- The male myth. (changing social roles for men) (includes
related article) (Cover
- ( Maclean's )
- It reads like a modern fable. A young maiden from a foreign
shore falls in love with a handsome ex-marine. But he turns out
to be cruel, violent and not too bright. One night, his wife
is so enraged by his behavior that, while he sleeps, she cuts
off his penis with an eight-inch kitchen knife, jumps into her
car, then throws the offending member out the window into a field
near the Paty-Kake Day Care Center. A policeman finds it. A doctor
sews it back on. But it will never be the same. And throughout
the land, people make fun of the sad man who lost his penis.
- From the first news of the incident last June, the strange
case of John and Lorena Bobbitt has polarized the sexes. Men
winced, women snickered. Some men--and even some women--said:
"What's so funny?" But everyone seemed to a get a vicarious
kick out of discussing it. Now, both Bobbitt trials are over.
Last fall, John was acquitted of sexual assault. And last week,
agreeing that "an irresistible impulse" drove Lorena
Bobbitt to amputate her husband's penis, a Virginia jury found
her not guilty by reason of insanity. But there seemed to be
much more at stake in the Bobbitt affair than the fate of the
defendant. Like the Clarence Thomas hearings two years ago, when
Anita Hill accused the Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment,
the Bobbitt case became an epic confrontation in the gender war,
staged as a CNN daytime soap opera. Much of its appeal lay in
sheer voyeurism, and in the bizarre details of the story--she
threw it out the window. But the trial galvanized serious debate
over the rights of battered women to strike back. And it became
a defining moment in what seems to be a full-fledged male identity
- Men are fretting about their manhood--both literally and
figuratively. There was a time when men took it for granted.
It was just there. Now, they are not so sure. And the thing about
manhood is: without confidence, it's nothing. "There is
a genuine crisis in masculinity, " says Michael Kaufman,
the Toronto-based author of Cracking the Armour: Power, Pain
and the Lives of Men. "By challenging men's power, women
have helped uncover the profound insecurity that lies beneath
it." The Bobbitt case has struck a chord, adds Kaufman,
by reminding men "that this symbol of virility is an incredibly
fragile part of the body. Our image of manhood is power and control,
but under the surface, it's insecurity and terror."
- For a while, men found it fashionable to accommodate feminism,
at least in spirit. In some cases, they happily acquiesced, becoming
respectful colleagues, nurturing fathers and equal-opportunity
lovers. But in the 1990s, as women continue to push for equality
at the office and at home, men seem to be losing their patience.
Yes, they still rule the working world. But it's not as much
fun. And sensitivity can be such a chore. No matter how sensitive
they are, they complain, they are still men--tarred by the broad
brush of gender guilt. And the new etiquette around flirting,
dating and seduction turns out to be about as complicated as
constitutional law. In such movies as Sleepless in Seattle, The
Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day, men are locked in
romantic paralysis. On television, while an oversexed wife makes
mincemeat of a pathetic husband on Married . . . With Children,
new cop shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide portray detectives
investigating each other's vulnerability.
- As men get in touch with their feelings, they are discovering
that one of them is anger--at women. There is a rising backlash
against feminism, against date-rape campaigns on campus and sexual
harassment charges in the workplace. And now, there is Disclosure,
a blockbuster novel by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton,
loosely based on a true story of a male executive who was sexually
harassed by a female boss. In the world according to Crichton,
women have gone too far: what's a guy to do? As it turns out,
some men will go to almost any lengths to fortify their manhood.
Dr. Robert Stubbs, a Toronto plastic surgeon, has been
deluged by requests for his new penis elongation procedure. Pioneering
the operation in North America, Stubbs offers the male answer
to Lorena Bobbitt--using a knife to make it longer.
- The fable of John and Lorena has brought out extremes of
pathos and farce in the gender war. Demagogues swooped down on
the protagonists like vultures. Radio personality Howard Stern,
self- appointed storm trooper in the backlash against feminism,
recruited John Bobbitt, who joined the parade of burlesque attractions
on Stern's pay-per- view New Year's Eve show. Post-feminist firebrand
Camille Paglia claimed Lorena, calling her knife work "a
revolutionary act" and "a wake-up call" that will
"send a chill through every man in the world."
- Considering the overall carnage of domestic violence, of
course, Bobbitt's injury is just one freak casualty. Women still
do most of the suffering. While John Bobbitt autographs T-shirts,
anonymous women are harassed, raped, beaten and mutilated by
men every day. But Bobbitt has become an emblem for the hapless
state of North American masculinity. Even feminist Susan Faludi,
the Los Angeles-based author of the 1991 best-seller Backlash:
The Undeclared War Against American Women, finds room for empathy.
