Where Have All the Good Men Gone?
Published Seattle Weekly, August 30, 1989 (before Portland was cool)
Seattle, where I spent most of this decade, has more women than men. At any conference on playwriting, acupuncture, or poverty law, in any workshop on conflict resolution, stress reduction, or management styles, on any theater, dance or arts board, women outnumber men. Women of talent, ambition and achievement are wondering, “Where are all the men?” The same question is also being asked in New York and Los Angeles, I know, and in all other cities, I would bet.
Now it may be that just down the street from the loft when a women-run Artists Against Apartheid meeting is taking place, there is a tavern with a popular dart board and two dozen men. But these are not the men the women want. The men they have in mind are the boys they knew in school, the one with brains and verve and passion. The ones who won chess tournaments, excelled in foreign languages, led student protests, and taxed their teachers with quotes from Wittgenstein and Nietzsche. These are their true brothers of the spirit.
As I peruse my frayed old address book, I see that these same men have scattered across the globe – tending a Zen master’s garden in upcounty Maui, sculpting in rented rooms in Munich, fishing from an African Queen-type tramp steamer in the Florida Keys, wandering North America with an 11-by-14 view camera, pampering a vintage Linotype machine on a Northern California mountain, or freelancing as a community-development specialist in some Third World country. Certain rural Pacific Northwest towns boast a surprising number of men with degrees from Harvard, Reed and Yale.
Off in their elaborate tree houses, their storefront studios, and their converted barns, these men likewise miss their spiritual sisters, the ones who ran the university cinema club, who tried to write like Ferlinghetti, who signed up for Sanskrit and stayed with it. But they’re not asking, “Where are all the women?” because they know: the women are in the cities, and you couldn’t get one to join you in your remodeled Harney County schoolhouse on a dare.
Granted, men have always forged into the wilderness while women stayed closer to camp. But I think the frontier/hearth schism has grown much more acute in the last couple of decades, thanks to increased urban opportunities for women and accelerated male nostalgia for the dwindling portions of the planet not yet under concrete.
For women today, the city is the frontier. My women friends are running professional theater companies, huge social service agencies, retail businesses, radio stations or, as bureaucrats, entire municipalities. Such careers depend upon cities of a certain size. For my friends, as for newspaper editors, naturopaths, filmmakers and fabric artists (to cite a few more examples of my acquaintance), this is where the action is.
Even if women don’t thrill to the call of power and access, they are kept in the population centers by economic necessity. One Seattle friend, whose recent divorce pitched her into the job market after a 17-year absence, got hired to write software at $20 an hour. This is not the sort of job opportunity awaiting the “displaced homemaker” in the sticks.
I think women find the romance of the country thin enough to see through. The deeper into the country, the farther back into the past. Every woman I know would rather try a homicide case than chop wood.
But men find no glamour in the city. They see only traffic, noise, and smog; competition, routine, and confinement.
So both parties pay for their choices in loneliness. Many of these bright, successful city women are single, and they’ll stay single rather than get hooked up with some nonentity one office down the hall. Holding out for the spiritual camarderie they knew in college, they’ll never understand why they can’t find it, never figure out where the men are.
And the men are lonely out in the country, lonely for someone who can beat them at the game of Go or read aloud the poetry of Jacques Prévert. My friend Charlie, a Seattle painter, yearns to move to the Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon, and doesn’t want to go alone. But he is alone, looking for that special woman who would go with him. He knows few women have gone by themselves to the country. Georgia O’Keeffe did not start a trend.
Nevertheless, I have found a city, albeit a small one, with low wages and urban opossums, where both sexes still live side by side. Portland, Oregon, is not luring women with career opportunities, but neither has it driven out the best of the men. Yet even here, there’s a delicate balance: the women seem always on the verge of succumbing to a 60-hour week career-track job and speeding into permanent spinsterhood, while the men dream of renting a farmhouse on Sauvie Island that only needs “a little work.”
Even if it means living there alone.