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Some American men.

Some American Men. Gloria Emerson. Simon and Schuster, $17.95.Collecting information, said Mark Twain, is like collecting garb age: you must know what you are going to do with the stuff before you start rounding it up. The stuff of Gloria Emerson's book is in disparate chunks, seemingly drawn from unrelated projects, few of them suited to the arguments surrounding them.

There are reports on Vietnam--the war, the Thai refugee camps, the veterans, and Agent Orange victims-much of it related to her earlier work- Winners and Losers.

There are her interviews with the poor and her statistics on poverty, unemployment, and the depredations of Reaganomics. And she presents her gallery of profiles of American men, chosen, she tells us, "by chance or by design... .One conversation began in a grocery store in New Jersey when I asked a man I mistook for the manager where the dry mustard might be found." Among others, she talks with a laid-off auto worker in Ohio, a Princeton student with a workingclass background who plays in a rock band, a disgruntled New York Times Africa correspondent, and a consultant on "workplace deviance." Finally, and quite apart from the rest, are Emerson's own reflections on American manhood in a changing society.

The questions she asks in this vein are undeniably fascinating. How do men reconcile the old expectations with the new? How have they changed their views of women, money, and their daughters? What do machismo and the army mean to them now? But Emerson does not seem to have begun focusing on the themes until after she finished her reporting. The long profiles, works of keen and copious detail, imply a few vague answers. The interview subjects barely address the questions. Emerson blames this all too easily on the inability of men to "open up," a point she drives home by haranguing a Vietnam veteran: "You can't be made of ice. It's not wrong or shaming to be afraid."

Mostly, though, she relies for framework and transitions on a peculiar quasi-oracular narrative in which she generalizes and refers to the present in the past tense For instance, "That year [what year?] it was not unusual for American females to work for construction companies, be lawyers, deputy sheriffs, bus drivers. . . .Men stopped saying women were not good drivers, but when a couple was seen in a car it was the man at the wheel. Men pushing strollers were not considered odd or silly." She blows anecdotes into "significant" trends: "Fewer women profess they must 'love' a man before fornication, and some women, young, who have casual affairs in the apartments of men do not choose to spend the night there but get up, dress, and go home alone Sleeping with them is too intimate, one said, a 31-year-old physician."

More harmful to the author's credibility are the careless observations that shade into stereotype. Of men she writes, "Because masculinity is said to be on endless trial during the lives of men, men must ceaselessly convince themselves. . ." Of what? We never really find out, but Emerson still concludes, "None of this do they seem to know or be able to acknowledge '" Of women: "If they join the army they are not apt to outwit anyone. . . .They stay in the lower ranks and are obedient, deciding almost nothing, with men who do not know more."

Anecdotes can resonate only if connected to some broader evidenceof the phenomenon they purport to illustrate. That evidence is missing from Emerson's book as a whole Its absence not only saps her credibility but makes her basic argument difficult to grasp or define. From the book's chapter titles, introduction, and final few paragraphs, you'd think the author had unearthed an important and little-examined side of American feminism. As men change their views of women, this argument seems to go, they also change their views of their own experience and aspirations; they learn to express emotion freely, to rethink love and ambition and wan If true, this is tremendously important. But we will not learn it from Emerson's men, who, however much they "open up" to her, talk mainly about older preoccupations such as their stoicism in war or their deep attachment to their fathers. It's a shame the argument and the reportage don't match. Emerson's reportorial eye is so sharp, one wishes she had gathered her material in support of some other argument.
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Author:Schwartz, Amy E.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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