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GUEST BITES TOWN

THE GENDER TAX : Coughing Up a Hundred Bucks a Year Is a Small Price to Pay for Being a Man

June 28, 1992|Patt Morrison | Patt Morrison is a Times staff writer.

From the "Damn, why didn't I think of that?" file comes a user tax on men.

I've toyed with a notion like that. If I ever run for public office, I've always said, it'd be on a platform to lower testosterone levels by 50% nationwide and I'd offer tax breaks for it.

But a Stanford-trained psychologist named June Stephenson is way ahead of the rest of us with this "Men Are Not Cost-Effective" book of hers. Just the facts from this ma'am: Men fill up prisons. They drive oil tankers onto rocks in pristine wilderness areas and bend utility trucks around streetlights. They skip out on their kiddies. They loot S&Ls in Brooks Brothers suits and gun stores in T-shirts.

Crime is male, and there's no point getting peeved at her for saying so. "If I'm a male-basher," she says, "so is the FBI and the Department of Justice." Men are where the big bucks go. So, as it is with car insurance, Stephenson believes that "men must pay for being men."

Her price: a hundred bucks a head, per annum.

An outcry? Damn right there's an outcry. Because it's not high enough. Any man worth his Y chromosome would be insulted at the notion that his manhood is valued at a paltry $100. Ask the guy you're reading this aloud to right now.

See what I mean?

Almost every woman who has wed or cohabited knows that most men are not pleased--much less triumphant, as she is--at finding, say, an $85 pair of shoes on sale for $23. That kind of high will last a woman for days. Even double coupons are good for a little war dance at the checkout line.

Men are merely suspicious of bargains. "What's wrong with it?" they wonder aloud. For, reared like little Sun Kings for whom clean underwear magically appears and food is conjured up like manna, they know they are the best, they deserve the best--and the best is never on sale.

Stephenson got this poll tax idea--in the Middle English sense, poll meaning head-- because men are so expensive when they're bad.

Ah, but they can also be expensive when they're good. Cops cost as much as robbers; the Gulf War price tag would pay for about 60 L.A. riots.

So why should maleness come cheap?

In his enlightening and unsettling book "Two Nations," political science professor Andrew Hacker of Queens College in New York sets out a parable. He asks what price his white students would demand if someone came to them, said there had been a mixup, that they were supposed to be black and would have to be black for the rest of their lives. How much would it take to compensate them for this error?

The students think about it, then they answer. A million bucks a year, to make up for being black.

Now, try to put a price on being a guy. Or rather, on not being a guy.

Surely a man who is told he must be a woman for the rest of his life would insist on a hefty settlement. A million bucks a year is barely adequate recompense for having to remember to sit with your legs together, shave your armpits and use your birth control without fail because you're not sure your partner has and you're the one who can get pregnant . . . to be sure to get the concert tickets/dry cleaning/Christmas cards or you'll never hear the end of it . . . to give up dessert or at least order the broiled fish instead of the sirloin or you'll never hear the end of it . . . to be understanding when that job you were perfect for goes to a man who, after all, has a family to feed/a career to think about/a .318 batting average on the company softball team . . . to walk fast and keep your eyes focused on some distant point when walking down the street alone . . . to require 20 minutes instead of five to shower and dry your hair . . . to keep your cool when a guy interrupts your joke to tell his--and to laugh when he's done telling it.

Now, look at that first figure again. A hundred bucks a year? To keep having fun and calling the shots?

Pay it, guys. This is one bargain you shouldn't pass up.

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