Hopeless Romantic

The horses’ breath steamed in the cold morning air. Pulling at their reins, they stamped their hooves impatiently, anxious to be moving. A raid was planned and his cavalry unit was to perform a flanking maneuver in support of ground troops. The troops had already moved off into darkness and the riders were waiting for the engagement to begin before getting involved in the fray. As the sound of rifle and cannon shot began drifting back to the mounted unit, their captain called out the order to ride. Pounding through the early morning twilight, they were confident of the surprise of their flanking attack. The surge of counter fire hitting them told them they were wrong; their attack was anticipated. He heard the spatter of bullets as men and horses around him were hit. He may have heard the bullet coming that hit him; that fact is not recorded as he fell into that dark night.

That image, or one similar, always comes to mind whenever I remember something my graduate adviser once said to me. “John, you should have died a cavalry officer in the Civil War.” I don’t remember what prompted the remark, but I was known as the hopeless romantic in the graduate seminar where that remark was made. It was not the last time a similar remark was made within my hearing. I still remember the sting I felt when a woman once said to me, in disgust, “what a Pollyanna!”

I plead guilty to being a romantic. My attitudes towards social interactions, especially when they involve the opposite sex, are decidedly archaic; belonging to an age known only to me through books. I have, I suppose, Dickens to blame for much of my attitude. I discovered Oliver Twist at an early age and was strongly influenced by Bill Sikes’ brutal treatment and subsequent murder of Nancy. Nancy was totally dependent and quite helpless before Sikes, and I knew his treatment of her before the murder to be utterly unfair.
My sense of unfairness increased as I read more of Dickens and branched out into other 19th century literature. I had a hard time understanding why women were so put upon, and those operas I was familiar with did nothing to change that. Heroine after heroine succumbed in one way or another to the blandishments of some cad, paying for her trust with her life. It struck me as odd that men could be so unkind and that society somehow condoned this behavior as normal.

The era in which was I was raised tended to reinforce some of the stereotypes I had formed. We were trained from an early age to always defer to women, affectionately called “the weaker sex.” “Never hit a girl,” was the admonition and I felt to do so was cowardly. I still feel that way although I have run across women that I would not care to meet in a dark alley. In short, I tend to become protective, an attitude not welcomed in today’s society. Rightly so, I suppose, although I am still painfully aware of some male’s boorish behavior to women and I am still painfully aware that women have yet to reach full equality with men in world society; that women have less freedom of action than men, that rape remains a male crime.

Girls in rural northern Indiana walked a fine line when it came to behavior. They were expected to be obedient and sedate. To dress provocatively was to ?ask for it,? a statement that excused the subsequent misbehavior of any male in the vicinity. Comments about bad male behavior ranged from ?well, what did she expect? or ?he just couldn?t control himself. Any assault, verbal or physical became her fault, not his. Should a girl get pregnant out of wedlock, it routinely was her fault, either because it was believed that she had seduced the poor fellow (remember, he couldn?t help himself) or she was trash because she allowed the poor fellow to take such liberties with her in the first place. That a wedding usually ensued is beside the fact. If the unexpected marriage caused a change in career or educational plans, it was her fault, not his. Men were expected to be sexually experienced. Women were not. I never understood the logic of that and seemed to have missed the class on how one half of the population was to become experienced without the help of the half that was forbidden such behavior.

I remain surprised that a large amount of male bad behavior is still condoned, both by peer groups and by society as a whole. Their bad behavior is reinforced through sitcom after sitcom. Men have been reduced to something ?other? and no one seems to care. Certainly, there are no men’s action groups to protest the negative stereotyping of men, no one to step forward to provide a positive role model to the next generation. We are expected to be sports loving boobs, loveable boobs perhaps, but boobs nonetheless, whose lives are characterized by one misstep after another. We have been marginalized.

Some men, I think, take advantage of this turn of events to cover up their own bad manners. Most deplorably, they treat sex like some sort of athletic event, somehow believing that quantity, the big score so to speak, is better that quality. They settle for the appetizer when, with a little thought and consideration, they could have a banquet. But they are not entirely to blame. Some women condone their behavior, seeking ends that I don?t fully understand.

My horse champs at his bit and stamps on the ground just outside my door. Time, I guess, to tilt some windmills.