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Christine M. Flowers: Men attending 'The Nutcracker'? It's true

LAST SATURDAY night, I went to see "The Nutcracker." It was exactly 40 years after the first time I sat in those red velvet seats at the Academy of Music, but this 50-year-old woman saw the same magic (and felt the same butterflies) as the fourt

LAST SATURDAY night, I went to see "The Nutcracker." It was exactly 40 years after the first time I sat in those red velvet seats at the Academy of Music, but this 50-year-old woman saw the same magic (and felt the same butterflies) as the fourth-grader inside her. Life is made up of many things, but the best ones conjure memories of places and times that no longer exist. "The Nutcracker" does that for me, sending me back decades to my first official date with my first (and best) love: Dad.

That thought triggered another: There were an awful lot of men in the audience. While I noticed a good number of fathers with their fancy-dress princesses, there were also a bunch of younger guys with their girlfriends/wives/ prospects. Which led me to question whether they were there, like I was, because they loved watching ladies in white tulle tiptoe across the stage under artificial snow or - more likely - that they were strong-armed into going to the ballet. Because, although most men like to see scantily clad ladies dancing in tulle, I'm guessing that Tchaikovsky isn't tops on the playlist.

When I mentioned this to a friend, she called me a female chauvinist pig (whereupon I asked her if she'd spent all weekend watching a Norman Lear marathon). But she did have a point. Why do I get to eat, sleep and breathe football four months out of the year and demand it as a birthright, but men who go to the ballet are only faking their enthusiasm? Why am I allowed to worship at the altar of Lombardi, but a gent who can name all of Balanchine's baby ballerinas is a case study out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

This incident showed me how prejudiced I really am when it comes to certain things. Just as I get frustrated when women tell me how stupid it is for a professional to scream like a banshee when a monster in cleats pushes the other team's monster in cleats into the grass, thereby ensuring a fourth and long, I should be equally upset when a woman (me, I guess) questions the motives of a culture aficionado who just happens to have an XY chromosome (a full set, unlike the monsters in cleats).

Maybe I'm a little sensitive because I've always been on the other side of this exchange. When I went to Bryn Mawr, a college known more for its tea parties than its sports acumen, I was ridiculed one Sunday when I made the mistake of telling a roommate where I was headed. "The Vet?" she asked, not being from the area. "You don't even have a pet." When I explained that the Vet was our beloved rat-infested, all-purpose sports stadium, she hitched her glasses up on her nose and asked, "Why in the world would you want to go and see a pathetic bunch of mooses ram into each other while other pathetic losers swill beer and chant in monosyllables?" How to tell her that she'd just described a perfect afternoon for me? So I just lied and said that I was taking my cousin for his birthday.

Ultimately, I got the backbone to really own up to my love of football, and weathered both the disdain of so-called educated women as well as the suspicion of men who thought that I was pretending to like "their" game for ulterior purposes. What those purposes might have been were unclear, but I'm assuming they thought that I was trying to ingratiate myself with them to get a date. If I was trying that, it was a spectacularly unsuccessful initiative since I didn't have a real boyfriend until age 30.

But who needed romance? I had Randall. Who needed affection? I had Astroturf. Who needed desire? I had Defense (especially in 1991). And I also knew what the referees were saying with their sweeping arm signals and their dainty yellow hankies. One of my very good (male) friends acted as Annie Sullivan to my Helen Keller and explained all the penalties to me so I didn't need to keep asking, "What does it mean when he puts his hand around his wrist and yanks downward?" - which is probably something you really shouldn't ask a guy anyway.

Football is something that you can't learn to love. It is something that you are born loving. Having been born in Baltimore, just a few arm-throws away from where Unitas made history, I was destined to have this as a great passion. And it doesn't matter that I'm a girl.

So, here is my public apology to all those men who were at the Academy of Music the other night. I'm sure you loved every pas de chat. Although I'm sure the tutus helped.