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WHAT DO I NEED MEN FOR?
by Paula Hendricks

Not much. Is my first thought. And what I want from men, I'm not getting. Trust. Intimacy. Touching. Or at least not in the quantity I want.

Jean Harris wanted more than she was getting, and in my opinion wasn't asking for a lot. What did she want, besides trust? Respect, honor? She had the temerity to shoot her man, her lover, when she didn't get what she thought she deserved. I don't agree with her actions, but I understand her sentiment. And she's been in jail a very long time.

Women don't need men for the old, obvious reasons. The species can now survive without them. At least for a while. If I want a baby, a child, I can go to a sperm bank. I can choose the gene pool. I don't need to make love to make babies. The father doesn't have to be a good lover. He doesn't even have to be alive. Here's an interesting thought -- women could have babies, be mothers, and still be virgins. Break the hymen during childbirth.

We don't need men for economic independence, either. Middle class women, like myself, are living alone all over this country, without help from men (husbands, lovers, fathers) or the government. There are an increasing number of middle class families without men as "heads of household". And poor families who do need help aren't getting it from men. Most of the single parent families in this country are headed by women, and most of them are poor. They may not be doing well, but they are doing, even under the most distressing conditions, particularly the urban poor. And these women are doing better, without help from "their" men, who are not doing well at all, who are out gambling, drinking, doing drugs and generally making life harder on everyone around them.

I always knew I'd work. All four of my grandparents had college educations. My mom worked. So I worked. I've worked in paper companies, gambling casinos, advertising companies. I've earned money taking photographs, writing, and managing an orchard property.

I always thought I'd be married and have kids. That part hasn't happened. A different story. Well, maybe not.

Now, I've quit corporate life, something more and more people are doing. And it's been almost three years since I had a corporate job. I've managed my finances. Not well, but I've done it. Without much help from men. I'm not very good at it and I don't like working with numbers any more. But, I'm doing ok. I'm finding my way.

But now I wonder what I need men for? To protect me from nature? To find a cave, to beat off wild animals? The only wild animals I've run into recently are men. To kill mammoths for clothes and food and fat? Not now. It's the 20th Century. I rent a place to live and I buy stuff I need in markets, and I don't run in urban parks at night.

Well. What about protecting me from my landlord, the IRS, traffic accidents? My rent just went up. Hmm. Protection, the landlord is a man. And I have experience already with the IRS, and I'm a good driver. I guess I can handle them; I have so far.

Ok. But women are weaker, right? What about war? And fires? And police protection? And other dangers where physical (read "upper body") strength is advantageous? Wars can be fought on computer. Or from moving planes, which women can fly. The world can end with the push of a button. And I live in an adobe house that won't catch fire easily. Police protection. Didn't I read somewhere that most cops never draw their gun, and rarely wrestle a suspect to the ground? Isn't there a lot of paperwork and detective work in policework? Can women drive cars, ask questions, fill out forms, actually get more and better information from suspect witnesses?

Ok, so let's get down to it. Sex. And love. Not to mention natural drives and fun. Ah. Natural drives. And fun. And love. It's not as much fun as it used to be -- or as I think it used to be -- or as I always hoped it would be. There's more risk. And less trust. I really hate to say this, it sounds like cynical advice from the dark ages (egads, I sound like my mother!) -- but men lie to sleep with you. They lie for sex. Not much love there. And in this day of risking serious illness and death, these lies are obscene. Ok, so I can use my good judgement, I can be careful, I can be monogamous. Two quick stories, both true.

A friend, a woman married 8 years with a daughter of 6. She and her husband decide to separate (hardly unusual behaviour). He gets a blood test. He's HIV positive. He never told his wife of his high risk behaviour before they were married, and he never took steps to protect her. Ever. A loving monogamous relationship, while it lasted. For her, she's lucky, she's tested negative.

A friend of a friend. A nice young woman, from a good family, not promiscuous, meets a nice man with a steady job and good character references. They see each other and eventually sleep together. Once. She now has AIDS, full-blown. She's 25. He's dead.

And I'm afraid it's not the gay men or the shooters who are a threat to me. It's the straight guys. The bi-sexual ones. The ones who have experimented. The ones in denial. The ones who have convinced themselves they're clean, straight. The moral issue is not the experimentation, the bi-sexuality. It's the denial, the risking of another's life. So, what do I need men for?

When I started this piece I thought the answer was -- "nothing". I need men for nothing. Not for money, not for sperm, not for babies, not for sexual release. But I do want men, a man. The question is not one of need anymore, but of want. I want a man, to trust, to touch, to balance my life, as I will balance his. To lie down next to. To love me, and me him. Intimacy.

The yin and the yang -- to complement my strength, my weakness. To not fix me. To bridge the chasms between us. To want what I have to offer. To prove all is not lost. To trust and share. This chasm. We're different. Men and women. Me and my mate. Our differences are real, they exist. In each of us the balance of anima and animus is unique and shifts all the time. I don't want to live alone. I want the closeness, the touching, the challenge, the friction, of another person who will influence me. Help straighten me out when I get all tangled in circles; help me circle back when I charge out too straight, too fast, too direct. To dance with me. All of me. Who can move backwards when I move forward, who knows how to swing.

It's a tough time for men. They're being asked to change, I'm asking them to change, and there are no role models, no guide posts. But the strong, aware, confident women will withdraw, not participate if they don't change. A time of fear and challenge. And I only need one. One good man. Never in the history of the world have women, on a mass scale, been less dependent on men to exist, to live, and live well. This is the true revolution. Men may have to change, to become more charming, tolerant, supportive, accomodating, and respectful of and toward women. I don't mean become soft, become feminine, become less strong, less male. We must learn to trust each other and ourselves. But, they're afraid (I would be too) -- very afraid. This may not be a voluntary choice. It hasn't always been for women either, but many of us are doing just fine, thank you.

So, why is Jean Harris still in jail? Is she really a threat to society at large? Was she ever? I think, as a symbol, she's as much a threat in jail as out of jail. But her actions are not the answer. Balance, trust and touching are the answer. At least for me. That's what I want. Not what I need, but what I want. Balance. Trust. And touching.



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