"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Cherchez La Femme–When Was It Ever Otherwise?

Paul Ballard was from a traditional New England family, not a Cabot, Lodge, or Corbin, but a well-respected, pedigreed one, dating back to early Virginia on his mother’s side, and Connecticut Yankee on his father's.  He was brought up Episcopalian and Republican.  His father rowed on the 1932 Yale crew team, his grandfather on the 1910, and his great-grandfather an amateur pugilist who could have fought John L Sullivan had it not been considered unseemly for a young man of birth and American peerage to make money off of mens sana in corpore sano.  Each of these forbears had had numerous wives, untold paramours, and as many incidental lovers. 

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The sexual adventurism of the Ballard men was nothing unusual, descended as they were from the kings, cavaliers, and courtiers of England who who came to America, had hundreds of Potomac, Powhatan, Chesapeake, and Tuscarora women, and fathered many children.

Henry Ballard, for example, who arrived in Nanticoke not long after John Smith, was known to be ‘The Prince of the Savages’, a man who slept with women from even the most suspicious and hostile Indian tribes.  Joshua Ballard  was an envied seducer of women in New York in the early days of the Victorian era.  Joshua in top hat and tails was the toast of the town, squire of the most beautiful women of Park Avenue. 

Percival Ballard ushered in the era of the Robber Baron with brio and notice.  “Percival Ballard and Margaret Collingsworth Hawthorne to marry”, said the headlines of all the New York newspapers, announcing the wedding of the decade; but were obliged to retract as the wedding was cancelled due to the groom’s previously unknown relationship with the Duchess of Salisbury with whom he was allegedly to have had not one but two children.

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Irvington Ballard, a great-uncle of Paul and still alive to share his exploits with his young nephew, was, despite the incursions of early feminism, no different from his ancestors.  Irvington was neither apologetic nor reticent about his sexual dalliances and mistresses in suites at the Mayflower, the Waldorf, and the Beverley.  He made no apologies to his wife of thirty years, to his five children, or to his elderly mother.

The social environment into which Paul was born was less congenial if not hostile to the idea of male ‘expansive’ sexuality.  Feminism was on the upswing, and male chauvinism was the byword.  Men, said newly activist women,  had always trivialized women and demeaned them through their serial, meaningless affairs, their ignorance of particular female intelligence and insight, and their assumption of patriarchal authority. 

Paul was skeptical.  Women, as far as he could see, were as attuned and attracted to confident, assertive males as ever before.  Shakespeare’s only true love was between Kate and Petruchio – she who found his sexual confidence essential and the answer to her years of subservience; and he  who, desirous of an untamed, independent, unique woman, found her irresistible.  As much as feminist critics decried her obeisance to this uber-male, many others acknowledged Shakespeare’s understanding of the complexity of sexual dynamics.

Feminist critics have equally dismissed D.H. Lawrence for his supposed misogyny; but Lawrence, more than any other writer, understood that sexual parity was central to personal if not spiritual evolution.  Maleness and femaleness would always be at odds, he said; but the struggle for sexual supremacy cannot be ignored, for it is at the center of such evolution.  There is no value in either male or females dominance.  It is only the struggle which matters, and if both partners are willing, it will result in equilibrium and mutuality.

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Lawrence never shied away from sexual characterizations,.  Men are always pursuers and women complaisant, willing lovers, he said; but by this he did not imply superiority or inferiority, only the natural order of sexuality.  Within this context of male pursuit and female willingness, there are no winner or losers, only gainers. It is the balance of sexual will that matters.

Paul because of his heritage and sexual traditionalism, was considered suspect in the new world of the early 21st century. Ideas of maleness and femaleness a la Lawrence were antiquarian and irrelevant.  The idea of sexual dynamics itself – that existential be-all and end-all of human self-discovery – was considered antediluvian at best and retrograde at worst.   Male insistence was considered a throwback and inconsistent with more evolved and reasonable ideas of sexual parity and emergent female preeminence.

Yet Paul, thanks to his uncomplicated and assertive desire for, love of, and respect for women, had a series of satisfying affairs from Jane from Accounting to Baroness Elizabeth Crane.  He was never overly demanding or insistent; but was canny and savvy enough to be sexually forward,  gender-sensitive, and most of all patient, respectful, and understanding of women’s feelings. 

In short, Paul sensed that women had not changed from Shakespeare’s or Lawrence’s day.  Men would always ‘cherchez la femme’ and women would always parse, deconstruct, and analyze men’s intentions for their protection and benefit.  The delight was in having, but not easily.  Men are essentially Lawrentian and are looking for epiphany not just easy sexual conquest.

Lisa Franken, one of the leaders of the Feminist Coalition of the Southeast, had at first found Paul Ballard insufferable.  He could easily have been the poster boy for male chauvinism and unwoke testosterone-driven backwardness. Moreover he was indifferent to progressive claims and activism, and insufferably self-satisfied.   Lisa hated him for his easy conquests and his oblivious and deliberate ignorance of social imperatives.  She was surprised by his attention.  How could this enemy operative even dare to enter her camp?

Yet he did, deferentially, respectfully, and honestly.  He found her attractive, he said, for her intelligence, principles, commitment, and beauty.  There was no inconsistency, he implied, in admiring her for her character and seriousness and falling for her feminine allure.

It was not that she had been taken in by a familiar and predictable male line, for she had quite obviously evolved far beyond typical male blandishments. It was simply that she found his sexual assertiveness new, surprising, and attractive.  She had put up with far too many male feminist hangers-on – men in solidarity with women’s causes, partisans in the struggle for women’s rights, political allies and community activists; but who, each and every one, had ignored her as a woman, a sexual being, and emotionally and sexually as needy as anyone else.  Each was as boring, insipid, and weak as the next.
So Paul made love to Lisa in her Mt. Pleasant walk-up, joined her for communal dinners at the First Church of Christ, sat through ‘Pippi Longstocking, Feminism, and the Epistles of Paul of Tarsus’, and eventually left her – honestly and respectfully - for an investment banker at Prudential, a woman as taken with his sexual temperance, sexual interest, and non-polticial feminism as he was with her outspokenness, honesty, and sexual awareness.

Paul was a truly post-modern male, one confident in his conclusion that men and women had changed little if at all since the prehistoric era of human settlements, and one as adaptable to changing circumstances as the most Darwinian evolutionary product.  He was the human sexual equivalent of the raccoon, a creature which, thanks to its infinite adaptability, had a good future.

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