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It's A Small Thing

It’s just a small thing. And, small things matter!

I promised myself NOT to make any “political” comment, and I find myself about to break that promise—to speak, of all things, about the CMA awards program and a Stephen Colbert comment on it—to speak about a little ditty “Female” sung by Keith Urban.

Colbert made fun of the song, and I get it. It’s sort of cliché. And, some of its words meanings are opaque to me—what does “shoulder” have to do with “female”, with exploitation and abuse of women? What does “holy water” have to do with it? And, what IS “Technicolor river wild”?

Yet, this progressive wants to ask Colbert the progressive: Let’s look at the intent, please? And, the audience, please? This topic—and the much larger, and deeper, and more salient one of the damaged masculine—needs all the (right kind of) attention it can get!

Please?! Small things matter—especially small things that signal a big change!

I get that “Female” (like “Softly and Tenderly” sung earlier in the show by Carrie Underwood) seems a bit maudlin, and (more to Colbert’s point) seems to be (way) too little for the size of the problem. AND, small things matter!

Masculinity is broken! Men need desperately to fix it—for women’s sake for sure. But, men need to fix broken masculinity for—THEIR—OWN—SAKES!

Otherwise, they are going to kill us all!

See how quickly and fully the exclamatory nature of the topic comes up? This small thing matters! BIGLY! (A good thing Trump created—that word. And, there is a reason why he harps on big, and yuge, and great, and best, and … !)

It seems no accident to me that sexual assault and exploitation are coming up alongside the problem of too many guns with too little control. And, making fun of size is not the answer.

It is just too, too cliché—right?—that “Missile Envy” (a book about nuclear weapons, popular in the 80s) was titled to pun off Freud’s contention that women envied men their penises.

I do understand Colbert’s hostile humor toward all things hard-core right. His wit is rapier sharp. He is funny—and, his humor is MEAN. It is as mean in the sense of “nasty”, and it is mean in the sense of “small” and “venal”. And, please, small things matter—a lot. And, his wit is no small thing; it is powerful—big, huge, and even great.

Behind the push for a strong man to make America great again are many small men who have failed at being great. This is NOT a shaming statement—in that my intention is NOT to shame anyone, and it probably sounds shaming to some. In my book “Femininity and Shame” I uncover, from a lot of psychosocial research sources, what I think is evidence of a vast reservoir of shame—in men—from the way that they are socialized by men, and some women too, to be men, manly men. We need to know that men are dying of shame—perhaps, literally dying even.

And, it’s not just my book—Susan Faludi also wrote a stunning journalistic piece (“Stiffed!”) on the wounded working class guys who were sold a bill of goods on what is it to be a good guy, and then have the capacity to fulfill that snatched away by the best guys at the top of the heap. Those “best” guys (so they think) are still there pushing everyone else down.

When I began my first pastorate, I often found myself in a really curious physical position at church socials. The middle-class parishioners would gather in the fellowship hall, and before long I didn’t know where to stand. Do I go in the kitchen where the women were uncovering their dishes and listen to them talk about kids and recipes and PTA; or do I step into the meeting room where the men were talking about work, or sports, or the looming church budget fight?

My usual landing was in the doorway, leaning one way then the other—literally, on the threshold between two worlds.

When I talked to my therapist, a well-off and well-respected white guy in the churchy world, he didn’t understand my consternation. He said, “You have to go where the power of your job is.”

I replied, “So, I should go to the conversation about the budget battle? Is that where the ‘power’ is? Or, is the ‘power’ in motherly women raising the next generation of church? I don’t know about power. I do know I tend to lean toward the relationships, and away from the fights.”

“Ah,” he said as he stroked his Freud-like beard in an all-knowing way, “you can’t stand the heat. So, just get out of the kitchen.”

I snapped back, “You know that’s the problem with men! You turn everything into a fight! Those ladies in the kitchen—the real kitchen—they know enough to turn down the heat!”

On my worst days: I am afraid that men (as a group, not individual men) turn everything into a fight so that everything can become  a weapon. Why, I really don’t know. I worry that weapons are stand-ins for penises, and that it’s men who envy, and fear, them.

A man said to me recently that little boys really don’t know what to do “with that funny-looking, fragile and vulnerable thing hanging between their legs”. Maybe they don’t! And, that is why guns and women are such a temptation. The first is an invulnerable stand-in. The second is supposed to tell, and show, them what to do with it—because fathers, and mothers, never did.

So you see, Mr. Colbert, “Female” IS a simplistic little ditty that is standing in for a very big little thing. I know you make us laugh for a living with that rapier wit of yours. Can you see, how a cliché song about the sacredness of “Female” might open the hearts of a particular kind of man who is terrified of it all—even, maybe especially, of you? It is just a small thing, after all.

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