In 1991, I received the most important phone call of my life. I was sitting at my desk, the executive director of a small organization dedicated to the end of hunger worldwide and in the U.S. On the other end of the phone I heard my friend Ellen say, “Alison, we need to talk. Men are attracted to you like bees to honey, but when you are done with them, it’s like they have been with a vampire.”
As you can imagine, that got my attention. My first thought was, “What? A vampire? Little ol’ me? Innocent me?” Out loud, I said, “What are you talking about?” For the next half hour, Ellen proceeded to tell me all the ways that she had personally seen me emasculate men, or ways she knew I must have done so in the past, because she found the evidence (a man left weak and powerless). I squirmed most of the time but couldn’t contradict her. She was absolutely accurate. I had done everything she said.
All the while, though, I kept wondering why we were talking about it. After all, women emasculate men all the time. It’s standard behavior, par for the course, status quo, right? It was all just part of… part of what? Oh, yeah. Part of the war between the sexes.
Then Ellen said, “You’ve even done it to Jeffrey.” My breath caught in my throat. Jeff is my teenage son, only 3 years old at the time. As soon as Ellen said it, I could see that it was true. It was as if I considered it part of my job as a mother to train, squelch, badger, or drive the maleness right out of my son. Any way that he didn’t behave according to my ideals (ideals I found out later were based on how women behave), I had something to do or say about it. Letting anything slide based on “Oh, he’s a boy” seemed like a dereliction of duty.
After Ellen had me completely squirming on the hook, appalled at the wake of weak men left behind me, she said, “I want you to cut it out.” She said it so simply, so easily. But it felt like she was asking me to cut my heart out of my own body. I instantly thought, “But they are bigger and stronger and they’ll hurt me.” I don’t remember ever consciously thinking that before that moment. But it had the force of truth. And I could see all my interactions with men since I was 16 years old came from that premise: they are bigger and stronger and they’ll hurt me. And also from a second premise, taught to me by my stepfather, “The best defense is a good offense.” That statement defined my relationships with men. I was always on the offense – with my intellect, my sense of humor, my looks and my sexuality. No man was allowed to keep his balance around me. If he couldn’t get his balance, he couldn’t attack, was my unconscious but completely operative reasoning.
In my distress, I probably would have baled out of the conversation if it weren’t for one crucial decision I’d made six months prior – the decision to begin studying men. Up to that point, I’d discovered how much men wanted to be my hero, and how much they wanted to make me happy. Based on what Ellen had just told me, I realized the information had been gathered under the premise “know thy enemy.” The more I knew about men, the more effective I was at emasculating them, at keeping them weak, at taking the wind out of their sails.
Who would need to keep other people weak – someone powerful? No! My compulsion to keep men weak came from my own sense of weakness. I couldn’t stand them having power, because I was sure that I had none. Every time I emasculated a man, my behavior was a knee-jerk reaction prompted by my fears and reinforced by my feelings of weakness. As this overpowering realization struck home, I knew that I would never experience my power as a woman until I allowed men to have their power too. The choice was either to be weak together or to be powerful together. I chose being powerful.
I’ll never forget that moment. It felt like wrapping myself in a warm coat of delicious, pure feminine power. It was the beginning of a new life for me. I laid down my sword and learned diplomacy. I gave up manipulation and learned communication. I gave up power struggles and learned how to give men power, while losing none. I gave up being an adversary and learned how to be a partner.
After I said I wouldn’t emasculate men anymore, Ellen said. “I didn’t ask this for you. I believe that when women stop emasculating men, men will give us everything we ever wanted, including peace and the end of hunger.” I took that statement very seriously. I had already seen how much men wanted to solve problems, in fact, were compelled to solve problems. What if women presented men with a different set of problems? For example, instead of wasting their energies on “Try to get out of this conversation about our relationship alive,” what might the outcome be if men focused on “How would you end world hunger?” If men weren’t being weakened by women, they could direct all that power towards solving problems worthy of their dignity and their honor.
To this day, I am amazed at how men respond to me. They are so ready for me to be everything I’ve always wanted to be. I kept studying men, and a few years later we started PAX, our company that offers Understanding Men. PAX is the Latin word for Peace. We are dedicated to ending the longest running war in history.