An editorial counterpoint: A response to Jim Walsh

Jim Walsh’s nod ("Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire," Southwest Journal, Nov 19–Dec. 2) to our collective human need to find the empty places and inhabit them for refreshment of our spirits was punctuated with real sadness in several instances.

Woven throughout Mr. Walsh’s meditation on the ways men like to regroup and refresh are the recurring themes of isolation and emotional detachment from half the humans who help him and all men hold up the sky of this world. Walsh writes of men’s "caves" and the qualities that they have in common: a place to work with one’s hands, a place to sit and ponder and perhaps have a drink or a smoke, a place to gaze into a fire as we have since our earliest human existence … and a place to objectify women.

We all need to get away. A walk around the lake or in the woods, a room of one’s own, that’s sometimes enough. If more is needed, then a cabin, a retreat, a mobile home, a pop-up tent trailer, a framepack and gear can get any of us away from the masses in short order, and restore our souls quickly.

But none of it requires someone’s daughter, sister, mother or lover stripped down to little or nothing and splayed across a calendar page or wound around a stripper’s pole. Mr. Walsh may truly feel that "one of the most beautiful sights known to man [is] a woman dancing to music" but when he has already told us that he is in a strip club, some of the poetry of his sentiments comes to a crashing halt.

Let’s talk about those women, Mr. Walsh. National health statistics and exhaustive interviews of the last 30 years tell us that these women frequently had — and may still have — hellish lives of neglect, abuse and assault. Their self-esteem is in the toilet, or they would not be writhing in front of Mr. Marsh and his companions sitting out beyond the stage in the dark, sipping cocktails, sitting alone. Let’s get real: If Mr. Walsh truly wishes to see a woman dance, the Twin Cities is home to five professional dance companies, hosts countless national and international dance troups, and offers ballroom dancing lessons in quite a number of popular schools around town.

But, back to isolation and emotional detachment from half the humans who help hold up the sky of this world. Do we want these kinds of caves for our lovers, our sons and brothers and fathers? Personally, I believe in caves. A body needs something of its own, a place to go to earth when the world is too harsh, too much asked of us. I believe that is where we go for deep metaphorical sleep — meditation, contemplation, a gym workout, handwork and craftwork, hiking, camping out under the stars, having a great single malt at the bar. If we do it right, we come back to ourselves, whole again.

You see, when I and so many I know emerge from their caves — men and women alike — they are refreshed enough to consider the world once again in its marvelous wholeness, and to see themselves as part of it, and to see others in full respect as part of it, and to take up the work of the world once again.

Objectification is the opposite of that respect, and as long as there is a need to strip half of humanity down to their G-strings, that respect will elude men, and make us less whole as a world. If we go on in this world teaching boys and men by neglect and poor role models that its acceptable and cave-like to sort out the female herd into those who will dance nude, and those who would find it unthinkable, then how will the men in our lives ever be truly equal partners? Women may long, as Mr. Walsh wrote, for community but we also long for loving and respectful companionship, for the tenderness that comes with respect.

I am watching the boys and young men being raised by my friends, and know the work that is being done to keep their hearts and souls filled with hope and wonder, and especially the respect and the knowledge that women are not their bodies but whole beings, with minds, spirits, hearts and souls.

Let the work of the hands, the crackling log fire, and the stars in the sky, be enough for any man’s — and woman’s — cave.

Deborah Morse-Kahn is an author and public historian who lives in Linden Hills.