"You can say until you're blue in the face that a million
women have been mutilated for every John Bobbitt, " she
told Maclean's last week. "But for men, Bobbitt is a symbol
of the victimization they're feeling."
- Faludi, in fact, is writing her next book about the crisis
in masculinity. "I used to roll my eyes when men would say
they were victims," she says, "but I've come to the
conclusion that it's a heartfelt expression. What they need to
figure out is: if they're victims, then who are the victors?
Because it's not women." Adds Faludi: "The Bobbitt
case fits nicely into this symbolic drama that a lot of men are
playing out in their houses--seeing women as this Amazonian army
who have flung manhood to the wind." The real threat, argues
Faludi, is the changing economy, the lack of job security and
the end of the Cold War. "If men feel they're the oppressed
good guys, and they don't have the evil empire, and they don't
even have Saddam Hussein, then women get cast in the evil role."
- Masculinity has been in and out of the shop for retooling
for decades. After the Second World War, conquering heroes came
home to North America and embraced the dream of becoming proud
breadwinners. Father knew best. Then, the Playboy philosophy--40
years old last month-- suggested that a world of sexual adventure
lay beyond the white picket fence. The fantasy took quite a different
form for the next generation, with the dawn of free love in the
1960s. But by the 1970s, feminists began to lay down some conditions--to
demand respect, autonomy and relief from domestic drudgery. Ever
since, men have been trying to redefine what it means to be male.
Some extreme prototypes have emerged. They range from the supersensitive
man, who does his best to keep his male ego swaddled in camomile
tranquillity, to the Iron John type, who tries to resurrect masculine
mythology in all its hairy-chested, drum-beating ancestral glory.
But the most common response to the male identity crisis is simply
confusion. "Guys just don't know what to do any more,"
says Kaufman. "We're all collectively rewriting the rules,
and change doesn't come with an operating manual."
- In The Book of Guys, American novelist Garrison Keillor (Lake
Wobegon Days) offers a more cynical view. In one telling passage,
he writes: "Guys are in trouble these days. Years ago, manhood
was an opportunity for achievement, and now it is a problem to
be overcome. Plato, St. Francis, Michelangelo, Mozart, Leonardo
da Vinci, Vince Lombardi, Van Gogh--you don't find guys of that
calibre today, and if there are any, they are not painting the
ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They're trying to be Mr. O.K.
All- Rite, the man who can bake a cherry pie, go play basketball,
come home, make melon balls and whip up a great souffle, converse
easily about intimate matters, participate in recreational weeping,
laugh, hug, be vulnerable, be passionate in a skilful way. .
. . A guy who women consider Acceptable."
- In the past, North American men could look to the movies
for role models. From Humphrey Bogart to John Wayne, there was
always enough testosterone to go around. But the biggest action
figures nowadays- -Eastwood, Stallone, Schwarzenegger--feel compelled
to spoof their own macho images, while men haunted by insecurity,
doubt and regret are the new Hollywood heroes. A scan down the
list of most likely Oscar nominees for best actor reveals a legion
of sensitive men confounded by patriarchy:
- * Tom Hanks (the leading contender) is the New Man of the
year. In Sleepless in Seattle, he is romantically paralysed,
a widowed father who becomes the passive target for a woman who
tracks him with radar love. Now in Philadelphia, as a gay lawyer
dying of AIDS, he fights back after being fired by the cigar-smoking
- * Anthony Hopkins personifies the tragedy of male repression,
first as an emotionally challenged butler in The Remains of the
Day, then as writer C. S. Lewis, who weeps away his rationalism
in Shadowlands. Both men lose their fathers before really getting
to know them.
- * Liam Neeson sobs with contrition in Schindler's List. As
Oskar Schindler, the playboy industrialist who becomes a father
figure to Polish Jews during the Holocaust, Neeson enacts a primal
drama of male guilt.
- * Daniel Day-Lewis plays a paralysed suitor in The Age of
Innocence and butts heads with British patriarchy as In the Name
of the Father' s Gerry Conlon, an Irishman wrongly convicted
of IRA bombings--Conlon' s story is set against the drama of
him reconciling with his estranged father.
- * Jeff Bridges plays out a mid-life crisis as a plane-crash
survivor in Fearless. His character abdicates his duties as a
husband and a parent while tuning into his inner child--and (here
we go again) releasing buried feelings for his dead father. *
- Robin Williams covers his manhood with a skirt in Mrs. Doubtfire.
