When it comes to stuff I obsess about, here’s a short list:
Why can’t I get a decent piece of pizza in New York City anymore? (I blame the dollar-slice industry.)
Which Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is his crowning achievement? (I’ve become convinced it’s “Evita,” not “Phantom of the Opera” or “Cats.”)
And will the Miami Marlins — my favorite baseball team — defy the odds and win a wild-card spot this season? (I’m taking bets it’s going to happen.)
But notice I didn’t mention anything about the Roman Empire.
If you’re a little confused about this Roman business, you’re likely not aware of this latest viral trend. Namely, a discussion about how men can’t stop thinking about that bygone era when Nero, Augustus and the like ruled the world — or at least a significant portion of it.
The subject has spawned many a social-media thread. It’s also been dissected by the New York Times and Washington Post.
And naturally, it led to my wife of 32 years asking me: “So, how often do you think about the Roman Empire?” As if she didn’t already know my real obsessions? I just nearly extended our upcoming Washington, D.C., vacation to see a buzzy new production of “Evita.”
Of course, there’s probably some truth to the notion that men are into matters of the ancient Roman state. It certainly fits the alpha-male fixation with power and authority. As in, us guys are just a bunch of wannabe gladiators, looking for our opportunity to brandish a weapon and defeat the enemy.
At the very least, we do know that men have particular obsessions that are less likely to be shared by women. We spend more on electronics and booze. We’re far bigger fans of professional football, which some might argue is just another version of the gladiator games.
But here’s the problem: What’s true in general is not necessarily true in particular. And to think all men fit a certain profile — in particular, the alpha-male profile — is to think that masculinity must adhere to a frankly outdated model.
We’re living in an era when we’re constantly redefining gender roles, if not the very idea of gender itself. Stereotypes may be rooted in certain realities, but those realities change over time.
Craig Agranoff, a Florida-based marketing guru, told me that companies still play by some of the old rules of what speaks to men, but they also know they’ve got to expand that definition. Or as Agranoff said, “It’s now OK for a man to want to have soft sheets to sleep on.”
The problem with playing the gender stereotyping game is that it limits us all. And in limiting ourselves, we close doors to “otherness” at best and create divisions that cause real pain and problems at worst. It’s such stereotyping that arguably leads to the gender pay gap that continues to plague the workforce, for example.
So, what about my list of obsessions? One could argue that baseball is a “guy” thing. Maybe pizza, too. And Broadway musicals? Perhaps not so much by traditional standards, but most of my male friends can talk theater all day. The point is, we don’t all fit neatly into the boxes that society suggests.
Which is why I threw the question back to my wife: “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” It turns out she knew her emperors far more than I did.