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Kirk Douglas: “What I’ll Tell My Sons About Woman”

Women. God bless them!

Since the beginning of time, the subject of women has confounded the philosophers, confused the poets, and mystified the common man. Myself included.

All of my life, women have confounded, confused, and mystified me. And it hasn’t helped that I have known quite a few of them. If anything, the variety has only added to the confusion.

The subject of women has always weighed heavily on the mind of every man—in every age bracket. Just the ether day, I was looking out into the front yard at my two sons playing cowboys and Indians with the two little girls next door. Suddenly an argument started (I later heard four versions) and the girls left in tears. Their departing blast to the Douglas boys was, “You can’t ever play in our yard anymore . . .”

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “There it is, the battle of the sexes starting already.”

For it won’t be long before the pattern of eternal confusion begins for my sons. Perhaps what I can tell them will save them from some of the problems I had. On the other hand, five years from now they may read this and laugh their heads off at the crazy ideas the old man had back in 1951.

In any event, I think my boys are pretty smart. And if they develop into the kind of young men I hope they will, they will be able to separate the sense from the nonsense in what I say, and apply both to their own lives. I certainly hope so.

As the saying goes, those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Being thus qualified, I plunge into a subject which offers unlimited opportunities for making a fool of myself.

Women. I started my life surrounded by women—six of them, to be exact. They were my sisters, and each was older and infinitely wiser than I. Whenever I think of my sisters, singly or collectively, I am pleased to remember that they loved me and always tried to help me. One of my sisters taught me how to dance. Another one taught me how to tie a bow tie without looking in the mirror. Still another, my sister Betty, taught me how to fight. Really, she did. All of my sisters were wonderful.

Offhand, you’d think that my early life should have given me a head start over the other fellows in the task of understanding women. Well, it didn’t. Actually, the things I learned from my sisters only mixed me up, and it wasn’t until years later that I realized how badly.

Perhaps the most virulent piece of misinformation circulated around our house was the notion that women are the weaker of the two sexes. I don’t know who gave birth to that priceless phrase, but I am absolutely convinced that that myth was started by a very clever woman who was kidding everyone but herself. Superior women have been selling it to their inferior mates ever since. In fact, it has been the greatest tactical weapon since the Trojan Horse. Personally, I don’t believe I will ever get over the inferiority complex which started when my sisters outran me, won all my marbles, and beat up the neighborhood bullies I didn’t have the nerve to fight. Honestly, when I was about five I watched my sister, Betty wallop the daylights out of a mean kid who’d taunted me all the way home. Then she took me into the house and spent an hour showing me how to keep my guard up. Things like that leave their mark on a man. One of the subconscious reasons, I believe, why I took up wrestling in college was because there were no women wrestling on the team.

When I was a young man, a great deal was said around the house about woman’s desperate struggle for equality in the modern world. I went away to college with the sincere belief that I should never be guilty of taking an unfair advantage of girls. My sisters could not have made me more of a sitting duck if they’d chopped off both my arms. My first college debate, on the subject, “Should Women Take an Active Part in Politics?” proved that to me. My worthy opponent was an attractive girl who (although I had carefully avoided any of the forceful, old-line arguments against women in politics) so passionately accused me of rank masculine prejudice that even I was convinced that I had been guilty of it. Of course, she won the debate. I didn’t mind that so much, as I was still inexperienced. What killed me was our talk afterwards, when I asked her why she had concentrated so hard on the prejudiced views she suspected I had, instead of squashing the obviously weak points I had limited myself to.

“Oh,” she said innocently, batting her beautiful brown eyes. at me, “I was so sure you would use the old argument about women’s inferiority that I didn’t bother to prepare for anything else. But it didn’t make any difference, did it?”

Since then, I have lost dozens of similar arguments—enough to convince me, forever, that women are not battling for equality; but rather, for the right to battle for equality. And on their own terms. Today, I think that if more men realized this, there would be no battle at all, for they would have enough sense to stay out of the fight altogether. As long as they don’t, they will be born victims.

