In Spite of Everything, I Still Miss John Wayne

When I grew up in the 1950s, everything was clear. Men and women were very different creatures. Women cleaned the house and watched soap operas and cried. Men worked and watched sports and had no emotions (unless their team won a big game or something).

Everything changed in the ’70s. Your sex didn’t matter, really! Men and women were all the same, apart from an anatomical curlicue here and there. They had just been acculturated into thinking they were different. As usual, society was to blame.

About that time, women learned they were oppressed and stopped shaving their legs for a while. But men were oppressed, too! some bright guy opined. They were tired of working and being strong and manly all the time. To compensate, they started wearing leisure suits and gold neckchains and choking up on a regular basis.

(Do you understand now why the 70s were one of the least appetizing decades on record? How many women truly yearned for a man who cried more than they did and asked to borrow their jewelry?)

Thirty, 40 years later, we are so enlightened about the differences between the sexes that we now call them genders, instead. Soap operas are gone and everybody gets to hug and men can can cry sometimes, assuming they are Republicans and like to start wars.

Anyway, we may not have regressed to the 1950s, but sometimes I do have a startling realization that my parents’ generation got a few things right when it came to men and women. Namely, when I see two of the main men in my life — that would be my husband and son — go into one of their A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Got to Do moments, I could close my eyes and it’s 1955 again.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. You know what I’m talking about. The male’s jaw tightens, his eyes narrow, his stance is on alert. The more dire the circumstances, the more ridiculous or outrageous the cause, the more he won’t be argued with. The more any woman wails, the more righteous his cause and implacable his desire. He rebuffs any arguments that what he’s planning to do is:

1) stupid;

2) not worth doing by any competent, sane human being;

3) hazardous;

4) did I mention stupid enough times?

No. Mention any of these complaints and his jaw gets tighter, his eyes slittier, his ears completely deaf.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!  Just think about it. If we didn’t have this cultural ethos, we wouldn’t have had the bloodbath at the Alamo or John Wayne movies or shock-and-awe in Iraq or violent video games or professional football.

I thought about all of that recently, when it was cold and wet and windy. The perfect day to stay indoors, I thought. How wrong, how very female I was. That day, it turned out, the men had to do what the men had to do — and what the men had to do was play golf.

Raining, freezing cold, stupid, miserable, ridiculous, golf? Were they crazy?

As a veteran of the battle of the sexes/genders of the ’50s, the ’70s, and the 21st century, I knew what I had to do. Sometimes, what a woman’s gotta do is keep her mouth shut and bide her time.

The road to I told you so can be long, but oh, so rewarding. Generations of female forbearers have taught me that.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)


Please! Read about a few of those delicious I Told You So moments.

22 comments… add one
  • My husband and I were talking about this the other day. I don’t think either of us ever saw our dads unload the dishwasher. But you better believe my husband does–of course, he’s found a way around that…the kids do it.

  • ah, the ugly 70s. My dad got a perm and carried a purse. I don’t think he called it a purse; I think it was something strange like “man bag” but it was a purse.

    and i think the road to i told you so is paved with female intentions. or something.

  • Haha. Well I imagine they did not enjoy their golf and that showed them a thing or two.

  • Your forebears forebore, and so must you!

  • Very funny – and so true!

  • The irony in all this is that John Wayne walked like a girl!
    Actor, Harry Carey, Jr, in his memoir, “Company of Heroes,” fills us in on the birth of the legendary John Wayne walk:

    Because Duke was kind of heavy-footed and used to trudge more than walk, Paul [Fix] told Duke to point his toes when he walked, and the “John Wayne walk” was born. Try it yourself. Take a step and point your toe, like you’re stabbing it into the ground—left foot, right foot. Your shoulders automatically move back and forth, and the hips follow, not unlike Marilyn Monroe’s walk.

  • Craig Link

    Well, I guess my testosterone level has slipped plumb off the charts because I would sooner curl up on the couch in my snuggie and read a Twilight saga than drag those sticks up and down the water hogging grass of the muni course.

  • Steve Link

    Words have gender, people have sex.

  • Hmmm….where I have experience this before? Oh, yeah, my house! Great post!

  • I’ve been laughing out loud ever since “apart from the anatomical curlicue here and there.” Reminds me that my husband got a perm during the 70’s.
    As to gender:
    THE TERM “GENDER” BECAME POPULAR among sociologists, psychologists, and sex researchers in the 1970s as a means to differentiate biological differences between men and women (sex differences) and differences due to socialization experiences (gender differences), or the act of having sex (e.g., 12, 19, 25, 27). In other words, unlike one’s biological sex, gender refers to the social construction of masculinity and femininity (19, 21). It does not exist within a person (10), but instead is a term that was designed to be used “ … only when discussing social, cultural, and psychological aspects that pertain to the traits, norms, stereotypes and roles considered typical and desirable for those whom society has designated as male or female.” (8). (that’s from the American Physiological Society’s website.
    Ha! It’s says “in the 1970’s!”

  • Sheryl Link

    Sounds vaguely familiar, being the only female in a house of three males. And the way they band together is enough, sometimes, for me to push them out onto the golf course in the rain so I can have some peace!

  • Golf in the freezing rain? Makes perfect sense to the men I know. Once again, you made me laugh and think at the same time. Are women supposed to do that?

  • Cindy A Link

    I’m pretty sure golf was invented by women to get men out of the house. Unfortunately, my husband doesn’t golf. Or do dishes.

  • paul Link

    yeah, but i recall a few holes that day when we all cried!

  • Oh I can so totally relate to this.

  • I think I love Craig.

  • My dad didn’t have any hair left by the 70s, but even if he had, I doubt he would have gotten a perm (although he did wear polyester leisure suits!) My mother was a typical 50s housewife, but strangely, she encouraged me to be a “modern woman” with a career and she also emphasized it important to share the housework with my husband. He has always had the chore of cleaning the bathroom. 🙂

  • Hilarious, Ruth — especially that visual about ’70s men — and so, so true.

  • Men are rarely allowed to show their masculine prowess by killing each other with swords, so they have to do it in other ways now. Like being outside in appalling weather with metal sticks. Whatever suits them is fine with me, as long as I’m snug inside with a good book and a glass of wine.

  • I like my mom’s way of handling things. Dad would tell her what to do, and she’d turn around and do whatever she wanted.

  • This adds another layer in looking at the “dynamic” I grew up with!

  • Casey Link

    Maybe there is no use for men anymore, but “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” carried us from 2.5 million years ago until the 1970s. That’s a pretty good run. You’re welcome.

Leave a Comment