October 3, 2008
Paul Newman – famous for his sparkling blue eyes, 10 Oscar nominations with one win and two honorary nods, and his own brand of salad dressing – died last Friday after 83 years of life and 59 collective years of marriage (50 years with actress Joanne Woodward). The couple were a Hollywood legend with an enduring love that outlasted petty disagreements, fragmented fame and the stress of raising three children (not to mention Newman’s three from his previous marriage). They claimed that their success in marriage was derived from the constant and supremely powerful force of humor that they injected into everyday life. There’s no doubt that Newman loved Woodward. After all, he was also famous for the quote:
“Why fool around with hamburger when you can have steak at home?”
Over the years, the quote has transformed; verbs have changed. But the bottom line has remained the same: marriage to Woodward, he claimed, was as fulfilling a union as steak is a meal. And when his belly was full of steak, he wouldn’t think of eating hamburger.
I know what he meant. It’s an expression of love and appreciation. But the quote has always made me cringe. He was referring to this outstanding person (by her own merits) as meat. What if Woodward hadn’t turned out to offer “steak?” What if she had offered up something slightly less satisfying…like chicken? Does the phrase then become: Why fool around with chicken nuggets when you can have breasts, thighs, wings and a drumstick at home?
The problem with Newman’s logic is that it places the burden of male fulfillment entirely upon women. He was saying that he didn’t stray because he was satisfied – even delighted – by the relationship he and his wife maintained. If he’d been answering the question “Why did you cheat?” instead of “Why didn’t you?” he’d have said something like this:
Well, I didn’t have steak at home (wink, wink), so I went out for a burger!
Wait a minute! That’s not fair! Men and women cheat on spouses all the time, but ultimately the blame for the cheating should fall on the person who cheated rather than the unsuspecting partner left behind. I’m not moralizing here. I won’t even say that cheating is wrong. Who can say for anybody other than yourself? My husband and I don’t condone cheating. Yet somehow, I don’t feel any pressure to serve up steak. He wouldn’t cheat even if he were unhappy. He’d talk to me about it first.
The old excuses are just that: excuses! My wife and I never have sex anymore, so I cheated. My husband spends all of his time surfing the Internet, so I cheated. My wife has let her tits sag, so I cheated. My husband can’t get it up, so I cheated.
The operative words are: “I cheated.” And whatever your reason, you still did the cheating. There were ways around it: confrontation, honesty, abstinence, sympathy, etc. But YOU still CHEATED!!!
I’m not picking on Newman, just his choice of words. And before I get slammed by hate comments condemning my scathing analysis of a beloved dead man’s quote, let me tell you why I appreciate Paul Newman’s legacy. He reportedly donated more than $150 million to philanthropic causes during his lifetime. After all, he said, “you can only put away so much stuff in your closet.”
Newman was an outspoken advocate for gay marriage. The Internet Movie Database reports that he once said: “I’m a supporter of gay rights. And not a closet supporter either. From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being…by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”
So, he was a good guy…perhaps just a tad old-fashioned when it comes to women’s liberation. “Wives shouldn’t feel obligated to accompany their husbands to a ball game,” he said. “Husbands do look a bit silly attending morning coffee breaks with the neighborhood wives when most men are out at work. Husbands and wives should have separate interests, cultivate different sets of friends and not impose on the other…You can’t spend a lifetime breathing down each other’s necks.”
That’s true. But Paul, some women prefer the ball game to the coffee break. And not all heterosexual marriages consist of one spouse working while the other spends her time leisurely.
I can’t resist passing along this wonderful video of an otter “couple” who probably didn’t think about steak – they’re fish-eating mammals, gay marriage or male/female equality. Nyac, the one with the white face, survived the Exxon oil spill in 1989 and had lived at the Vancouver Aquarium ever since. Milo is her buddy. Take a look:
It’s just so…human. But for otters, who are members of an endangered species, holding hands is a matter of survival. They lock paws so they don’t drift apart in rough waters.
Nyac recently passed away and I hope Milo doesn’t grieve forever. He’s all alone now in his exhibit. There’s a 24-hour live video feed on the aquarium’s Web site (www.vancouveraquarium.org). Please visit him so that he doesn’t get lonely.
It’s a lot to ask, but I hope the same for Woodward. Fifty years is so many moments, many hours, and many days to spend with another person, especially one who boasted about his fulfillment from the union, that moving on and finding another otter to cling to may be very difficult.