THE CENTERFOLD SYNDROME: How Men Can Overcome Objectification and Achieve Intimacy With Women by Gary R. Brooks (Jossey-Bass: $22; 244 pp.) It's pretty much what feminists have been telling us all along. Even "normal" guys are compulsive oglers, obsessed by women's bodies (or photos or videos of them). They make sex the ultimate test of their masculinity and resent women's ability to grant or withhold it. They are scared of non-sexual intimacy with women and downright spooked by physical closeness with men. The results: misogyny, sexual harassment, sleeping around, homophobia.
Brooks, a therapist and professor at Texas A&M; and at Baylor, isn't the first writer to wrap a catchy title around an amorphous blob of malaise. His insistence that how American men cope with sex is culturally based, and therefore changeable--as opposed to being "hard-wired" into their glands and brains--can be debated. The best parts of this book are taped dialogues from men's groups Brooks has led. His clients' slow, painful struggles to improve their relationships with wives and girlfriends are dwarfed by the forces that conditioned them. Brooks charts a moderate course between license and puritanism, even though this runs against the all-or-nothing American grain.