“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)
Reprinted in Second Words: Selected Critical Prose from a Hagey Lecture on February 9, 1982, University of Waterloo
The following is the story of Nick. Nick’s story is a script from many men’s lives, perhaps of you, reading this page… Perhaps of the man you call your husband or lover… Perhaps of your son… Perhaps of the boy next door… Yes, it’s a story many men would not admit, yet it haunts them…
Once upon a time there was a boy called Nick. Nick grew up in a loving middle-upper class home, with two doting parents and three annoying siblings. Nick’s parents brought him up as best as they could, he wanted for nothing, he went to Sunday school, he was respectful to his elders and he said a prayer before every meal.
In primary school, Nick did all the things the other boys did, playfully threatening the scrawny, uncool kids, pulling pranks on the clueless teachers, spending exorbitant amounts of time playing video games, and of course giggling at, or most likely teasing the girls in his class. Occasionally, one of Nick’s friends, usually Frank whose parents were never home, would show him pictures of naked ladies on a cell phone, retrieved by a simple Google search. One time Frank showed the group a video he downloaded. While at first Nick was shocked (and admittedly a tad bit confused), he couldn’t look away and found himself, naturally, aroused.
Fast-forward a couple of years later to the perilous trenches of secondary school. No longer a boy, but not quite a man, Nick had so far managed to progress through adolescence with good grades, a variety of extra curricular activities, and a relatively smooth relationship with his parents (other than the usual teenage mood swings and slammed doors). When he was able to muster up the courage, he would awkwardly flirt with Emily, the pretty girl in his chemistry class, though he could never find the words to ask her out (for which his friends ferociously mocked him). Beyond that, he was a regular teenager, finding stealthy ways to sneak out in the evenings to drink beers, watch porn and always, play video games with his buddies (usually at Frank’s house).
A couple of months before beginning a new life in the urban sprawl of university, Frank threw a huge graduation party. Everyone was going to be there, so Nick’s friends dared him to not only kiss Emily but to go all the way. Which he did. At least, he thinks he did. See, the morning after the epic party, Nick woke up naked and bleary eyed, with the most excruciating hangover of his life. He soon realized that a naked Emily was lying next to him. When she roused from sleep, they shared equally embarrassed, pained smiles, mumbled greetings along with the unspoken acknowledgement that neither would be asking any questions about what actually happened between them the previous, drunken night.
Upon regrouping with the rest of his buddies, all of whom were thoroughly disheveled and similarly suffering, Nick was pestered with questions about what happened: “C’mon, did you finally man-up? Did you do it?” Frank inquired. Nick hesitated for a bit and then heard himself describing a scene from one of his favorite porn videos, inserting Emily’s name where necessary. His buddies whopped and applauded, congratulating him for his victorious feat. Nick couldn’t help but smile, embraced by the warm glow of acceptance, proud to finally be able to declare himself a man.
Determined to prove his manhood, Nick started university excited and defiant. He formed friends quickly, got invited to lots of parties, was selected for the varsity football team and somehow kept up with his studies, to the delight of his parents. He even managed to hookup with a few girls, nothing serious of course but enough to confirm that he was indeed a man, regardless of whatever did or did not happen with Emily.
All was going well until Nick met Elizabeth. Liz, as her friends called her, was like no other female Nick had ever encountered. She was beyond beautiful, stunning across all metrics. She was funny, laid back and exuded such carefree joy you just couldn’t help but fall under her intoxicated spell. Which Nick most certainly did, hard. Despite being pursued by many guys, Nick managed to befriend Liz, thanks to their shared interest in photography. Their flirtatious friendship quickly blossomed into something more and two months after they had first met, Nick and Liz were officially going steady (to the envy of all of Nick’s buddies).
Nick was besotted. He found himself doing and saying things he never thought he was capable of: buying her flowers and chocolates just because, taking her on surprise dates and adventures, listening to her vent about her family, sharing intimate details from his past and whispering sweet nothings into her ear as she fell asleep at night. He was in love, and felt she was too; nothing else mattered in his life as much as his darling Liz.
One night, after drinking some wine and watching a movie in his dorm room Nick and Liz cuddled up in bed, with Liz swiftly drowsing off to sleep. But Nick wasn’t tired, quite the opposite in fact, so he nudged Liz awake and made gentle advances. Liz shrugged Nick off mumbling “not tonight, I’m too tired.” Frustrated Nick kept pushing, until Liz, clearly irritated, sat up and firmly stated “Nick, I said not tonight, c’mon what’s wrong with you?” Liz collapsed back under the covers, immediately succumbing into slumber, only this time with her back turned towards Nick.
‘What’s wrong with me?’ Nick thought, his frustration morphing into bubbling rage. ‘How dare she? When all I ever do is answer her beck and call. Doesn’t she know that I’m trying to express my love for her? Does she not love me enough? After all I have done for her, given her? All those nights listening to her yapping about her family, sacrificing my study time to help her study, obliging when she prioritized her friends over me… Can’t she see how much she owes me??? Yet she DARES to ask what’s wrong, with ME?????’
