Do I really have to say this? I wondered to myself as I tried my best to participate without skepticism in a relationships seminar I'd signed up for not long ago. Do I really "castrate" men? Do I expect them to behave more like women and as a result emasculate them? Do I not understand the differences between men and women in relationships, and is that one source of my dating woes?
I didn't have time to think too deeply about these questions, because I was immediately instructed, along with some 100 other women in the room, to stand up and recite this mantra. And I did. Some women started crying in bouts of catharsis. I didn't really feel anything when I said it, except a little wonder at myself for joining the chorus.
The mantra had jump-started the two-day workshop for women titled "Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women," which I attended not long ago at a conference room in a hotel near LAX. The program was created by a woman named Allison Armstrong, a self-professed expert on men, and it promised to foster better communication, understanding and respect between the sexes.
The session leader admitted that the language of the mantra was purposefully hyperbolic, but said that one point of the seminar was to allow us to embrace male characteristics that might fluster women, but which are an indelible part of the male psyche. This may seem like an anti-feminist lesson to some, but it is by empowering men, the workshop taught, that we actually empower ourselves. By "putting down our sword" and letting men be the best men they can be, women can begin to view men not as antagonists, but as partners.
I had decided to sign up for this workshop after attending the introductory preview course, "Making Sense of Men," which outlined some "secrets" of male attraction to women. I'd heard about it on the radio and it was free, so why not? It turned out to be pretty enlightening, making the point that confidence, a passionate interest and authenticity are among the specific qualities in a woman that can tip a man's attraction from purely physical to enchantingly spiritual.
The two-day workshop was less enlightening. The first day felt like a recap of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus." It outlined differences between the sexes, some of which are already common knowledge to many women, like: men are single-focused; men act from reason before emotion; and, most of all, men like to be the providers.
At the start of the second day, we were given a formula with specific phrasing on how to ask men for what we need. The point of some of the phraseology is to cater to a man's instinct to provide and feel appreciated for what he has done in the past. It all seemed contrived. The instructions actually made me more confused, and little time was left open for questions throughout the seminar.
I wondered if I should drop out and ask for my money back, which was quite a nice sum: about $400.
I stayed because the end promised to tie everything together: a panel of men who would field our questions about men.
But when we were prohibited from asking the men questions about sex -- of course, the most alluring topic -- I decided to head out. The topic of sex was reserved for a different, equally expensive workshop, titled "Celebrating Men in Sex." Then came the live advertisements: If you sign up today, you get a discount.
It all seemed a little exploitative to me. Women are so vulnerable when it comes to relationships that they'll spend a lot of money when someone promises them insights into positively transforming how they interact with men. Perhaps some women need the live oration of this kind of seminar, where they actively recite phrases and perform exercises. As for me, I'd rather read a good book that costs about 20 bucks and includes critical research, detailed examples, back-up and references.
When I told the workshop manager that I wasn't satisfied and wanted a refund, she was very kind and understanding, giving me the best advice of the day: It's important for women to do what's true for them and to be themselves with men.
Although I missed the men's panel, I decided to create my own. Given my confusion about the workshop lessons, I checked the premises and prescriptions of the seminar with my male friends and even with men I've dated. How do you feel about women making the first move? What qualities do you like in a woman? Do men really need a woman to completely zip up when they talk? How should a woman ask a man for what she needs?
It was amazing to discover how receptive and talkative these men became when I asked them about what makes the male species tick. Their answers actually validated many of the ideas I'd learned in the seminar, while challenging others.
That's when I realized the best workshop I could ever attend is the workshop of my own life. By communicating openly, honestly and freely with the opposite sex -- platonic or romantic -- is how we all, men and women alike, put down our swords. And it's free.
Orit Arfa is a writer living in Tel Aviv. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org