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Is This A Man’s World?

Not very long ago, I had occasion to attend one of the most repugnant gatherings of mammals I have ever been called upon to cover during my long career as a journalist. The event was the First International Men’s Conference, which took place in Austin, TX. The conference was a thoroughly revolting wackathon held by …

Not very long ago, I had occasion to attend one of the most repugnant gatherings of mammals I have ever been called upon to cover during my long career as a journalist. The event was the First International Men’s Conference, which took place in Austin, TX. The conference was a thoroughly revolting wackathon held by 765 of the so-called “Wild Men” who think of themselves as pioneers on the cutting edge of the growing men’s movement.

These are the guys who paint their faces and gather around fires in Indian sweat lodges where they bawl their eyes out and trade stories about the irreparable harm their fathers did to them as children. These are the guys with cute names such as Coyote and Shepherd Bliss; the guys who bang dainty little drums named “Serenity” or “Lone Wolf” while listening to audiotapes such as “Exploring Sacred Emptiness” and “Deepak Chopra’s Breakthrough Workshop on Quantum Healing,” amid the fragrant aroma of frankincense and Dragon’s Blood. These are the most pathetic losers I have ever met in my life. And I grew up in the same town as the 1960 Phillies.

Obviously, everyone associated with the men’s movement deserves to die a slow and painful death. Grown men who smear paint on their faces, go out into the woods chanting weird incantations to the Yoruba god Hepwa, and blame their dads for the fact that they grew up to be utter losers clearly deserve to be hanged from the highest yardarm in Her Majesty’s Navy. Yet the men’s movement would not be so scary if one sensed it was merely a subcultural blip-an oddity confined to loony academics and deranged folksingers from Vermont and Colorado. Unfortunately, it is not. Quite a few of the participants in the First International Men’s Conference were businessmen, including one panelist, Gordon Clay, who described himself as a “recovering corporate executive.”

The notion that the preposterous men’s movement could somehow infiltrate and subvert the American business community is almost too horrifying to contemplate. But I think we should ponder it anyway. If the weepy, moping, self-emasculating philosophy of the men’s movement ever took root in corporate America the consequences would be lethal. Look at the case of Wang Laboratories. It is widely known that An Wang, founder of the belly-up computer firm, made a big mistake when he handed over the reins of his highly successful company to his son Fred. The firm failed to adjust to the radically changed environment of the 1980s and almost immediately began losing money hand over fist. A lot of the blame must be laid at Junior’s feet. As it has.

But Wang fils could find the perfect out for his leadership failures in the bosom of the men’s movement.

Instead of blaming the market, the cost of materials, the unions, the suppliers, the press, or Wall Street, Wang could merely rationalize: “I failed as chairman of Wang Laboratories because my father failed to

initiate me into the mysteries of manhood. My breast is burning with a quiet rage that I cannot extinguish; my soul has been ground into the dust because of the toxic gender myths imposed upon me by my dysfunctional father. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to the sweat lodge to engage in some mythopoetic dancing with my good friends Iron John, The Boy Who Would Fly As An Eagle, and Shepherd Bliss.”

Fred Wang is not the only corporate failure who could profit from the men’s movement. Any mutual fund manager who watched his portfolio decline by 33 percent in a single quarter could point to “the inner dragon” that forced him to “confront his own shadow.” People who regularly are interrupted at work by their inner dragons don’t have time to read publications such as Value Line or Barron’s or Investor’s Daily, and would probably be hard-pressed to keep their eyes on the Quotron machine.

Management science also would be profoundly transformed by the men’s movement. Classics such as “In Search of Excellence” and “What They Never Taught You at the Harvard Business School” would give way to “Healing the Wounded Midline Manager” and “Fathering the Inner CEO.” Forbes magazine would publish a special issue devoted to the “400 Most Nurturing Companies in America.” Businesses would stop holding annual sales meetings in New York, Los Angeles, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas and begin holding them in tepees in the Black Hills of South Dakota and deserted Hopi caves in Nevada.

This new mentality would also filter into the boardrooms of America. CEOs who previously interfaced with their contemporaries on golf courses and tennis courts would now talk shop in corporate sweat lodges in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona. Racquetball would be replaced by mythopoetic dancing, and sales conventions by healing drum therapy. Salesmen, once encouraged to get in touch with their customers, would now be advised to get in touch with their feelings.

Is there any way to prevent the men’s movement from infiltrating America‘s finest companies? Yes: Purchase lots of assault weapons and don’t he afraid to use them. Failing that, alert your personnel department to be on the lookout for fortyish types with wispy, gray hair and neatly manicured Vandyke beards who use words such as “dysfunctional” and “grieving.” Instruct personnel to give the bum’s rush to any male who seems to spend a lot of his time at his desk quietly weeping about the failure of his father to initiate him into the mysteries of manhood. And the first time anyone mentions the Yoruba god Hepwa in your presence, slug him. That’s what his dad should have done years ago.


Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.