National Post

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Monday, April 12, 1999

In praise of dumber men

Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

As that wacky Freud gloomily observed, "My God, what does a woman want?"

When we were gatherers, we wanted hunters.

Then we wanted clean-cut doctors and lawyers instead of hirsute alphas in loin cloths.

Then came the '60s. We wanted equal pay for equal work, co-partners and zipless adventures.

Then we wanted Mr. Moms, male nurturers to share the burden of food-shopping and baby-diapering (alpha Alan Aldas).

And now that we have feminized society and domesticated our men, now that we have forced them to help pick Martha Stewart stencils and watch Olympic ice dancing, guess what we really want.


Yup. Brawny, rippling, rawhide hunks who don't know a Flaubert from a flambe, or King Lear from King Kong.

The Cowboy Option is the perfect coda for a year when feminists committed hara-kiri to defend their president, and when Hillary Clinton was unmasked as a counterfeit feminist after she let her man step all over her.

The impeachment scandal dissolved into a rabid demand for the cherry lip glaze Monica wore during her interview with Barbara Walters. (There's still a two-week waiting list for it.)

The backlash against feminism offers a rich menu of alternatives -- from Doris Day to Cosmo nymphet. Drew Barrymore is making a big-screen version of "Charlie's Angels." Conservative women urge a return to modesty, while women's magazines pant with seduction tricks. An April Glamour story interprets the shy, enigmatic creatures: "From His Refusal to Talk to His X-Rated Fantasies."

And now comes Sara Davidson with a new answer to Freud's query. A journalist who later became a writer and producer for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Ms. Davidson wrote Loose Change, the tale of three women navigating the revolutions of the '60s.

"The '60s changed the world; the way men and women talk, the way women look at themselves," she told The New York Times in 1977. "Everything is utterly, utterly changed."

Two decades later, everything is utterly, utterly changed again. In her new "fictionalized memoir," Cowboy: A Love Story, Ms. Davidson asks why a woman can't be more like a man, and choose a mate based on animal attraction rather than intellectual compatibility.

The 56-year-old went to do a story on a cowboy poetry and music festival back in 1993 and met Richard Goff, rawhide braider. Ten years her junior, he knew how to use his hands. She calls him Zack in her memoir.

The only impediment to joy for Ms. Davidson was that she and Goff did not share the same reference points. It's hard to believe that someone who worked on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman could find someone intellectually and culturally inadequate. But she winced a bit. He had never heard of Anne Frank, or even William Shakespeare.

He did, however, have other talents. "We were two famished souls and we were having a feeding frenzy," she writes, in one of her tamer passages.

In a Times interview last week with Alex Witchel, Ms. Davidson struggled with the trade-offs.

Sometimes she sounded confident about "fourth-wave feminism," where, she said, all the rules go out the window and women can choose "nontraditional" men.

Other times, she was defensive: "Can I have a deep relationship with someone who hasn't read Anne Frank?" She is wrestling with her elitism, hoping that literacy is not more important than lust.

I asked my girlfriends what trade-offs they would make. "Shakespeare and Fitzgerald are requirements," said Jill. "But I'd sacrifice a few lesser Henry James novels."

It's tough. What if he knows about Brutus' fatal blunders but has never heard of Coriolanus? Does he have to have experienced the Norton Shakespeare, or will the Miramax version do?

The Cowboy Option is already giving men I know the jitters. They are annoyed that just when we've trained them to be more like us, we decide to be more like them. Just when we've impressed upon them the shame of liking dumb, sexy girls, we pounce on dumb, sexy guys.

What does a woman want?

Rodeo and Juliet.

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