As a divorced father who masquerades as a nanny to gain access
to his kids, he becomes supermom, putting his career-driven wife
- * Kevin Costner shows his dark side in A Perfect World, as
an outlaw scarred by child abuse who takes a young boy hostage
and becomes a father to him.
- * Harrison Ford plays an action hero in The Fugitive, but
he is the ultimate man in jeopardy--running, hiding and quivering
in a constant state of anxiety and fear.
- And now, the man who wrote the biggest action movie of all
time, last year's dinosaur thriller Jurassic Park, has tapped
into a primordial fear much closer to home. There are no Velociraptors
in Michael Crichton' s new novel Disclosure, but his villain--a
sexually voracious female avenger who harasses a male colleague--is
just as tenacious. Warner Bros. paid Crichton $4 million for
the screen rights even before Crichton had written the book.
It already reads like a Hollywood movie, with a formula reminiscent
of Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, both thrillers about
emasculating women who used sex as a lethal weapon.
- But Disclosure also serves as a catalogue of male complaints
on other fronts. The main character, a computer executive named
Tom Sanders, begins the worst day of his life by being late for
work-- he has to make the children breakfast while his wife gets
dressed. Arriving at the office, he learns that an unqualified
woman has won the promotion that he had assumed was his. "Pale
males eat it again," mutters one of his co-workers. The
new boss calls Sanders into her office and tries to seduce him.
He resists, half-heartedly, then finally tears himself away--but
not before succumbing to a little oral sex. The next day, she
accuses him of sexual harassment, then he accuses her, and the
story escalates into a corporate conspiracy potboiler.
- Disclosure is the literary equivalent of the Bobbitt trial:
trashy, mesmerizing and perversely at odds with the real world.
Penis-slashings, after all, have not reached epidemic proportions
(although there have been other cases: two years ago in Brampton,
Ont., a 48-year- old woman cut off her husband's penis and was
acquitted on the grounds that she was a battered woman). In a
similar vein, less than one in 10 sexual harassment charges are
laid by men. But in Disclosure's topsy-turvy world, no man seems
- Of course, there have been instances of women harassing men.
Last spring, a Los Angeles middle manager, Sabino Gutierrez,
won $1.3 million in a sexual harassment suit against Maria Martinez,
the chief financial officer of a hot-tub manufacturer. Crichton,
meanwhile, defends his role-reversed scenario by arguing that
men and women behave much the same in positions of power. As
women rise in the ranks, he says, they are as capable of harassment
as men--a view shared by such feminists as Naomi Wolf. But despite
Crichton's claims of neutrality, what emerges from the book--and
what will get magnified in Hollywood's lens--is the image of
an abused man fighting to defend his job, his self-respect and
his family from the invasion of an oversexed, ambitious, castrating
- Like pop culture, pop sociology reinforces a siege mentality
among North American men. Since the publication of Iron John
(1990), Robert Bly's clarion call for men to gird their loins,
there has been an explosion of soul-searching books about embattled
manhood. Current titles range from Myths of Masculinity to The
End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience, both by pro-feminist
men dreaming of a kinder, gentler gender. Other books, including
Not Guilty: The Case in Defense of Men and The Myth of Male Power:
Why Men Are the Disposable Sex, present a more indignant view,
portraying men as victims of feminism run amok. Some authors
have tried to explore the anxieties and urges of men in less
judgmental terms. In Man Overboard: True Adventures with North
American Men, Canadian writer Ian Brown takes an eye-opening,
personal odyssey through deepest, darkest manhood--meeting hunters
and golfers, pornographers and plastic surgeons, stickhandlers
and skirt chasers--while facing his own terror of imminent fatherhood.
Unlike feminism, a movement based on demands for political and
economic equality, the men's movement remains largely introspective--and
incoherent. The blind rage against feminism is equally unfocused,
and can have horrifying consequences. Marc Lepine's massacre
of 14 female students at Montreal's Ecole polytechnique in 1989
was a psychotic act. But he invoked a hatred of feminists and
a paranoia of women taking men' s jobs. Last fall at Vancouver
Community College, a student pointed a finger and made machine-gun
noises during a vigil commemorating the massacre; after women
- the university ordered him to take counselling sessions.
- Across the country, universities have become battlegrounds
for gender politics. Last November, the University of New Brunswick
suspended a mathematics professor, Matin Yaqzan, who wrote in
the student paper that date rape can be a necessary outlet for
young men unable to restrain their sexual urges. And, alarmed
by the increase in sexual harassment charges on campuses, the
Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Vancouver,
published a report earlier this month warning that radical feminism
is endangering academic freedom.
