Real Men Don’t Get Intimidated-Or Why Maureen Dowd Was Wrong

Along with everyone else in the free world, I read Maureen Dowd’s April 10 New York Times Op-Ed column entitled “The Baby Bust,” wherein, among other things, she-Accused men of being too intimidated to date accomplished women.-Blamed men for the large number of successful single women who are childless.

-Suggested that, in general, we’d all be a lot better off if we emulated the mating patterns of bonobos, pygmy chimpanzees who inhabit the equatorial rain forests of the Congo who live in a society where the female dominates the species.

Speaking as the loyal opposition here-in an effort to achieve fair play and equal time-allow me to offer a response from the other side of the chromosome.

But first, a short mea culpa -a peace offering, if you will. Ms. Dowd is right: Whatever is wrong in the world is solely the fault of men. I admit it. Death, plagues, famine, squalor, disease, Enron, S.U.V.’s and the price of Manolo Blahniks at Bergdorf Goodman-all our fault. Telemarketers? Our idea. Nuclear waste? We invented it-along with war, poverty, global warming, organized sports, cell phones, nuclear bombs, Fear Factor , the remote control and alternate-side-of-the-street parking. I’ll fess up: We did it. All of it. From gridlock to offshore-drilling rigs, to hiring female editors for women’s magazines that promote unhealthy body images-it’s entirely our fault.

And for this, I apologize. I am genuinely sorry.

But at the same time, I simply don’t accept the idea that all men are intimidated and terrified by ambitious, witty, smart, accomplished and attractive women-such as Maureen Dowd herself.

In fact, I think she may have completely misinterpreted the encounter she used to illustrate this premise at the beginning of her column-where “a successful New York guy” took her aside at the opening of The Sweet Smell of Success and “said he wanted to ask me out on a date when he was between marriages, but nixed the idea because my job made me too intimidating.”

My interpretation? The guy was hitting on her. And the tantrum that followed-him telling her, “You’ll never find a mate”-was most likely provoked by her cutting this lout off at the knees rather than rushing out to find a hotel room.

Whatever the truth was here, Maureen Dowd is not alone in thinking that men are intimidated by successful women. And she’s backed up, in part, by a new book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children , in which the author, economist Sylvia Anne Hewlett, reaches this conclusion based on surveys that found a majority of professional career women to be childless.

Sorry, but-in guy-speak-I just ain’t buying it. As men, we’ll cop to Global Crossing. We’ll take the hit for Vlad the Impaler. But we’re not taking the fall for this. I strongly disagree-and not just because virtually every successful man I know in New York City not only dated professional women and found them sexy and interesting, but also went on to marry one.

But let’s defend this from the male point of view.

For starters, let’s consider the positive effects of the women’s movement. It’s been going on for how long now? Thirty years? That means there are at least two generations of men out there who were not only raised by working women, but were taught, preached at and lectured to that women are every bit their equals-all while being barraged by positive images of strong women in the media. Sure, some “didn’t get it.” And for this, I apologize. (And I promise I’ll speak to them sternly next time I run into one at the gun club.) In my case, my mother was an inner-city Newark, N.J., grammar-school teacher-a tough, smart, dedicated cookie who pursued one of the few career opportunities available to college-educated women in the 1950′s. Some years she earned more than my textile-salesman father; some not. But I’m hardly unique in this experience.

Terrorized by strong women? I think not. We grew up with them.

Next, there’s modern corporate sociology. In the 1950′s, maybe Mr. Middle Manager brought the boss home to “meet the little woman,” hoping Mr. Big would be impressed by her domestic management skills: homemaking, cooking, child-rearing. In the 1960′s or 70′s, maybe Mr. Junior M.B.A. could get away with showing up at a corporate function with a bimbo. But today? Not a chance. Especially if he has any hopes of climbing the corporate or social ladder. Today, an accomplished, successful partner is a badge of honor. A point of pride. A practical necessity. It speaks to how secure and enlightened the man is. And these days, an ambitious man could no more get away with marrying a manicurist than Maureen Dowd could pull off marrying a steamfitter.

More to the point-and it’s not that I mean to be obstreperous here -where does one even find unaccomplished women today?

Are we to believe that of all the female lawyers in Manhattan -not to mention all the women doctors, all the news anchors, stock analysts, television producers, writers, editors, advertising-agency moguls and fashion designers-none of them are married? None of them earn more than their husbands? And all us Neanderthal guys, after a hard day exploiting Third World factory workers-what, we’re out there dating waitresses from Hooters?