Unable to continue seething in silence, Nick’s fully formed rage consumed his entire being. Suddenly his muscular body was on top of Liz’s tiny frame, his large hands gripping hers above her head. In the background he could hear a voice in distress calling ‘Nick, what are you doing? Nick, stop! No, Nick please, stop! Nick! Oww, that’s really hurts. Nick, PLEASE, stop!!!’ But the voice became more and more distant and eventually it ceased to exist.
With a final grunt Nick rolled over and gathered his breath. All his rage had dissipated and he couldn’t recall what triggered it in the first place. He looked over at Liz, his sweet love, tenderly touching her face only to feel her flinch, see her shaking arms and notice the tear drops streaming down her face as she held her gaze at the ceiling. Nick was confused, ‘didn’t she like it? Doesn’t she know how much I love her?’ So he gently gathered her stiff yet quivering body into his arms, whispering ‘I love you so much Liz, I love you so, so much…’
When Nick woke up from a perfectly restful slumber, Liz was gone. He didn’t think much of it until later in the day when he tried texting and calling her to no response. ‘I’ll give her another day’ he thought, his anxiety starting to rustle. The next day once again there was no response. Simultaneously worried and annoyed Nick marched to Liz’s dorm, banging on her door ‘Hey, Liz, sweetie, why aren’t you answering my texts or calls? Please, open up!’ Liz’s roommate, Betty, a tall volleyball player with a sour no mess demeanor, opened the door and closed it behind her as she stepped forward to confront Nick.
“She doesn’t want to see you or speak to you ever again. You’re a despicable person Nick, how could you do that to her? You know she’s thinking of going to the authorities, pressing charges, I would force her to if I could. But for some reason she scared to. Stay away from her. Do you hear me? STAY AWAY Nick!”
And with that Betty stepped back into the room and slammed the door shut. Liz, Elizabeth, was officially gone.
After reeling from the shock, after an hour of sheer despair, after two more hours of bewilderment, analysis and unmistakable fear, after ruminating over terrible questions, ‘Did he cross the line? Did he physically hurt her? Does she think he would actually assault her like that? Could he, Nick – the honorable man, the devoted boyfriend – have actually raped her?’ After all of this, Nick said No.
No to the idea that he was capable of doing such a disgusting thing. No to him doing anything more than simply trying to express his love for her. No to her rejection of him. And no, no, NO, to ever allowing himself to become so vulnerable in front
He’d feel the desperate ache of fear that every parent experiences, vowing never to ever, ever let anyone hurt his precious little
of a woman, to allow a woman to take advantage of him, to give so much and get nothing in return, to ever get hurt so deeply by a woman. From now on, as far as women were concerned, he would always be in control, he would be the one that dictates the rules, no woman would ever be allowed to get that close to him ever again.
So. What eventually happened to Nick?
He never spoke to Elizabeth again and barely saw her on campus anymore (of course he promptly quit the photography club). Bar Elizabeth’s friends, whom Nick avoided at all cost, no one would ever find out why they broke up. When questioned, Nick told his friends that he just got bored of her, that she became annoying and a waste of his time, that it was time for a new conquest.
And so life continued, Nick graduated with honors, got a well paying job at an investment bank, spent most of his twenties and early thirties as a roaring bachelor, and finally settled down in the suburbs with his wife, Julie. Julie was a beautiful, demur, kind, subservient woman who was exactly what Nick wanted in a life partner and as the mother of his kids. She didn’t ask any questions, she made dinner every single night, she was content with taking care of the children and the house, shopping and lunches with her girlfriends. And she always said yes, or rather, never said no. She was a very dutiful wife. Of course Nick had his fair share of mistresses (as beautiful as Julie was, she wasn’t exactly exciting), one in each city he traveled regularly to, and two close enough to home. But this was to be expected for a man of his stature.
Most importantly Julie gave him two beautiful children, Nick Jr. and his darling Katie, the only pure sources of joy in his life. He made it his mission to ingrain in Nick Jr. the importance of being a man, teaching him how to box, getting him used to earning his keep through hard work and scolding him when he cried, because real men don’t cry. As for Katie, his devastatingly gorgeous, innocent bundle of perfection, well, he was 100 per cent certain that she was the only female he was meant to truly, truly love. He adored his little girl, succumbed to her every wish, read her bedtime stories every night he was home, and showered present after present upon her.
Though sometimes, perhaps on a lazy Sunday afternoon watching her play in the garden, or when caressing her hair as she slept soundly, sometimes Nick would stare at his little girl and feel entirely heartbroken. He’d feel the desperate ache of fear that every parent experiences, vowing never to ever, ever let anyone hurt his precious little girl.
Then his mind would start to drift and Nick would start sobbing, as the powerful, intoxicated memory of Elizabeth flooded all his senses. Liz, his long-lost love, ‘oh Liz’. In those moments of naked, authentic vulnerability Nick allowed his shame to surface, giving voice to decades of guilt, regret, self-hatred and endless yearning…
“I’m so, so sorry Liz. Please forgive me. I’m so sorry for what I did. Please God, forgive me for my sins, for my rage, for my inexcusable behavior. I hate myself for it. I wish I could go back and be a better man, a real man, the person I was brought up to become. Oh God, I don’t know what overcame me. Liz, please, if you can hear me, I’m so, so sorry. Please, please forgive me… Please.”