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confessions of a girly man
by cecil bothwell

I’m afraid Ah-nold pegged me in his speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention. I’m one of those girly men.

For beginners, I’ve never bought a baseball team with someone else’s money and sold it for a huge profit after taxpayers built a new stadium or joined the National Guard and gone AWOL to snort cocaine. I’ve never owned a ranch or even a single, solitary head of cattle, and never pretended to pilot a plane to a landing on an aircraft carrier for a photo-op. I’ve neglected to condone executions of mentally disabled youngsters, engage in illegal wars or order imprisonment and torture of innocent civilians. I don’t even vote for people who do those things. It’s pretty obvious I’m a wuss.

Like Ah-nold I have spent a little time in a gym (very little, but some). Unlike Ah-nold, that time has been more directed at body-slimming than bodybuilding. In my youth I would definitely have been the guy in whose face awesome Ah-nold kicked sand. I bet he wasn’t one lick afraid of steroids, no sir. I’m a girly man, for sure.

I suspect it all started because Mom let me play with dolls. Not just the teddy bears, kewpies and Raggedy sort, either. Barbie and Vickie were part of my grade school years. It’s pretty hard to imagine what Mom thought she was doing when she taught me to use a sewing machine so I could make doll outfits out of her scraps. And, as if sewing wasn’t bad enough, she taught me to crochet and knit too. Hadn’t she read A Tale of Two Cities? All of Dad’s best efforts to turn me into a Goldwater Republican were undone when those knitting needles were placed in my little hands. A girly man was born.

To be completely honest, the sweaters I crocheted for Barbie never really fit right and it was many years before Christine Kane taught me that it wasn’t my fault when she sang “There’s no such thing as girls like that.” I’m certain I could have done better clothing a normal female figure. As it was, doll scarves and hats were more my forte.

A few years further on, I made myself some paisley shirts and a couple of pairs of bell-bottom pants, and I wore a bandana and a gas mask as we marched against the Vietnam War in D.C. Could the connection be more clear? Is it any mystery that when I then met the young woman who would end up in front of a preacher with me a few years hence, I sewed her a granny-dress? Radical clothing, radical thoughts. Me and Singer, comrades in the revolution. Soft on the skin, soft on communism.

Oh, that too. While I’m blaming my parents I don’t want to leave out the guitar. You give your young Lafarge a guitar while the country is invading some impoverished little third world country and you automatically include protest songs in the mix. (Are we ever not invading some impoverished little third world country?) In about a week, little boy red, white and blue is doomed to a socialist future. The rock band I started lived in three adjacent houses in the woods. We shared food, beer, Star Trek, etc. and etc., and a couple of people worked—from each
according to his ability, right? Some people were actually able to hold down paying jobs between gigs— good on them—and the rest of us were happy to share in that bounty and plant vegetable and fiber seeds from foreign lands.

Which brings me to my next feminine flaw. This girly man was one of the cooks. Worse yet, I was a vegetarian. How girly can a guy get? Mom again. She taught me to eat my vegetables and to cook. Okay, there’s enough blame to go around here. Dad cooked too. Perhaps there’s a bit of girl in every guy, no matter how neolithic his politics. Each weekend he would round up all the weekly leftovers and concoct Saturday Soup. To his credit, he always started with Campbell’s Scotch Broth as a base, vainly attempting to inculcate Highland nationalism in me and my brother. Clan stew. But, a melting pot of vegetables nonetheless, and globalism beat out clannishness in the resulting melange.

So, there is the young hippy musician, wearing self-sewn clothes, barefoot and in the kitchen while Ah-nold was pumping iron. Ah-nold admiring himself in the mirror while the girly man hauls truck loads of chicken manure to the communal garden. Mom again. She taught me about growing plants from seeds. We started beans in Dixie cups beside the kitchen sink, and grew avocados and sweet potatoes in glasses of water. She let me plant popcorn in the sandbox whence I harvested my first tiny ears some months later. Forty-five years on I’m still starting seeds on thekitchen counter. I bet Ah-nold never grew anything from a seed— corn or beans or okra or marigolds or nasturtiums or pot. It’s girly men like me who wend that wicked way.

The result was predictable enough. You pile up enough bad influences in a boy’s life and he ends up a feminist. Not a flawless feminist, to be sure, since the culture will exert its sway. A white, American male enjoys such thoroughgoing economic advantages over pretty much everyone else on the planet, that being girly is insufficient to engender full awareness of the bias that every woman feels every day from birth.

Still and all, Ah-nold was right. If you want your boy to grow up with solid all-American values like rewarding the rich and extorting from the poor, stealing resources from other lands, torturing innocents, forcing peasants off the land to work in sweatshops and building “useable” nuclear weapons—lay off the dolls. We girly men are softies and sticking it to the rest of the world is hard, hard work.

Cecil Bothwell is Senior Staff Writer for Asheville’s Mountain Xpress. Founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone. and co-author with Betsy Ball of the local guidebook, Finding your way in Asheville, he is currently writing a critical biography of Billy Graham, titled The Prince of War.

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