Obviously, the definitions of accomplishment, power and success are relative. But what about some tough-as-nails brokerage-house office manager-Roseanne from Queens, who counts paper clips and terrorizes Masters of the Universe over their expense accounts-who is not only married, but earns more than her firefighter husband? Do we really think he’s intimidated by her job or ambition? My bet is he loves her, is proud of her and recognizes that a second income is an economic necessity today.

What I’m dancing around here are issues of class and status. Apparently, they’re not addressed directly in Sylvia Anne Hewlett’s book. (I haven’t finished it yet.) I don’t dispute that a large number of successful women are single and childless. But I’d like to know: How many of them dated inappropriate men-bad boys or rebounders? How many times did they dismiss some suitor thinking they could do better? How many times was career a convenient excuse? Sorry, but when a guy says, “I can’t make a commitment now-I’ve got to concentrate on my career,” it only means “I won’t commit to you.” The problem, of course, is that when a guy uses this exit line too many times, it tends to become a self-fulfilling lie: His career is all he’s got left. Is it the same for women?

(And as long as I’m castigating my own gender, nobody I know has time-or sympathy-anymore for a 45-year-old bachelor who moans, “There’s nobody out there.” There are simply too many smart, attractive, accomplished women standing in the subway station at Broadway and 72nd Street every morning. The guy deserves a good smack. And you have my permission to give it to him.)

If there is a problem here, I suspect it’s that there’s a larger, darker, unspoken force in play. And naturally, there’s a Hollywood vulgarism to describe it: Women fuck up. Men fuck anything.

In my own experience-which I am loath to go into in great detail-I can be faulted for a lot of things during my dating years. (Not to mention all the stuff I’m responsible for as a man, from the Spanish Inquisition to self-service gas pumps.) And there are a handful of women I’d like to seriously apologize to. But at the same time, I can’t recount the number of times I didn’t make the cut with a woman who was looking for a brighter star.

My favorite experience here concerns a woman known for her wit and power mating. One snowy New Year’s Eve, I found myself sitting across from her in a nightclub. And at 3 in the morning-_fueled by who-knows-what substances -I turned to her best friend and said, “You know … Denise really is kind of cute.” (O.K., in broad daylight, it’s a lame line-I admit it.) Upon hearing this, however, the best friend-a woman who had introduced the two of us-seemed to become instantly sober and stern. “Don’t even think about it,” she said. I thought she was kidding. “Why not?” I smiled. The answer was swift and demeaning: “Because you’re nobody.”

Call it Social Darwinism. Or elitism. Or power dating. But it exists. Everyone has rules of eligibility. (And please, I’m not feeling sorry for myself here. If I wanted to do that, I’d join the Sierra Club.)

In truth, I have no idea whether it would’ve worked out with this woman or not. But her friend was right-she didn’t give me a chance. Ultimately, I decided, it was her problem, and her loss, not mine. She’s still single.

In the end, I don’t disagree with many of the points made by both Maureen Dowd and Sylvia Anne Hewlett. Women have different biological imperatives. Too many corporations still quietly penalize women for motherhood. The sacrifices that professional women who have children are forced to make are awful and heart-wrenching. The concept of “having it all” might have been as trustworthy as a stock-market recommendation from an analyst at Merrill Lynch. And yes, men can have babies at 71, while women can’t. (Although I’ve got to be honest here: As a father, I find this creepy, narcissistic, selfish and unfair to the legacy offspring they sire.)

At the same time, however, it does sort of rankle that, in terms of delayed and ultimately impossible motherhood, women are portrayed by Ms. Dowd as victims of male domination and not as complicit in the deal. I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but the biological clock has been ticking-loudly-in the media for almost 20 years. Is this really news to anyone? Talk about clichés: Didn’t Roy Lichtenstein paint his famous Pop-art canvas-the one with the comic-book blonde crying out, “I can’t believe I forgot to have children”-in 1971?

Call me cynical-or perhaps a cynical romantic-but I believe that for every one of us, male or female, there are a variety of different people we could marry. Some might be richer, some might be less successful, some might be better-or worse-in bed.

I always thought that tough, smart, accomplished women were sexy. So I married one, who was more successful and earning more money than I was when we started dating.

As the ultimate cynical romantic, the late Billy Wilder, put in the mouth of Joe E. Brown at the end of Some Like It Hot : “Nobody’s perfect.”

But in New York, men really do find successful women hot.