[Religion News Service, January 23, 1996]
It’s not every day you get to see a photo of a woman folding a man up and pushing him into a suitcase. But there she is: standing outside a compact car, shoving an amiable-looking fellow in a rugby shirt into a carrying case.
Make that a “#4858944 Zippered Nylon Carrying Tote.” Yes, this is Safe-T-Man, the inflatable bodyguard, “a life-size, simulated male that appears to be 180 lbs. and 6 ft. tall.”
It’s apparent that this product, advertised in airline in-flight catalogs, is aimed at women. Women, that is, who live alone. With his “positionable latex head and hands” Safe-T-Man can ride along beside you in your car looking jaunty, as here, in mirrored sunglasses and a leather jacket. Or he can sit at your breakfast table at home, carefully posed near the window; here he wears a jacket and tie and brainy-guy glasses, and studies the Daily News.
Doesn’t look like much companionship, but that’s not the point. Safe-T-Man is designed “to give others the impression that you have the protection of a male guardian with you.”
Now, wait a minute. Male guardian? Why does it have to be male? Why not female, or animal or vegetable, for that matter? I thought that, in the memorable feminist jibe, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” So why would a woman’s guardian have to be an inflatable man?
Oh yeah—protection. That old thing. Men are still generally bigger and stronger than women, so a woman with a man next to her just feels safer than a woman alone. Sure, she could be accompanied by another woman, or a poodle, or a really large cauliflower, but it isn’t the same. When it comes to protection, there’s no good substitute for a man.
Maybe we do need them after all.
It seems like every time we modern women nearly wrestle Nature to the ground, shouting “Biology is not destiny!”, it springs up again saying, “Oh, yes I am.” It will take some powerful rhetoric to convince our genes that men are not bigger than we are. That having them on our side isn’t actually in our interest.
Safe-T-Man brought again to mind the tendency over the last couple of decades for men to be belittled and criticized by our culture, while women are exalted—in the jargon of the movement, “valorized.” We don’t need men, the notion goes: women are perfect and men are creeps, men just complicate women’s lives, and we’re better off without them. Sitcoms and comic strips generally portray men as idiots, and women as long-suffering figures of wisdom.
Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see it. In my part of the country there are lots of men—about half the population, I guess. In fact, men live in houses on both sides of me, and even in my own home. I’ve had lots of opportunities to observe them, and they look okay to me. I feel safer with them around, not burdened or annoyed. In fact I’ve found that, if you get a real-live man and not one of the vinyl variety, he can open jars, tote the new dryer into the basement, and change your flat tire on an icy day. Mine even cooks.
But even men have accepted the idea that their gender is contemptible. I heard about Safe-T-Man from a friend: he says it indicates “the lack of solid, dependable men” in women’s lives.
But he himself is a solid, dependable man, gracing the life of his wife and their kids. In my neighborhood, in my church, everywhere I see lots of these, including single men still searching for a bride. It’s not that great men aren’t out there, though linking up with the right one can be tricky. But it doesn’t help when women deny their existence and, sour-grapes fashion, insist we don’t need them.
There’s no doubt that a market for Safe-T-Man indicates a failure for men and women to form successful long-term relationships. The state of courtship and marriage in the U.S. is indeed confused. But a good first step might be: ladies, stop pretending we don’t need guys. Give them the respect any human deserves, and they’ll live up to it. Most of them are already living up to it, even in the face of habitual scorn.
I saw a discarded lapel button, trodden in the snow, outside a card shop the other day; it read “Tell me again why I need a man.” Across the way, the card shop window was full of Valentines.
I like to think there’s a connection.
[Religion News Service, January 23, 1996]