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Success Story: From Frog to Prince : Males Learn Early That Achievement Equals Sex Appeal

Many women say they want their men to be sensitive, but their attitudes toward their husbands, lovers and sons tell a different story, writes Warren Farrell in his book "Why Men Are the Way They Are." In Part One of a three-part excerpt, Farrell, who teaches at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, examines why men are preoccupied with success. NEXT: Why Can't Men Listen?

November 30, 1986|WARREN FARRELL

"Encore! Encore!" Sixteen thousand people stomping their feet, flood the aisles. Entranced. Enamored. The man focuses the microphone before his powerful lungs. But there is no song. "Here I am, Kathy. The pimple-faced boy who sat behind you in seventh grade . . . . Here I am. Neil--who wasn't good enough to kiss you after class . . . the class frog . . . . Well, your frog has turned into a Prince, Kathy. Kathy, wherever you are--they're eating out of my hands, Kathy . . . eat your heart out now, Kathy . . . eat your heart out . . . wherever you are. . . . " ;

--Neil Diamond in concert, Phoenix, 1976.

Like millions of men, Neil Diamond has learned to perform. Most men spend their lives performing--in sports, at sex, on the job--"proving ourselves" in one form or another. Most women sense how often this masks a deep insecurity. Why is male insecurity so great that men will perform to the point of killing--for money, for status, for "power"?

Why do even men working for a "good cause" become furious if the cause is achieved and they are not the ones credited with the achievement? Why do they become attached to supposedly ideological differences as if their personal identities were at stake--turning both Marxism and religion into holy wars?

Billions of dollars' worth of advertising is flashed into the prepubescent boy's unconscious, before his "age of consent," subliminally building his desire for the 14-to-29-year-old model-type woman--literally advertising her. This creates in his young mind the seeds of a fantasy stronger and more powerful than any other. A primary fantasy.

We employ every means of technological sophistication to plant this in his unconscious. So that by the time he is 14, any girl in his class who looks anything like her feels to him like a movie star, a genetic celebrity next to whom he, a 14-year-old, pimple-faced, bumbling adolescent, feels as nervous as a groupie.

The Teen Feels Unequal

The 14-year-old boy notices something about the genetic celebrities in his ninth-grade class: They are going out with the 11th-grade boys. He does not feel equal to the most attractive girls in his class. He feels unequal to his peers. Unless he stands out as a performer.

The genetic celebrities might be willing to go out with him if he earns his way to their attention by performing as a football player or class president. He feels desperate. Why?

The girls he has been socialized to desire have beauty power before he has performance power. This socialization is so powerful that the genetic celebrities in his class can influence boys like a drug. He becomes addicted to an image; anything less feels like an inferior fix.

How does the male adolescent avoid being a genetic groupie? By success on the playing field. A few years later, when he is successful at work, he can afford ski trips and theater tickets, dinners, drinks and rental cars. A few drinks after dinner and a day of skiing tend to reduce his risk of rejection.

Success increases the likelihood that an attractive woman will be interested in him. It seems like a panacea.

Success Becomes a Panacea

In each way that success is a panacea (it pays for the dinners and makes him more "interesting"), it is also a defense against female rejection. And a compensation for his feelings of powerlessness ("Why can't she want me without my paying?").

And if a man gets too much female rejection despite his success (or is not interested in women to begin with), success serves as the perfect alternative. He can fall in love with success. It has its own rewards, but inherently and externally.

And it can be a cover-up. If a man is successful enough, few people question him about anything--from women to gayness.

Marc, a member of one of the men's groups I conduct, married Marge, who wasn't his fantasy woman, but she loved him. Some men like Marc team up with women like Marge in the hope that they'll "make it"--only to face a male mid-life crisis if they do make it and a male mid-life crisis if they don't.

The more he makes it, the more attractive he becomes to another woman, the more he is tempted away from Marge.

During the mid-life crisis, even happily married men often feel that now that they've made it to the point where they're successful enough to attract the woman in the ads, they're married to a woman who doesn't fit the image.

Frogs as Class Princes

Few marriages are strong enough or long enough to withstand the Kathys who once rejected the Neil Diamonds when they were the class frog, but now that the men are class princes, are eyeing them.

The more Marc is tempted away from Marge, the more he feels guilty about betraying the woman who supported him, so he would become, ironically, more attractive to "other women."

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