I used to go to a YMCA, where in the locker room, about two-thirds of the men would stroll from their locker to the showers, or just meander about the place chatting, without bothering to put on a towel. And this wasn't a bunch of hunky 20-somethings looking for dates -- I'd say the average age was around 55. I always suspected they were getting a secret little homoerotic thrill from parading in front of each other with their junk out.
I couldn't help but think of that when I read this article in today's New York Times about unease among current and former personnel to the fact that the Navy will now be allowing women to serve on submarines. This resistance is neither surprising nor particularly troubling -- the guys who are feeling uncomfortable will get over it, just as their compatriots on surface ships did. But this particular passage was amusing:
John Mason, a retired senior chief petty officer who served aboard four submarines and two surface ships from 1977 to 1994, began preparing an online petition opposing the integration of women this spring...Mr. Mason said the presence of women on submarines would put an end to the kind of camaraderie "that involves close physical contact, like man hugs and bottom pats" that sailors use to cope with the pressure of extended deployments.
There's a reason why the Village People sang "In the Navy." In certain kinds of all-male environments, the impossibility of heterosexual interaction gives guys license to be a little freer with each other than they might otherwise be. You know, to cope with the pressure of extended deployments. Put a woman or two into that environment, and all of sudden patting your buddy on his butt seems, well, kinda gay.
Every time change comes to a culture, something is lost. I sympathize with Mr. Mason, who would like the Navy to forever stay the same as it was when he was serving. But that's what happens in life -- time goes on, things change, and sometimes all we're left with are the memories of bottom pats past.
-- Paul Waldman