Are Men Back?
Monday, October 15, 2001 by Dave Winer.
Peggy Noonan writing in the Wall Street Journal:
"I should discuss how manliness and its brother, gentlemanliness, went out of style. I know, because I was there. In fact, I may have done it. I remember exactly when: It was in the mid-'70s, and I was in my mid-20s, and a big, nice, middle-aged man got up from his seat to help me haul a big piece of luggage into the overhead luggage space on a plane. I was a feminist, and knew our rules and rants. 'I can do it myself,' I snapped.
"It was important that he know women are strong. It was even more important, it turns out, that I know I was a jackass, but I didn't. I embarrassed a nice man who was attempting to help a lady. I wasn't lady enough to let him. I bet he never offered to help a lady again. I bet he became an intellectual, or a writer, and not a good man like a fireman or a businessman who says, 'Let's roll.'"
What a great story. I've gotten email from men who saying they were in tears while reading it. It's really strong stuff.
Ms. Noonan, I want to say something, as a man.
I was there in the 70s too, in my mid-20s also. We're about the same age. It's been truly confusing to be a man. I'm not John Wayne or a firefighter, but I have a big strong body and it wants to do things that weren't considered politically correct, like be protective, nurturing, and strong, all at the same time as I use my mind, which is pretty powerful too.
You weren't and aren't a jackass, but thanks for considering the possibility. You're just living in your time. But that time may be over. We're changing.
In the future, a man helping a woman, or a woman helping a man, may be seen as a sign of people being kind to each other, and nothing more (or less of course). Not a statement, not something that requires correction or explanation.
Further, if we can have healing between the genders as we heal from the attacks on our civilization, then some good can come from the tragedy. Maybe a lot of good. It always seems to work that way.
The rest of this piece is not very linear. Next I want to talk about listening, a little, then a bit about Bush and his philosophy, and then tell a story about my father and I, two men, who have learned something important, I think.
On Saturday I ran a survey. "Suppose a Saudi prince offered you $10 million, no strings attached, but you had to read his press release and listen to what he thought you were doing wrong. Would you take the money on these terms?"
72 percent said yes, the rest said no. I think this shows a bug. Esther Dyson agrees. "I'd do that for free. Isn't that what being open-minded means?" Of course, yes, that's exactly what it means.
Listening is still an option. The war hasn't accelerated so far that we can't still listen to the people of Islam, we still have friends in Central Asia. Let's do some listening and learning.
I'm delighted to find that Islam is a lovely religion. It preaches acceptance, peace and non-violence. Quite the opposite message that the hijackers of Islam are spreading, quite the opposite message that my ancestors spread.
I really enjoyed President Bush's press conference on Thursday night. He said so many things that made me laugh and think "This guy gets it." A reporter asked how he feels about half-hearted help from Syria. (I'm paraphrasing here.) "I'll take help any way I can get it, I'm a results-oriented guy" says our president. Right on. Take the help, and thank them profusely. That's the philosophy of inclusion.
And rather than running away from the "Why do they hate us so much?" question, he charged right into it. "We're such cool people," he says (again I'm paraphrasing). "I can't believe they don't see that. We'll just have to work on it, talk with them, and explain who we are to them. It's just a misunderstanding." Excellent. Let's work on relating. There's been far too much bluster. Don't hate people because they hate us. Work on why they hate us, and see if there's a bug, and fix it.
One more thing that made me say "Right On" to my President. Asked why he hasn't met with Yasir Arafat yet, he said he wouldn't appear for a photo-op until there was something to announce. He's holding out for substance. Excellent. Now is the time to do that. These are times of great change. Let's get ready for it.
One more story. I saw an interview with a career US diplomat. He was asked why we give Mubarak in Egypt $1.5 billion per year in military aid. That was one of the terms of the peace treaty with Israel, he said. We prop up Mubarak to get peace between Israel and Egypt, and in the same moment, create a war with the citizens he keeps under control. A lesson every programmer knows well. You can't fix a bug by hiding it. Mubarak will be dead someday. Then what?
Last year around this time, while I was doing my Web work, embroiled in some controversy about something, my father got cancer. An aggressive melanoma that had gone undetected for a year. The prognosis was grim.
When this happened, my father and I hadn't spoken for several years. I called, got the information, listened to my father speak about his disease, and then about life, his fears, and what he was learning. I was touched by the new sweetness in my dad that this situation had exposed, but still felt far away, my feelings hurt from a battle that started as I became a man, and hadn't yet reached a resolution.
I asked: "Dad, what about our differences?"
He paused. I think he took a deep breath.
He said "I don't know," paused again.
Then two magic words in the form of a question.
Then I sucked in my breath. Here we are. What should I do. The answer came to me.
"OK," I said.
Three words, and we're both free.
That's how easy it is sometimes.
I wanted to tell this story publicly the moment it happened, and I did tell my personal friends about it, and they saw a difference in me, starting that day, immediately.
Asking for and giving forgiveness is often all it takes to gain freedom. Sometimes all that's in the way of moving forward is to stop respecting the past so much, and look forward instead of looking back. The past is dead. Who knows what the future holds. If my father and I only had a few months left, we wanted to make sure we got the most out of that.
My father survived. I saw him and my mother a week ago. It was just a short visit, but we had fun!
What an amazing concept. Fun. With parents. And all it took was a wakeup call and some kindness between two adult men, whose internal struggles seem so small compared to reality.
In our family, as perhaps in the world, we're back.
Men are back.