I didn’t know anything about feminism when I was in high school, back in the early sixties, nor, apparently, did any of the girls I dated. At least, it never came up in the conversation. Mostly, I was too busy thinking about sex. Thinking, not doing, because aside from a little kissing and petting, I was unable to achieve my ultimate goal, the Holy Grail of lust and desire. Eventually, I began to think that either it did not really exist, or I was not destined to partake of that mystery. Overhearing my lament one day, one of the guys sitting at my lunch table took pity on me, and decided to give me the benefit of his wisdom. “Listen here, boy,” he said. “I’m going to tell you about women. You have to find ’em, feed ’em, fuck ’em, and forget ’em,” he said with the authority that comes from being six feet tall and having broad shoulders.
The last one puzzled me. “Forget ’em?” I thought to myself. “Why would I want to do that?” I knew that if I ever managed to go all the way with some girl, I would never forget her. In fact, I would probably hold on to her for dear life. But the second one, “feed ’em,” I completely disregarded. I figured it was there merely for the sake of fourfold alliteration: he needed four words beginning with “f” to make it sound right. Years later, I read a column by Miss Manners, where she said that when it came to courtship, many things had changed over the years, but one principle remained inviolate: the gentleman must take the lady to dinner. But at the time, I regarded it as completely unnecessary. “Better to eat before you went out on a date,” I thought. “Then you have more time for sex.”
When I got to college, I was still a virgin. Though I would never have admitted to anything so disgraceful, yet one of my fraternity brothers could tell that when it came to girls, I was floundering. So, he took me aside and said, “Listen here, boy. I’m going to tell you about women. When you take them out on a date, you’re going to have to go to a really nice restaurant and slap that money down.”
That was most unwelcome advice, given my impecunious condition. I had a small allowance from my father, which was enough to take a girl to a drive-in movie, and spring for a couple of Cokes and a bag of popcorn, but this dinner thing was out of the question. To afford that, I would have to get a part-time job. It was all I could do to take twelve hours a semester in my exacting major of philosophy without adding that to my schedule. In fact, it was at this point that I first realized that as much as I wanted sex, I dreaded work even more. So, as with the advice I had received in high school, I once again disregarded the idea that I would have to “feed ’em.” There had to be another way.
Fortunately, there was. It was the sexual revolution. Now, I know some people say that there was just as much sex in the old days, but people just didn’t talk about it. Well, if that is so, they sure had me fooled. When I was in high school, just getting to third base, where articles of clothing were actually removed, was something a guy could take pride in; and as for going all the way, that was so rare that when tales of such were told, one had good reason to doubt their veracity. So, this theory that the only effect of the sexual revolution was conversational is one that does not accord with my experience or the experience of my friends. In fact, the difference was profound. When I started college in 1964, every girl I knew was adamant about the importance of being a virgin when she got married. And my fraternity brothers were in complete agreement on that point: it was important for a girl to be a virgin when she got married. Four years later, any girl on that campus who was still a virgin was trying to do something about it. So, in the sexual anarchy of the late sixties, I finally managed to lose my virginity, notwithstanding the fact that I had yet to pony up for a steak dinner.
What saved me was the fact that the girl who took my virginity already had a boyfriend, who was stationed in Vietnam, and so I was just filling in for him while he was out of town. And that meant that a drive-in movie, a couple of Cokes, and a bag of popcorn were all the expenditure required of me to finally enjoy the ultimate embrace.
In fact, as I later discovered, a paramour operates under different rules from that of a woman’s boyfriend or husband. Several years after I got out of college and went to work (ugh!), I began a flirtation with a married coworker, and things had advanced to the point where it was time for me to make my move. A guy that I worked with could see what was going on. “Are you and Sally fooling around?” he asked.
“Well, I was thinking about asking her out to dinner,” I answered, figuring it was high time that I took the advice given to me twice before.
“You can’t take her to dinner!” he said, alarmed. “The night has a thousand eyes,” he explained. “I made the mistake once of taking a married woman to dinner, and while she and I were looking at the menu, who should walk in the door but one of her friends and the guy she was dating. Of course, we invited them to sit down and have dinner with us. And, of course, I ended up picking up the tab. And not just for the meal, because every time a round of drinks was bought, I bought four.” Therefore, he concluded, it was neither necessary nor advisable to take a married woman to dinner. “All you need,” he said, “is a room and a bottle. And since you are a bachelor living alone in an apartment, you already have a room. Just find out what she likes to drink.”
Now, I know people who cannot think about socializing except in the context of food and drink. And thus it might be argued that many people simply enjoy this sort of thing for its own sake, and not just as a necessary prelude to sex. But that does not mean that the man should foot the bill. And this leads me, finally, to the issue of feminism. The final phase of feminism will be achieved when either it is no longer necessary to “feed ’em” in order for sex to take place, or, if dinner is desired for its own sake, the woman pays for her own meal and drinks.
Over the years, I have debated several women on just this issue. I remember one woman in particular, one of my dancing partners, with whom I had just such a discussion. She didn’t mind going out Dutch treat, because we weren’t having sex. I was of the opinion, however, that the one did not necessarily imply the other, and I thought it would be nice if we made our already enjoyable relationship even better. To this, she took a dim view. “You make me pay my own way, and now you want a kiss?” she asked, shaking her head at the audacity of my presumption.
I explained to her that by so doing she would achieve the final phase of feminism. “No woman can count herself a complete feminist,” I averred, “until she goes Dutch treat with a man with whom she is sexually intimate.” We discussed the matter at length, during which time she pointed out that it was against all human nature, or, at least, all female human nature, to behave as I suggested. She noted that it had been firmly established by sociobiologists that the way to a woman’s heart was through her stomach, that a man must let a woman know that he will provide for her and take care of her in order to gain her favor. In fact, she went on, this principle even extended back into the animal kingdom, and did not originate with cavemen.
“But the whole point of having a big brain,” I replied, “was to be able to override our bad instincts. True feminism can hardly be grounded on the mating principles of the Stone Age.”
I could see her squirm. Finally, she went for the ultimate justification of behavior, beyond which there is no appeal: “I can’t help it,” she said. “It’s the way I was raised.”
Boy, had I heard that one before! But I knew that people could be very selective about parental influence. “Listen,” I said. “Were you raised to have premarital sex?”
“Uh … no,” she answered hesitantly.
“And didn’t you tell me you started screwing when you were fifteen?”
“Uh … yes.”
“Well,” I said, as I prepared to deliver the coup de grâce, “the way you were raised didn’t count for much there, did it?”
So, you see, I won that argument. That is to say, an impartial debate judge would undoubtedly have scored more points in my favor. Unfortunately, there is another sense in which I lost that debate.
There is no doubt that women have come a long way in the feminist movement. But I lay it down as an absolute that the final phase of feminism will not be achieved until the “feed ’em” part of the formula has been eliminated once and for all.