Loh and Browne

I am a big fan of Sandra Tsing Loh, and I especially enjoyed her recent pieces in The Atlantic on menopausal women and on the trials of caring for an elderly parent. I was also fascinated by her article on “The Weaker Sex” in the October 2012 issue, which described a gathering of California DPWs (Divorced Professional Women) and their complaints about the men in their lives. Loh’s friends came to the conclusion that every woman needs four different services from a man, and that it would be rare for one man to fill all these needs.
What struck me was the close parallel between Loh’s list of desirable male traits and one devised by Jill Conner Browne of Jackson, Mississippi, the Sweet Potato Queen, whose humorous books have found a rabid fan base, whose favorite snack is bacon coated with brown sugar, and who leads parades of followers clad in red wigs and tiaras.
Here is the comparison:
Browne says every woman needs “a man who will buy you things”; Loh and her group identify “Mr. X: the financial partner.”
Browne recommends “a man who can fix things”; Loh’s friends, Mr. Z, AKA “Mr. Fix-it.”
Browne looks for two other men, “a man to have sex with” and “a man to talk to.” She warns that in real life, unlike in soap operas, a man who actually listens to women talk about their feelings is exceedingly rare (and possibly gay). Loh’s pals may be more hopeful than realistic when they combine the two as “Mr. Y: the feelings guy,” who provides active listening, massages, and “amorous relations if needed.”
Browne’s remaining category is “a man to dance with.” I thought this avatar would be missing from Loh’s article until I got to the final paragraph, in which she values the man she sometimes calls her “demon lover” because “he is the rare heterosexual man who can really dance.”
The one category unique to Loh and her cadre is “Mr. Q: the cheerful intern,” who will address envelopes, pick up the dry cleaning, and drive the kids to soccer games. Here the DPWs, with their high-power careers, long for a man that, Loh admits, probably doesn’t exist.
I am not suggesting that Sandra Tsing Loh was influenced by Jill Connor Browne or that she has ever heard of her. I imagine that Loh and the women with whom she shared the hot tub would be as appalled by Browne’s super southern, unliberated persona as the members of my book club were when I recommended her Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love for our summer reading selection. I am merely fascinated with the similar conclusions drawn by these two very different women—and with their wisdom in suggesting that it is not fair for any of us, male or female, to expect one life partner to meet all our various needs.

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