Not long ago, my oldest boy, Michael, came to me with the complaint that, “Mommie doesn’t understand me.” His feelings were hurt because Diana, for good reason, had not allowed him to wander down the street to play cowboys with some other kids. “Of course, she does, Son,” I told him, reassuringly. I meant to say further that he would never know how well she understands him. But Mikie is still too young to be pondering about such things. Perhaps he will come to me later in life with a similar complaint about his girlfriend, and then I can tell him the whole truth.

“Son,” I will say, assuming a paternal scowl, “men will always worry about women not understanding them. But it is not true. In only seems so because men are so totally incapable of understanding women. But don’t worry about it, Son. You never will know the way a woman’s mind works. Just give up.”

I honestly believe that if you could take a picture of a woman’s mind it would reveal a pattern of tangled thought trails, with pitfalls lurking at every turn. By this, I do not mean that women are lacking logic or judgment. Generally speaking, a woman’s judgment is much sounder than a man’s, for usually he is caught up in his dreams. For this reason, the right woman can always bring tremendous insight into a man’s life. But try as he may, he will never understand her, even when she is pleading for him to do so. A man can’t shift that fast.

It reminds me of the story of the wife who came home with a lamp which had been reduced from $79.50 to $54.00. She also had a new bathing suit that cost, she said, only $29.50 on sale, too. Her reasoning was that since she had saved $25.50 on the lamp, the suit had only cost her $4.00, and wasn’t she the thrifty one? It took her husband some time to figure it out, but almost at once he knew that her thrift was sure to cost him dough.

To my knowledge, no man ever won an argument with a woman. Whenever seems that he has, he should merely consider it the first round. He has been conceded that one in order to lose less painfully the next, more important, round. Thus, I fear, it will be to the grave. And if my sons or anyone else reading this detects a note of bitterness—well, I confess that I don’t know another way to swallow the unpleasant truth.

There was a scene in Champion that will illustrate what I mean. I remember it because it was handled so subtly. Maybe you will, too. Remember the scene where the blonde girl insists that the Champ get a new manager or else? “No,” he says. “No,” he repeats, in answer to her pleading. “Absolutely not,” he says, with finality. Then the scene fades, and the next shot we see is the Champ, sitting in the office of his new manager, discussing terms.

Why did he give in? Some people would call it love. You know, the web that traps us all.

I can hardly bear looking at my boys when I realize that it won’t be long before some beautiful little girl with pigtails will be the cause for their front teeth being knocked out. My heart falters when I think of them standing in front of a mirror, shaving a non-existent beard, and tying and retying their ties in order to make the best possible impression on their girlfriend of the moment. And I know there will come a time when a particular girl will, for each of them, be the cause of real heartache.

Unfortunately, there is not much concrete advice I will be able to give my boys on that score. But I can remind them that while the heart is the center of our whole existence, it fortunately has greater recuperative powers than any other part of our body.

I remember how I found that out. When I was in the second grade, I fell horribly in love with a little girl who was in the third grade. She was the most beautiful girl in school, a dream with rosy cheeks, blonde hair, and the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen to this day. I gave her a ring I’d made out of a nail, and she promised me faithfully that she would wait for me until we both grew up. She didn’t. She married some character before she even finished high school, and it nearly killed me. Until I met another girl, that summer, who had brown eyes, dimples, and the smoothest black hair I’ve ever seen.

When your heart is broken, it takes another woman to pick up the pieces and put them back together again. That is why, in spite of all the confusion they cause, women are here to stay.

And, you know, it’s not so bad. Women, in addition to being a part of the education of every man, are really wonderful when they are wonderful. But when they’re bad, there’s nothing. Worse.

In closing, I would like to say I know that when my boys grow up and read this they will take it to their mother. She will undoubtedly rip it to bits and give them the real truth. And I know one other thing for sure. I won’t argue with her.



(Kirk Douglas is currently starring in Paramount’s Ace In The Hole.—Ed.)



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