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Women used to look upon men as their rock of refuge: able to thwart aggressors who would want to harm them and the family home.   Civilization, however, has done away with the need for a person to assert his rights by force and as a result most men are now passive in the face of violence, unwilling to be drawn into physical confrontation against other men.     Modern women appear to have accepted the stereotype male who is unwilling to be drawn into violence to settle their disputes.    But deep inside, most women expect their men to be strong and brave,  capable of defending themselves and their families at whatever cost.    Bel Kaufman’s Sunday in the Park brings into focus this latent attitude in society particularly among women.This story depicts a not-so frequent occurrence at a park.  Larry, a young boy is bullied by another.  His mother intervenes, but the bully boy’s own father encourages him further.    Morton, the father of the boy being molested finally intervenes but the other man dares him to a fight.  Morton who is smaller retreats along with his family, reasoning out:  “It wouldn’t have proved anything beyond the fact that he’s bigger than I am.”  The mother agrees but later repeats the other man’s “challenge” when Morton is threatening to “discipline” the child.    By mimicking the bully’s arrogant question (“Indeed? You and who else?”),  Morton’s wife involuntarily voices out mankind’s age-old contempt for the weak.She reacts to the park incident in several ways.  First, she despises Morton for acting cowardly. When she blurts out,  “I’m ashamed of you!” she was addressing her little child, but her frustration may have been directed to her husband as well.    Second, she resents Morton’s attempt to “discipline” Larry after she fails to make him stop crying. Perhaps, she unwittingly becomes a bully herself, mimicking the bully at the park.   Third, she resents the fact that they were powerless against the bully and vents her ire on her child, whom she used to treat tenderly.   After a feeling of relief, “she sensed that it was more than just an unpleasant incident, more than defeat by reason of force.   She felt dimly it had something to do with her and Morton, something acutely personal, familiar, and important.”Morton personifies the “reasonable” man. Presumably a professor at a university, he thinks rationally, realizing that a fight with the bully “wouldn’t have proved anything.”    He knows that physical injury to him, being the smaller (and weaker) man, could have been the only possible outcome.  He asks, rhetorically: “- and for what?  For justice? For truth?”By addressing Morton like a bully, the wife/mother shows her scorn for the weakling in Morton.   Her reaction raises questions  regarding the attitude of modern women vis-à-vis “civilized” men.  Have women always looked upon men as their protectors, and does such attitude  persist among them even in this modern era when cold reason, not brute force, prevails?   Is the wife’s mockery of Morton only an indication that women are now more outspoken than their counterparts of old, or could it be that their feelings on the matter have always been so – that they expect their men to stand up and fight – regardless of the consequences?The feminist movement notwithstanding, women are by nature physically weaker than men.  Thus, it is but natural that they look up to men to perform the more tedious, physically demanding work, and, more importantly, to fight their battles, even dying in the process.   Society itself has this expectation of men.   It is a tradition – or a mindset – that is perhaps ingrained in our consciousness, imprinted in our genes since time began.   Primitive society placed supreme emphasis on physical power.  Men who showed their superiority in battle or the hunt were chosen leaders.  Not only that; they also took unto themselves the most desirable females, as women are naturally attracted to someone who could protect them against the dangers of the wild, not a weakling whom the people of the tribe looked down upon with utmost contempt.Such attitude prevails until today.    Despite its deference to law and order, society expects a man to fight his own puny battles; the state has more than enough of its own.   The woman is aware of this fact:  “But what else could he possibly have done?  Allow himself to be beaten?  Attempt to educate the man?  Call a policeman?  ‘Officer, there’s a man in the park who won’t stop his child from throwing sand on mine. . ‘.”But while such attitude remains among women, it is mostly hidden, suppressed or thought of as unbecoming in this modern age, which is the age of reason.   Nowadays men can afford to be soft, unaggressive in the physical sense, making up for their lack of brawn by their sensitivity and tenderness and warmth.     The woman knows this fact; before the sandbox incident  she was the picture of contentment.  Then, “she was suffused with a tenderness for her husband and impotent rage against the man for involving him in such a situation so alien and so distasteful to him.”   The aggressive behavior of the other man must have aroused in her the primitive instinct to defend her “territory”, as a wild animal attacks an intruder in its lair.For one, I am of the view that women in general want their men to be assertive of their rights, ready to fight when provoked, aggressive when necessary.  Of course, women would want their men to be sensitive and caring and gentle.   But when the moment arrives requiring their men to act manfully in their defense, women expect them to do so, although concerned about their safety.   Witness how women swoon over returning war heroes and military cadet officers. The most adoring fans of heroes in the hardcourt, in the boxing arena, and in other sports competitions are women.   Like their primitive counterparts, they admire  males who are not afraid to do battle against the enemy.Despite knowing, by logic, the insanity of entering a fight that can only result in Morton’s defeat, the wife is angry nevertheless because she felt “something heavy and inescapable.”  She now despises her little child, forgetting her pity “for his little body, the frail arms, the narrow shoulders with sharp winglike shoulder blades, the thin and unsure legs . . . now her mouth tightened in resentment.”    In one instant, she has assumed the attitude of  primitive man towards the pathetic individual who cannot defend himself.      Perhaps, it springs from a person’s scorn for weakness in another person.  When the bully boy threw the spadeful of sand at Larry, his mother’s first instinct “was to rush to her son, brush the sand out of his hair, and punish the other child, but she controlled it.  .  . She wanted Larry to fight his own battles.”I submit that women down the ages have not really changed much.   Women are by tradition shy, submissive, delicate.   It is only recently that women have acquired civil rights at par with men under our laws.  Most probably , it is the men who have changed.   Men no longer have to fight Trojan-like battles; they have become tamed and soft and fragile.  The brutish man of old is replaced by the sociable, educated person who would rather reason it out than play by the other man’s game of savage combat.  It is not, of course, the fault of men, given the conditions under which we now live.   Nowadays it is not unfashionable for men to do the household chores while the women work outside the home.  Women are placed at equal footing with the men at the workplace and almost everywhere.  Thus, men have been conditioned to think that women can fend for themselves.    How many men today would rise up to give their seat to a woman in a crowded bus?   How many men would be willing to die defending a woman from an attacker?   Only an isolated incident like that in Sunday in the Park , now and then awakens a woman’s hidden attitude concerning the opposite sex.   She looks at man as her protector, and if he has to suffer by defending her, sustaining broken glasses and losing teeth in the process, it is a small price to pay to avoid losing one’s inner peace, for defending one’s honor in the face of naked aggression.What does the story suggest?   That men build their muscles so they could whip any bully that comes along?   Sunday in the Park, I believe,  provides no such moral.   It merely looks into the incident as it occurred, and it is up to the reader to judge what to make of it.It is my opinion that, by coming up with this story, the author attempts to shed light on the modern woman’s perception of their men.  She brings back into our consciousness a fading image of men as they were seen by the opposite sex in the not-so distant past: able to defend, willing to stand up for their women.

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