All these years later, I have come to realize that many women’s problems are catalyzed by men, in general—their bad habits, in particular. A headline in MSN’s online magazine, Glo, started me thinking about it. I skimmed the story. It purported to identify the 10 most common bad habits of men as explicated by “human behavior expert” Dr. Patrick Wanis. I was expecting insights, but found none in the shallow article. Wouldn’t you agree that crunching ice, stacking dirty dishes in the sink and biting fingernails are not really serious problems? Those are mere annoyances. The real bad habits call attention to themselves.
I do agree with Dr. Wanis that cussing is near the top of the male bad-habit list. Men have been cussing for so many generations that most of the words have lost their zing and sting. For hell’s sake, nobody gives a damn anymore about such vulgarities as “bullshit” or “bastard.” Nowadays, you can find “bullshit” in newspaper stories (especially when the Legislature is in session). Little kids no longer toot, fluff, pass gas or break wind. They fart! Even the utilitarian f-word is showing its age as more and more women are f’n this and f’n that. However, what really irks women is the daisy chain of obscenities men string together when angry, injured or histrionic. “Goshdarn, flipping, cork-screwing, son of a witch, skeet-eating, mother-loving, bear-baiting!”—you get the idea. Women find it grotesque.
Tooting the horn. This double entendre returns us to the subject of flatulence. When I first read Catcher in the Rye, I laughed out loud as Holden describes Edgar Marsalla “laying a fart” in chapel. I doubt women have the same reaction. The sexes are socialized differently when it comes to farting. A woman’s sphincter is trained to be clamped tight as a vise, while men are less restrained and often become downright playful as intestinal gas builds up. Think of “fart sack,” the Boy Scout term for sleeping bag, or the blue-flame club, where teenage boys ignite farts at the source. There is nothing about the combination of gas and men that is not offensive to women. Neither do they approve of men who toot their own horn. Not a few Utah brethren are full of themselves. Privileged by a patriarchal culture, they feel entitled to dominate the conversation, make the decisions, drive the car and hog the TV remote.
Snoring, burping and spitting. This trifecta is sand in the gears of male-female relations. Women grouse about snoring and nose hair, but they are really offended by men who burp words. Burping “fuck it!” is especially objectionable. Neither do women approve of men who expectorate. Hawking causes women to cringe. That is one reason for their dislike of televised baseball. Not only are the games tedious, the players spit and scratch their crotches mindlessly.
Which brings us to manhandling the package. This common practice is as puzzling to women as it is irritating. Why the constant adjustments? A couple of explanations come to mind. One is a practical matter related to dressing left or dressing right. In other words, does the package hang down into the left pant leg or the right? I have read that most men’s trousers are tailored for left dressing, so there is a scooch more room in the left leg just below the crotch. It is probable that in the course of standing and sitting, right-to-left adjustments are required. The second reason may be traceable to ancient ritual. Biblical scholar Robert Alter has written about the 12th-century practice of “holding the genitals, or placing a hand next to the genitals, during an act of solemn oath-taking.” Take Abraham, for instance. As he dispatched a servant to find Isaac a wife outside of Canaan, he insisted on the genital grip to seal the deal. Whatever the reason, women are put off by any hand-to-crotch moves.
Technoffenses: The flowering of computer technology has been a boon to women in that some of men’s bad habits have been mitigated. The advent of GPS navigation has been particularly beneficial. Women used to gripe that men preferred to drive aimlessly, lost and cussing, instead of stopping to ask directions. On the other hand, a friend complains that men are slow to correlate “open” and “on” with “close” and “off.”
Interpersonal: This is a category in which men’s bad habits bring out women’s combative side. Women, according to linguist Deborah Tannen, use conversation to build relationships. (Men merely exchange information.) So when a man is not fully engaged in a conversation, when he does not make eye contact, or when he wanders off, women recoil.
Clearly, some of women’s problems are reactions to men’s idiosyncrasies. As a show of good faith, the savvy fellow tries to eliminate the irritants. To that end, Dr. Wanis offers this gendered advice: “I don’t believe a guy should change every habit he has to appease a woman, because, then, he’s no longer going to be a guy.” And to that I expect most women would respond, “That’s just bullshit!”