My son got Fifty Shades of Grey for my wife as a joke. She didn’t open it, but I thumbed through it and was surprised that the first page I chose at random had a most graphic encounter between the heroine and her millionaire sexual overlord. As I understand it, this should not have surprised me in the least.
My mother was visiting last week and we found ourselves chatting about this very book, and arrived at much the same conclusion that my friend Laura Munson did in a recent article on the Huffington Post: women secretly long to be taken care of by a man. Or, more to the point, women secretly believe that being taken care of by a man in the chivalrous tradition would be wonderful.
This fact began to dawn on me in my late teens and early twenties when I was dating in earnest, and I was none too pleased by it. I had spent my childhood bombarded by the public fury of the women’s movement, and feeling vaguely guilty simply because I would be a grown man some day. Oh, the arguments I had in my head with those old school feminists. Oh, how glad I am now that I left those arguments in my head.
For the record, I am also glad for the women’s movement because I am lousy at chivalry. I like women as I like any friend, and chivalry seems to turn them into sexual children for which I am responsible. I am not interested in this particular responsibility, but there is one responsibility to which I remain committed: listening. I don’t know where listening lands on chivalry’s to-do list, but it ought to be on the top.
The older I get and the better I become at listening the more I understand that I would like to be better at it still. Listening is humanity’s starting point. I love words, and I love to use them, but talking without listening is a form of insanity. It is no surprise that a number of the women I have interviewed say that writing has taught them they have a voice. These women did not hear that voice in the words they chose for the page. They heard this voice by listening to that which speaks to us when we write. No prince’s arms will ever hold you as gently and kindly as that voice, which guides us forever toward the safety that is life.
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