, angry and, well, oppressed

The following is a review of a book that I found pretty interesting. I read it right after it hit the book stores in 1999. At that time I was still working as a counselor/human rights officer on a locked psychiatric unit at a hospital in western Massachusetts. Counselors on the unit were part of the hospital's nursing division. My supervisior was a woman. Nursing has changed dramatically, but it was long considered to be " Womens' work. "

I thought a lot about that when I was working on the unit, which was a very dangerous place to spend eight hours.

Prior to working on the unit I spent a lot of time in environments dominated by boys and men. I was into sports in high school. This was before Title IX. Sports was what guys were into. Played basketball, baseball, soccer and golf. Then I went off to college. An all male college. Next stop: The US Air Force. I ran into a few airwomen, but not many. This was a man's world, too. After discharge from the USAF, I went back to college and got a degree in English and Journalism. Landed a job after I graduated as a newspaper reporter. Sure, Lois Lane was a reporter, but for the most part the newsroom was like a mens locker room. Next stop: The thickly carpeted corridors of the advertising business. The president of the first ad agency I worked for was a 49 year old man. His number two in command was a guy, as was his number three. The art director was of the male persuasion. I was one of two copywriters. The other one was a guy...

You see where this is going...

All those roles I played, in all those male dominated places. None of them required of me to be brave or kind or in any way human. I may have been those things. But the role did not require that of me. It wasn't part of the job description.

There was this patient I worked with. His name was Rocky. Hell on wheels he was. Or, to be more precise - hell on wheelchair.

He'd been a boxer in his younger days, but his boxing days were over. His fighting days were not. Rocky was assigned to the treatment team of which I was a member. As the counselor on the team - which was made up of a psychiatrist, a nurse, a social worker and a counselor - I was the one who had to deal most directly and most often with Rocky.

Rocky's punches were verbal. His jabs were sarcastic, thick with venom. My thin Irish skin grew thicker as I worked with this guy. Helping him wasn't easy. He didn't want what I had to give. Rejected my efforts to pull and push him through the process of getting better, as that is defined on a locked psychiatric unit. There were times when I thought: This guy hates me.

And it took some doing not to jab back with that feeling.

But I knew, or thought I knew ( I knew nothing, and that was OK. Nobody knew anything. Everybody, the shrinks included made, at their best, educated guesses about what went down up there in the sick minds of the patients we " served. " )

One morning, after I'd brought him his breakfast, Rocky looked me in the eye and said, " Ya know, you act like a girl. "

My inclination was to avoid contact with his two squinty eyes ( and the rest of his wasted body.) Get out of the room and find someone else to help out. But I held my ground and took the punch.

What I could have said to Rocky, but didn't, has crossed my mind over the years since I knew him. What I could have said was:

At least I don't carry a diagnosis much more common in women than men. ( He was, according to the psychiatrists, a male borderline )

Or I could have said: At least I don't have stuffed animals all over my bed. ( Which he did )

I didn't say those things. I took the punch and walked out of the room. And, looking back on that day, I'll say this.

I think I took it like a man.

Sympathy for the Bedeviled / `Backlash' author Susan Faludi finds the American man insecure, angry and, well, oppressed

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