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The Cowboy Way

Posted by Howard Denson on October 25, 2016 at 2:55 PM


 

By HOWARD DENSON

 

She Who Knows All was disgusted about one of the political creatures and demanded that I write what men are really like. Despite her confidence in my ability to say something worthwhile, the world is not beating a path to my door to discover my insights into men and women and boys and girls.

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One of my short stories, “The Magic of the Burning Boy,” deals in part with a boy learning from a friend about how babies come about. That element involved me as a fifth-grader (a 10-year-old), but I moved it to third-grader because I didn’t think that readers today would believe that a kid that old could be so obtuse. That was back in the Fifties, and most grownups in my limited universe just didn’t talk to kids about certain things.

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About the time that Remedial Sex Info 0001 was occurring, a joke was going around. A father says to his son, “Georgie, I need to talk to you about the birds and bees,” and the son says, “Sure, Dad, what do you need to know?” We thought it funny although most of us didn’t know what Georgie would have to say.

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Another story going around in the seventh and eighth grades involved three boys hiking through the woods when they hear moans in the bushes. The American boy whispers, “What are they doing?” The British boy gives him a look and shakes his head. “They’re making love.” A French boy sighs with disgust. “And doing it poorly.”

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That joke doesn’t work today because nudity, porn, and sexuality are everywhere. All three boys would know what’s occurring, thanks to the porn site that’s off-limits to them or the disc that Uncle Elroy keeps hidden in his socks drawer. They are likely to be taking away unintended lessons:

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*You meet someone and you do it within minutes, and that must be the way it is for everyone.

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*You don’t have to worry about germs or precautions.

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*The more the merrier.

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*It’s just sex, no bigee.

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*And other lessons that we need not detail here.

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Although I wasn’t much of a Boy Scout (only made it to Bobcat in the Cubs and Tenderfoot in the Scouts) nor a cowboy, I grew up with the Scout-Cowboy Code: You were helpful, courteous, and kind; you were always prepared (although I often wasn’t); and you treated women, girls, and your elders with respect. It was the Cowboy Way, podner.

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The converse of the above is also true: Grownups should be helpful, courteous, and kind and treat women, girls, men, boys, and youngsters with respect. Of course, grownups fall short in that ideal, just as a kid has trouble not raiding the cookie jar.

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Today, we hear about locker room talk, what the guys say when they are by themselves. NFL, NBA, MLB athletes scoff at the notion and claim they talk only about stocks, bonds, childcare, etc. Since a MLB player will have about 150 games a year, it’s likely that any sex talk will soon exhaust itself.

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It’s a mistake, however, to accept the notion that guys just talk about their finances and perhaps upcoming batters and pitchers. When we look at the sports teams of American colleges and universities, we see far too much sexual aggression in operation. We also see universities circling the wagons to protect their NCAA franchises. (Yes, we also instances of females trying to get their hands on future signing bonuses, etc.)

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In the armed services, we have rampant sexual aggression, and the top brass have given lip-service to reforms but often failed to follow up with meaningful reforms.

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When we look at males’ behavior, we end up drawing analogies with the research of Jane Goodall into chimpanzees and baboons. One primate decides he is now the Alpha male and goes to his chief competitor and bares his teeth, roars, etc. If the Alpha male roars back louder, the challenger moves off. However, if the Alpha male finally decides he doesn’t want to fight, he surrenders his spot and his prestige and moves over to dislodge the Beta male.

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In the Sixties, when we loaded our National Guard infantry unit onto the buses to drive down to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, we started hearing, “Oh, I’m s-o-o-o horny!” Many of the guardsmen had only left their wives or girlfriends an hour or so before, but the ritual went on until we returned.

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Trapped in the un-air conditioned barracks at Camp Shelby and no bus service into Hattiesburg, some horny guardsman dug out a 16mm projector and some black-and-white porn movies from the Twenties and Thirties. All participants wore Lone Ranger-style masks, and the women had on Mary Jane shoes and little else.

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We have been hardwired to have sexual urges and to procreate. Nature (and God) instilled that to ensure that the species continued. When we sit on a park bench, we witness the hardwiring when a pigeon bumps into another pigeon, who turns away, only to have him continue bumping. Eventually he may try other pigeons or this female will decide that she is ready. They flutter around each other, and the species continues.

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We can sugarcoat male aggression and claim that it is necessary for a boy bird and a girl bird to get together, but that aggression too often is transformed into misogyny. When a culture finds that a woman or girl has been raped, it demonstrates that it hates females when the men stone her and not the rapist.

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When a culture demands that its females totally cover themselves and their faces, except for meshes, the males are demeaning themselves and announcing that they are incapable of looking at a female without trying to rape her.

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Girls and women may participate in their own misogyny by asserting the most trivial of their equal rights but abandoning the high ground that can be most useful. A girl who apes the behavior of a testosterone-riddled male by throwing herself into a Debbie Does Dallas-situation does not break through any meaningful glass ceilings. Neither Debbie nor her role-model Donnie will stand out as natural leaders.

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Americans are pulled this way and that as we discuss sex and sexuality. First, we have a puritanical streak that is dismayed at the sight of nudity, nude beaches, even nude statuary. We froth at the mouth at things that largely go unnoticed in European countries. In this respect, we are quite provincial.

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Second, we grin at the sexual antics of some individuals and frown when others engage in similar antics. Errol can be in like Flynn, but Barney the barber might be run out of town.

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Third, we may try to excuse the sexual behavior of the politically elite. The acts show the virility of our king, prime minister, or president. It may also reflect our culture’s acceptance of droit du seigneur (which generally translates as “right of the lord” and refers to a great one’s supposed right to lay with the bride of a serf or subordinate before her wedding night). Two problems quickly emerge: The droit du seigneur may have occurred more in plays, novels, and ballads than in reality. In addition, puritanical generations may have assumed that virginity was held in high regard in the ancient world and Middle Ages. (A duke’s daughter’s virginity could be a factor in a first-rate marriage, to a prince or a king; that of the blacksmith’s daughter may have been of little consequence.)

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Past images of the sexually attractive can stick with us always. One anecdote from, say, Coronet magazine described an old World War I doughboy who fell from a ladder while hanging a picture. His wife asked him why he fell. He said, “I had a room in a hotel in a town not far from Paris and the maid came in and asked if I needed anything else. I told her I didn’t, and she asked again, and again, if there was anything else I wanted. . . And I just figured out what she was getting at.”

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The hardwiring isn’t going to let us go, ever. In about 1980, my great-cousin Jimmie left Birmingham to move into her church’s retirement home in Jacksonville. I visited her fairly often (and learned many of the family secrets that had been kept from me for forty years).

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One day, she was shocked, absolutely shocked at the behavior in the retirement home. “There’s a ninety-three-year-old man who is chasing after this eighty-eight-year-old woman. She rides this big tricycle, and he runs along behind her calling ‘Mona, Mona, Mona!’ It’s disgusting.”

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Moral of the story: Follow the Cowboy Way and be a good Scout, but, even if you are helpful, courteous, and kind and strive not to be a predator, you are still going to embarrass yourself. You’re hardwired that way.

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Categories: The Human Comedy or Tragedy

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