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Throughout the story of “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses,” written by Irwin Shaw, one of the main protagonist in the story, Frances, is annoyed and irritated throughout because of the way her husband, Michael, vividly and vehemently stares at the vast amount of beautiful women that happens to cross the couple’s path on this atypical fall Sunday afternoon in New York City. All Frances wants to do is to be able to enjoy a nice Sunday afternoon with her husband. She just wants to be his complete and utter focus, because that’s what her husband represents to her. Michael is her everything, she passionately loves him and determines her happiness based on Michael’s happiness. Now Michael, on the other hand, is enjoying this fall Sunday afternoon as well, but in a slightly different fashion. Michael is happily indulging in one of his favorite and oldest hobbies—gazing at the various and vast amount of beautiful women that cross his path. Michael has practiced this advantageous sight-seeing since before he was with Frances. And I bet that if you were to ask Michael how his day is going, he would tell you that he is having an excellent Sunday afternoon. Michael’s perspective is that as long as he doesn’t act on, or follows through; trying to allure these ladies to sleep with him then in his mind he’s doing nothing wrong. As my dad would say, “it is not right and it is not fair to victimize a man with a wandering eye. As long as that is the only organ doing the wandering, you have to let a man be a man.” With his wife by his side grasping his arm for understanding, Michael strolls down 5th avenue in New York City feeling as if nothing is going to be able to ruin this beautiful Sunday. But Michael’s seemingly narcissistic approach towards his interactions with other women is having an ill-advised affect. His innocent hobby is giving Frances the impression that she appears to be unwelcomed and unwanted. Neglecting this seemingly obvious notion, Michael and Frances continue going through the motions. Giving the world a false impression about just how happy they are together.
Irwin Shaw masterfully portrays the struggle faithful and committed men go through on a daily basis. We love our significant others with all our heart, mind, and soul, however, there’s something extremely enticing about a beautiful woman. The length of her hair, the color of her eyes, her posture, the way she presents herself, her style, her curves, the way she walks—and let me not fail to mention whether or not she knows how to elegantly wear a dress and has mastered how to entrap any man with only a stare. Women are Gods’ most unique and beautiful creation. Even other women check out other women. Some admit to doing it while others just get caught gazing with a really deceiving mean face on. Or as social media has now termed it, a resting bitch face. And most of the time the woman staring doesn’t have anything to do with sexual intrigue. Now I wouldn’t dare try to put men in this same context, but regardless of the intentions, the allure is all the same. Beautiful women have this unique ability to draw people’s attention, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Many women wouldn’t openly admit it, but more often than not women use other women to compare and contrast different aspects about themselves. I see this event occur at Harper College all the time. A beautiful girl will walk down the strip of the Avante building, and will catch everyone’s attentions. The guys sitting at one table will talk about a variety of things, anything from vivid sexual innuendos to the class that they may or may not share together. Not much deviation from what men typically talk about anyway. Meanwhile at the girls table, it is a plethora of different thoughts and comments circulating. Some girl gets upset because that’s the pair of TOMS’s boots that she wanted, and that girl had the audacity to be wearing them. Then, one might compliment her on how nice and elegant her Tory Burch Ella Nylon Tote handbag is, but makes sure to point out that she would have gotten a different color. While another goes on and on about how she could never be that thin because of her unquenchable love of ice cream. Some women are so observant and clever that even from a distance, they can catch other men gazing at another woman and at in that very same proverbial window, pinpoint what it is specifically about the woman that’s drawing everyone’s attention. In the resolution of this event, most women will end up labeling all the men who possess wandering eyes as untrustworthy dogs, always looking to bone.
