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Something's happening here.

First, an estimated 870,000 African-American men assemble on the Mall in Washington, in part to consecrate themselves toward better relationships with the women in their lives. Then a massive gathering of Christian men comes to the same place with a very similar goal. On Saturday, the Million Woman March will unfold in Philadelphia with the restoration of family as one of its priorities. Later this year, a Miami company will release "Sister, I'm Sorry," a video of apology from black men for their sins against black women. And now Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan announces plans for a mass wedding ceremony on the Mall in the year 2000, uniting 10,000 couples of all colors.

Look beyond the distractions of race, religion and Farrakhan and the conclusion is inescapable: The ground is moving.

And something is happening between women and men.

We are, it seems to me, trying to find our way back home. Back to families and communities and fundamental decency. Back to the white picket fence.

We won't get there, of course. We have seen too much change. And besides, so much of what we try to get back to is just stubborn myth; we were never quite as innocent as white picket fences implied. But even if we don't get there, I'm persuaded we just might get somewhere.

When I was a child, the battle of the sexes seemed little more than an amusing skirmish, a staple plot line of TV comedy: Lucy and Ethel trade places with Ricky and Fred. Hilarity ensues.

It's difficult to pinpoint just when that skirmish went nuclear. Somewhere between bra burning and abortion rights, between Anita Hill and Camille Paglia, between the Formica ghetto and the glass ceiling, something mean came into the struggle between women and men. You felt it when some women held Lorena Bobbitt up as a feminist hero -- never mind that she had mutilated a man as he slept. You sensed it when you turned on the radio and found yourself drowning in a tide of "bitches" and "ho's." It was there when you gagged on the seamy details of Tailhook, there whenever some woman said the lack of a father in her child's life was less a tragedy than a simple inconvenience.

The birth of a new social order is never without upheaval, and in that regard, the gender revolution is certainly no different. But upheaval seems to have led us to something else here. We have pulled away from one another. The humor and soul of personal interactions have been replaced with an antiseptic "correctness." Sometimes I get the feeling we don't even like each other that much anymore.

Give credit where it's due: Social conservatives have been hammering this point for years. Trouble is, they were so hateful of women's progress, so ham-handed, self-righteous and shrill, so intent on getting back to picket fences that never were, that it became easy to shrug them off. Too easy, in retrospect.

We ignored the fire because we didn't like where the alarm was coming from. Now the stench of burning is unmistakable. You can't get any farther from social conservatism than Louis Farrakhan. When such disparate -- even opposing -- forces are both trumpeting the importance of marriage, we should all know what time it is.

Time to get back. Back to husbands and wives, back to parents and children, back to the dinner table.

It won't be easy. Having transfigured their lives and made new options, women won't -- and should not -- drape apron chains on their waists again. Having been pushed by tides of change, men are just beginning to seriously grapple with the task of redefining themselves. But the emancipation of women and the remaking of men are all for nothing if they bring only resentment and anger.

So it heartens me that something is happening here. Gladdens me that we struggle to return to one another's embrace. Because women and men are two halves of the human whole. Wherever we're going, one can't get there without the other.

Miami Herald

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