Hey, Quit Kicking Sand in my Face! One Man’s Response to a Woman’s Op-Ed.

October 29, 2022

Hey, Quit Kicking Sand in my Face! One Man’s Response to a Woman’s Op-Ed.

May 29, 2023

Chip wrote a Wisdom Well post a few weeks ago about Ruth Marcus’ Washington Post op-ed on ageism and sexism. I understand his compassionate thinking but I wanted to offer an alternative point of view. In so doing, I shall turn to that most trusted of sources – Bazooka bubblegum.

Many Americans about my age (I was born in 1956) remember the gum – artificially pink, individually wrapped, and normally hard as a rock. It required a good deal of aggressive chewing before one could attempt blowing a bubble.

In the meanwhile, we kids would read the thumb-sized paper inserts tucked in with each piece of gum. These inserts normally included a cheesy Bazooka Joe comic on one side and even cheesier advertisements on the other. One of those ads, targeting boys and only boys, was for a bodybuilding program. I remember it well, because I chewed a lot of bubblegum as a kid.

Many of you may not have noticed this particular ad, so let me set the scene. A young woman and scrawny young man are trying to enjoy some time together on the beach. A nearby beefy brute is being careless. The scrawny man cries out with the infamous objection: “Hey! Quit kicking that sand in our faces.” One can imagine the brute’s response: “Oh yeah? Waddya gonna do about it, punk?” The message to me as a young boy was clear. If you don’t want to be bullied, and if you do want to win a girl’s affections, then you must be physically strong.

These ads were part of systemic programming about what it meant for my generation to be male. While girls were told they were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice,” we boys were told our ingredients were bugs and severed animal parts.

Or superheroes, like Superman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk were, in their human forms (Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, respectively) nerdy wimps forever having sand kicked in their faces. While plenty has been said about television portraying women as simpering, empty-headed people pleasers, barely a peep is heard about shows like the Flintstones, Gilligan’s Island, and the Dick Van Dyke show, which confronted boys with the logical outcome of remaining weak – we would be lost, confused, befuddled Elmer Fudd buffoons deprived of female admiration.

Worse than that, we would bumble through life like Mister Magoo, perennial comic foils needing constant rescue from our smarter, more sophisticated, and more reasonable female companions like Betty and Wilma. Watch any TV commercial from those days and you’ll see that male/female dynamic played out again and again, over and over. Man: stupid. Woman: smart.

The alternative? Be strong. Set your face like flint. Man up. Don’t let ‘em see you sweat. Big boys don’t cry. Put on your big-boy pants. Follow the example of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and G.I. Joe, men who faced down fear and charged headlong into danger. In other words, become perfect cannon fodder for the Vietnam war and the country that needs you.

Men who survived into adulthood learned to stifle their insecurities and fear of being discovered as a male imposter. They became economic animals, largely friendless, mostly without the social networks women cultivate so successfully. They labored for decades until discarded as a worthless part by the soulless engines of commerce. They retired or were retired. They did everything they were supposed to do except live their own lives.

Finally, men die on average six years before women, which if the genders were reversed, would be a health crisis of the highest order, with pink ribbon parades and billion dollar, Federally-funded research programs. But as it is, no one says anything.

This was the male messaging I got as a boy growing up in the 50s and 60s, with a bitter dash of “men are pigs“ thrown in during the feminist movement of the 70s for good measure.

Then, in the 1990s, things changed. There was a revolution. The Hollywood handsome, shirtless man exalted by Abercrombie & Fitch, his body perfectly chiseled, with washboard abs and a package the size of a sweet potato bulging in his tight jeans, became the object of nerd scorn, for the weak had found something that would make them even more powerful than barbells. They found computers.

Young males, mostly white and well-educated, mostly the kind that got sand kicked in their faces as spindly geeks, crawled out from their shuttered rooms and video games to occupy the cubicles of Silicon Valley tech companies. Today you will find them there, hunched over the machines from which they draw their superpowers. They make six- figure incomes deciding how much you’ll pay for car insurance, what news you see, and how you access your bank account. The power they possess is unimaginable. They have become superheroes, and they will have their revenge on the Biff who bullied them in high school.

As far as I know, Ms. Marcus was never a man, so what kind of crap we men had to put up with may be impossible for her to fully comprehend, and quite possibly totally invisible to her. Likewise, as a man, I cannot fully understand her gender-specific complaints of ageism and sexism. We have not walked in each other’s shoes. But this much I know: male or female, no one likes having sand kicked in their faces.

Perhaps if Ms. Marcus had been a boy my age, then she would’ve recognized that Mr. Scarry was baiting her, a common male trick boys encounter a million times a day on a million playgrounds across America. A truly good man, not Clark Kent’s victimized spineless wimp nor the revenge- seeking, knuckle- dragging “Incredible” Hulk, but a truly superior man, learns not to fall for it.

Gum, anyone?

Brant Huddleston, born in 1956, is the author of three books, scads of short stories and other mad musings, and the host of a podcast on how death taught him to thrive in the second half of life. A former rock ‘n roll guitarist, classic car restoration mechanic, tropical fish tank cleaner, and sales professional with IBM, he now lives with a pirate lady on Türkiye’s turquoise coast. You can find him at www.dancepastsunset.com

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