Now the vast majority of women love attention, and the feeling of being wanted and admired. This is why it is so important for men to physically and emotionally show the woman, or women, in their lives that they are appreciated, wanted, and needed. Self-esteem is a very sensitive topic to women as a whole. Women will go to extreme lengths and sometimes-irrational means in an effort to present themselves to others as being beautiful and wanted. A prime example of this notion, are popular women magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Us Weekly. These magazines target women’s inability to love themselves at all angles. Anything from popular diet fads, to various wardrobe enhancements, or ways to enhance their sex lives, and they always have that one risky and expensive fat removal surgery with a beautiful lady with perfect hair promoting it. Even though chances are she never experienced that surgery to begin with. Not only do they target the various insecurities women possess, they have seemingly found a way to profit off of it. In June of 2016, Vanity Fair reported that they have over two million subscribers, and after our newly elected president mentioned the magazine in a “tweet”, their subscriptions have doubled in the last month alone. These insecurities also can have different effects on the men who have to essentially combat them. Yes, men want to have an attractive woman that they can call their own. That’s true, but they also want a woman who possesses self-confidence. Confidence in knowing that they have something special about them, and that something special is the reason they’re together to begin with. Men are not too fond of being with someone who constantly questions the validity of their feelings towards them. It can become frustrating at times because no matter how much or how many times you may say the word or words that you think she wants to hear, you end up on the losing end. But actions are what truly resonate with us in the end. Man and woman. We both want our significant other to show us that everything they say they actually mean and feel themself And that’s the quarrel that Frances is having with Michael. Frances hears Michael say that he loves her and only her, but Frances has some trust issues that stem from Michael’s wandering eyes. “’ Despite her own attractiveness, Frances is basically insecure, and this leads her to moodiness and a kind of nagging repetition. She apparently has no other role, identity, or interest in life than being Mrs. Michael Loomis. She desperately wants his attention, approval, and reassurance. Her anguish and his ungentle manliness arise from their superficial characters.”’ (Archer). Stanley Archer and I draw similar conclusions. We both feel that Frances is insecure and that insecurity has led to her own neglectful approach to her own beauty. But that’s where our similarities end. I disagree with his sentiments about Michael entirely. According to Stanley, “’ Michael is visually oriented and essentially superficial; to him women are primarily sex objects.”’ (Archer II). I disagree with this notion. Michael is vastly misunderstood as a man. Here is a man that comes from a very small town known as Farmington, Ohio. According to the United States Census Bureau, around the time Michael was born (since the story is placed in the 1930s, and he himself is in his late twenties to early thirties, we’ll determine that he was born around late 1900s or early 1910s) Farmington, Ohio’s entire town population was four hundred and forty six people. Now that four hundred and forty six people consists of one hundred and sixty one separate households. And out of those separate households, ninety one or fifty six percent of them were married couples. That leaves seventy households that potentially could bear attractive single women—with the key word being potentially—but that potential soon fades away once we dive deeper into the numbers. Out of those seventy potential households, only seven were female householders with no husband present. And as a whole, the entire population in the age demographic of twenty one to forty five was twenty six percent. Or one hundred and fifteen people, and that includes male and female. Now if you also consider that, again, fifty six percent of the general population is married, the amount of women even available to Michael to gaze upon is minimal at best. Many people want to ostracize Michael as just consider him a very terrible example as a married man. Now me on the other hand, I consider him an enigma. Many fail to consider his background playing a part in the way he chooses to show women his appreciation of the way they present themselves towards society. If you came from a really small town where you knew everybody and every one, the allure of a beautiful women is not even the same. Coming from that small town, you know already what she likes, how she acts, what different tactics or methods work in the efforts of getting her to do what you desire her to do. There is no unknown, nothing to pursue. Nothing that makes you wonder or imagine any sort of possibilities. Seeing the same people and the same places over and over again has to become mundane for even the most conservative of person. And that primarily is why I feel Michael choose to move to New York City in the first place. Not just to pursue a successful business career, but to experience some unknowns and really get an understanding of what this life has to offer. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from Michael himself about what comes to mind when you mention New York City.