- Somehow, the Bobbitt case brings the whole debate back to
basics, back to the kitchen and the bedroom--the trenches of
the gender war. In a sense, by cutting off a penis and tossing
it into a field, Lorena Bobbitt has performed a kind of modern
fertility rite. Ancient civilizations sacrificed human body parts
and buried them to make things grow and appease the gods. The
Bobbitt penis has fertilized an extraordinary public obsession.
It has become a media fetish. As TV anchors pronounced the word
"penis" over and over, the trial turned into a coming-out
ritual for the male member--and a cautionary tale for unreformed
manhood. But a fable only goes so far. In the real world, when
male identity gets lost, it cannot be found in a field and sewn
- RELATED ARTICLE: When Dr. Stubbs met Dr. Long
- He used to spend his time lifting faces, trimming noses and
enlarging breasts. But last November, Dr. Robert Stubbs, 44,
became the first certified plastic surgeon in North America to
offer men longer penises. Now, he has trouble handling the volume.
More than 400 men have shown up at his Toronto clinic for consultations,
and he has performed operations on more than 40 of them. According
to Stubbs, most men requesting the $3,210 procedure are already
of average endowment--if better-than- average income. "I
get a real kick out of dealing with the patients and asking,
Why do you want a longer penis?' " he says. "The commonest
response is, It's for me.' They want an extra couple of inches
for their own self-esteem--it's a macho thing."
- The surgeon works out of a large, luxurious clinic among
the boutiques of Toronto's fashionable Yorkville district. Sitting
in his office, he displays before and after snapshots of an erect
member. A ruler in the photographs shows that surgery has lengthened
the penis from 41/4 inches to six inches. "The most I've
got is an extra 21/4 inches, " says Stubbs, who estimates
that the average penis is about 51/2 inches when erect. In a
recent newspaper report, a Toronto urologist placed the average
at 61/2 inches. "His statement will create a flood of new
patients for me," says Stubbs, "but I don't think anyone
has good hard statistics from a large enough sample to make an
authoritative estimate." During a trip to China last October,
Stubbs learned the penile lengthening procedure from Dr. Long
Daochou, a plastic surgeon who invented it 10 years ago for a
man whose organ had been bitten off by a dog. What makes the
operation possible is the fact that about half the penis is hidden
inside the body. The two-hour procedure involves extending the
organ by cutting ligaments that attach it to the pubic bone.
Before surgery, Stubbs injects the patient with drugs that produce
an artificial erection. That makes the operation less risky,
he explains: "I can tell what is penis and what is not penis."
The erection, which lasts six hours, also provides instant results.
"When the wives come to pick the husbands up, the responses
are just priceless," says Stubbs. "We pull the cover
back and say, Do you want to see?' One wife said, Oh, I don't
know if I can handle that!' "
- Most typically, the patients are happily married and request
the surgery without pressure from their wives, says Stubbs. "It's
a power thing. Pure power. It's a man competing with another
man. It's a guy saying, I'm successful. I've bred--I've got children.
I have a wife. She doesn't fool around, she's my possession.
I own two cars. I own a business. And I want a big penis, and
no one will stop me.' "
- But the surgeon's patients do include men who feel insecure
about size. "There's a definite group out there who have
been teased," he says, "who have locker room phobia."
Then, there are those who believe an extra inch or two will cure
their ailing sex lives. "One guy came in and said, I've
been married for 25 years and my wife just revealed to me she'd
never had an orgasm,' " Stubbs recalls. "I had to tell
him that a longer penis is not going to do it. What amazes me
is the number of men who are willing to do anything to make their
wife or girlfriend happy--even if it means spending $3,210 on
lengthening their penis."
- Stubbs, who describes himself as "a dominant, aggressive,
surgical, sexual male," says that he would not have the
operation himself. "My power comes from what's in my head
and what I do with my hands," he says. "And I'm of
average length." In fact, the surgeon insists that he tries
to talk candidates out of the operation, which has some risks.
"The nerves are right there, half a millimetre away,"
he explains. "Accidents happen. That's why we've got a consent
sheet, which lists everything from death to dysfunction."
The sheet carries a warning: "Patients have only one penis
and it is therefore important that they read the sheet very carefully."
- If a healthy patient wants the operation, however, Stubbs
is glad to oblige. He is scheduled to perform it on a 76-year-old
man with a heart bypass. "If it makes some guy more powerful
and capable of facing the day," he says, "who am I
- Johnson, Brian D., The male myth. (changing social roles
for men) (includes related article) (Cover Story)., Vol. 107,
Maclean's, 01-31-1994, pp 38(5).
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