Sunday in the Park by Bel Kaufman brings into focus a wife’s resentment against the seeming impotence of her husband against a bully. The husband, Morton, backs off from the other man whose child has been bullying their own little boy. Back home, the wife appears to submit to the logic of non-violence adopted by her husband, but when their child, sickly and fragile, is having tantrums, the exasperated Morton threatens it with punishment. The wife snaps and taunts her husband as the bully did.
By tradition, women regard their men as their protector, whether from beasts or other men. They want their husbands to be brave and willing to thwart aggressors at the risk of their own lives. Civilization, however, has softened man : the rule of law has done away with the need for a person to assert his rights by force. The peaceful, non-confrontational type of male has become the norm in our society. Nevertheless, most women still expect their men to be strong and brave, able to defend his family and his honor. By taunting Morton in the manner of the bully when he threatened to punish their son, the wife shows her scorn for the weakling in her husband, her utter contempt for Morton’s backing off from a fight he possibly could not win. Being physically weaker and more vulnerable, women naturally look up to men to perform the more tedious, physically demanding work, to hunt for food and game, to fight the battles in defense of home and tribe, dying if necessary. Down through the ages, society has always had this expectation of men. Primitive society placed supreme emphasis on courage and physical power. Men who proved their superiority in battle or the hunt were chosen leaders. They also took unto themselves the most desirable females, a woman being naturally drawn to someone who could protect her against interlopers or the dangers of the wild, not a weakling whom the people of the tribe looked down upon with utmost contempt.
Of course, women would want their men to be sensitive and caring and gentle. But when the moment arrives requiring their men to act manfully in their defense, women expect them to be resolute and brave, like the knights of yore who fought for their ladies. In modern times, men no longer have to fight Trojan-like battles. The brutish man of old is replaced by the sociable, outgoing person who prefers to reason out a dispute than resort to violence. It is not, of course, the fault of men, given the conditions under which we now live. Nowadays it is not unfashionable for men to do the household chores while the women work outside the home. Women are placed at equal footing with the men at the workplace and almost everywhere. Thus, men have been conditioned to think that women can fend for themselves. How many men today would rise up to give their seat to a woman in a crowded bus? How many men would be willing to die defending a woman from an attacker? Only an isolated incident like that in Sunday in the Park
, now and then awakens a woman’s hidden attitude concerning the opposite sex. She looks at man as her protector, and if he has to suffer by defending her, sustaining broken glasses and losing teeth in the process, it is a small price to pay to avoid losing one’s inner peace, for defending one’s honor in the face of naked aggression.