by Patrick McGann
Director of Strategy and Planning
In Part 2, I'm stuck in my own public / private dichotomy after writing “Women and the Dichotomy of Literacy: Public / Private Discourse” in graduate school. At the end of that paper, I recognize that by “establishing male standards as the norm, all other possible standards are devalued, or—as in the case with women's writing at various times in history—denied existence” and argue that a way out of this toxic split is pluralism. Public and private discourses would be treated as equal.
So, that’s what I aspired to do in 1989 after reading Carrol Smith-Rosenberg’s Disorderly Conduct. I was especially struck by the chapter, “The Female World of Love and Ritual.” Smith-Rosenberg, after studying the letters and diaries written in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by women and men in 35 families, concludes that during this time sensual and emotional intensity between middle class literate women was, rather than deviant, a cultural norm accepted by both men and women. Language generally considered normal for romantic heterosexual relationships was common in letters between women. Consider Molly and Helena, two women who became close friends over a period of years. Molly writes to Helena, thanking her for a gift: “Imagine yourself kissed a dozen times my darling. Perhaps it is well for you that we are far apart. You might find my thanks so expressed rather overpowering.”
I set out to use Molly as my role model.
By the late ‘eighties Abby had been complaining for a while that I never seemed to need her, that when we hugged, it didn’t feel like I was there with her. In other words, I was emotionally distant and resistant to intimacy.
I knew I couldn’t academically write my way out of this relationship issue with Abby, but I thought I might be able to make some headway through letters. Abby and I spent the summer of 1990 apart; she was teaching summer classes at Texas Tech University, while I stayed back in Illinois, teaching a summer course at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I wrote four letters while she was still in Chicago, sealed them in envelopes, dated when she was supposed to open each one, and gave them to her before she boarded her plane for Texas, knowing that it would take three or four days for the Post Office to deliver the first letter I wrote after she left. Using Molly as my inspiration, I wrote in the first letter:
“I suppose I’ll really be missing you now—especially at night. I always like it when you roll over against me. It’s a nice way to slip into the dream world, which isn’t always so warm and comforting. When I think about when we were first together and how I couldn’t sleep with you pressed against me, I’m amazed, because now it’s hard for me to sleep with you not close to me. I’m glad that’s something that’s changed, and I’m sure you are too.
I don’t know when the poetry group is going to meet that you’re going to attend in San Antonio. That should be fun; you seem to get more of a kick now that you used to out of reading your poems to people. Have I ever told you how much I like your poetry? If you put out a book of your poems, I would be the first one standing in line waiting to purchase it.”
The more I continued writing letters while she was away, the harder it got. A week-and-a-half into the process, I commented in one letter how writing to her daily was starting to seem “sort of neurotic to me at times.”
Feminism, Abby, and Molly had helped me take some initial steps toward being a different kind of man, but I couldn’t sustain it. I needed additional support. That would come from other men and masculinity studies.
To be continued…
Patrick McGann, Ph.D. has been involved with Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) since the organization’s inception in 1997. As Director of Strategy and Planning, Patrick co-authored a sexual assault prevention strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008 and oversaw the development of the HURTS ONE. AFFECTS ALL. public education campaign for DoD in 2010. He regularly gives presentations across the country on engaging men in the prevention of gender-based violence.
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