We’ve become a nation of wimps. Pansies. Quiche eaters,” says satirist Bruce Feirstein. “Alan Alda types—who cook and clean and relate to their wives. Phil Donahue clones—who are warm and sensitive and vulnerable. I’m convinced things were better off in the past. Men were men. Women were sex objects.”
Author Feirstein, 29, feels that the blurring of sex roles fostered by the avalanche of rhetoric from the feminist and human potential movements has reached the point of peril. His riposte: Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche (Pocket-books, $3.95), a kitsch declaration of independence that would have been the male answer to The Feminine Mystique if Fran Lebowitz instead of Betty Friedan had authored that classic.
Real Men has taken just two months to reach the top of the trade paperback lists, where it is in the vein of such earlier hot-selling confections as 101 Uses for a Dead Cat and The Official Preppy Handbook (to which Feirstein contributed). Billed as “A Guidebook to All That Is Truly Masculine,” it is a 93-page, mostly amusing hodgepodge of acerbic Lee Lorenz cartoons and Feirstein assertions about the hallmarks of what used to be known as the stronger sex. On dress: “Real Men are secure enough to wear the labels of their designer jeans inside their clothing.” On dining habits: “Real Men don’t play games with wine in restaurants; they don’t sniff the cork and say things like ‘It’s a small, unpretentious, fruity red with ambitious overtones of Bordeaux’ about a $4 bottle of Ripple.” Movies: “Real Men won’t pay $5 to watch Jill Clayburgh try to find herself in An Unmarried Woman.”
Other no-no’s: “Real Men do not relate to anything. They do not have meaningful dialogues…. They don’t go for it, catch rays, crash, party, boogie, get down, or kick out the jams.” Besides quiche, they don’t eat bean curd, tofu, pâté or yogurt; they don’t drink light beer. In clothes, they shun “pith helmets, yachting caps, bikini underwear, Sansabelt slacks, gold chains…or anything with more than three zippers.” Among the “Great Moments in Real Man History” Feirstein cites: “1450 B.C.—Moses parts the Red Sea.” British PM Margaret Thatcher made the RM frat in the Falklands affair: “It takes a Real Man to dispatch the fleet.”
The book is an expanded version of a piece Feirstein did for Playboy. “I like to prick balloons,” he says. “I just looked at all the trends and decided it was time to make fun of them. It was the right sensibility at the right time.” Raised in Maplewood, N.J., where his father is a sales executive for a textile firm and his mother is a first-grade teacher, Feirstein began writing parodies of TV’s Dragnet at 14. At Boston University’s School of Public Communication he became editor of the student paper, the Daily Free Press, as a sophomore. Living in BU’s newly coed dorms, he saw how the women’s movement would scramble all the old sexual equations. “A lot of confusion still exists,” he says. “You meet a woman and want to go out with her, but how do you achieve your goal? Are you soft and vulnerable or do you come on like Tyrone Power?”
After graduating in 1975, he spent four years in Manhattan advertising agencies writing copy for Fiat, Volvo and Pioneer stereo ads. He was earning more than $50,000 a year when, at 26, he decided to try free-lance writing. “I wasn’t smart enough to think I would fail,” he remembers. And he didn’t. His by-line has appeared in Playboy, New York and Glamour. Splitting his time between apartments in Manhattan and L.A., he is now working on a novel and a screenplay (his fourth) based on Real Men for Columbia.
Bachelor Bruce’s book dwells briefly on Real Women (they can drive a stick shift, grow their own nails, do not believe in palimony). “You are always ready if you meet the right person,” he observes, and he doesn’t rule out the possibility that his own Ms. Right could be a raving feminist. Talk show hosts, he gripes, always ask him if a Real Man would vote for the ERA, “waiting for me to say, ‘The Real Man wants his wife in the kitchen.’ Instead, I reply, ‘Absolutely—a Real Man is secure enough to have anyone as his equal!’ ” The genuine RM, he asserts, is the sort who “has no problems dealing with a wife with a career, yet still can command the respect of his foreign auto mechanic.”