“’When I think of New York City, I think of all the girls, the Jewish girls, the Italian girls, the Irish, Polack, Chinese, German, Negro, Spanish, Russian girls, all on parade in the city. I don’t know whether it’s something special with me or whether every man in the city walks around with the same feeling inside him, but I feel as though I’m at a picnic in this city. I like to sit near the women in the theaters, the famous beauties who’ve taken six hours to get ready and look it. And the young girls at the football games, with the red cheeks, and when the warm weather comes, the girls in their summer dresses . . .’” (67). Michael’s outlook on women is in no way malicious or that different from the mass majority of men today. Michael, like some men, understands and appreciates the time, effort, money, and hard work some women put into making themselves beautiful. However, one could argue that happily married men do not partake in the activity of “sight seeing” especially with their wife right by their side. That innately something has to be wrong with their marriage for him to be so blatantly open about looking at other women. As if he is seemingly trying to start a quarrel with his wife on purpose. Michael is happily married; at least that’s what he claims. He vehemently repeats that phrase to his wife who, rightfully so, questions how much truth is in that statement. Michael, however, doesn’t feel that he should be condemned for looking at other women. In his mind, as long as he doesn’t act on any urges or temptation that he encounters, he’s not doing anything wrong. As Michael put it himself, “I love the way women look’” (67).
Michael is a smart, honest, and down to earth man. How else could Frances and Michael, a relatively young couple, afford to live in New York City? He knows better than to act on any impulse and risk jeopardizing his marriage, life, and career. Frances, however, doesn’t seem to care, and correlates Michael’s women gauzing as a subliminal confession to Michael’s infidelities. She keeps repeating “you want them”, (67), without any expression. She suddenly feels as if now there is a void in her relationship with Michael. In her mind, she views Michael’s wandering eye as a sign of her inability to please him as a wife. And this makes her sad because of how affectionate and strong her love is for her husband. And now, to make matters worse, she’s unsure if Michael’s love towards her is as passionate as her love towards him.
“I’m good for you; I’ve made a good wife, a good housekeeper, a good friend, I’d do any damn thing for you” (68). From the text, it’s clear to see that Frances is mentally and psychologically drained. She’s always known that her husband has a wondering eye but never before did she know as to what extend and how deep Michael’s love for other women truly ran. “’ As Frances sobs into her handkerchief, Michael finds courage to celebrate the wonderful experience of observing women, richly dressed in furs in winter or in summer dresses in warm weather. Although he reassures Frances that she is a good wife, she believes that he only wants his freedom, and he cannot convince her of his loyalty because he is not convinced of it himself. They decide to spend the rest of the day with friends after all, and as Frances walks across the bar to make a phone call, Michael cannot help admiring her figure, her legs, just as he admires the features of strangers passing along the street. Their situation is a modern one, appropriately symbolized by New York women reflecting the economic vitality of the urban setting. Although Shaw frequently stops at the surface of the modern lifestyle, his portraits of modern men and women effectively suggest the conflicts below apparent comfort and success.”’ (Petty). On the surface, Michael and Frances give off the appearance of a young happy couple experiencing life in the big city. However, things rarely tend to be as they seemed to be from the outside looking in. And once you get uncover the truth, it’s hard for empathy and sadness to not overwhelm you as try and relate to Frances. Here goes this beautiful woman, by all accounts, who unfortunately can’t see for herself exactly how beautiful she is because she’s trying to compare herself to the beautiful women that keep catching her husband’s eye. And it is impossible for Frances to win in that context. Michael sees her every single day, knows everything about her. He has a certain comfort level knowing that Frances isn’t going anywhere and part of the reason he gazes upon all these women is that each women passing by him presents a different mystery and a different realm of imagination. But Frances continues to try and combat these various mysteries for Michael’s undivided attention. It’s a sad reality honestly, and as a result, Frances’s self-esteem is being shot in its preverbal face repeatedly. Wishing Michael could just understand things from her perspective, just one time.
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