Warren Farrell has written another stunning blockbuster of a book.
And yet it's a bit more complicated than that. The current
position of men as well as of the still somewhat nascent/moribund
men's rights movement seems so problematic that Farrell apparently
chose to make this work as broadly relevant as possible by somewhat
surprisingly combining pop psychology with confrontation of
feminist falsehoods. Farrell thus appears at times to be seeking
to help us closer to the promised land of genuine gender equality
by offering us a book which can be all things to all people, or at
least more things to more people than any one book could normally
be expected to satisfy. The genius of the book is that while not
entirely successful at everything it attempts, it nevertheless
pulls off a remarkably enlightening blend of the self-help and
political analysis strands. The author manages to present an
unapologetic masculist perspective while simultaneously maximizing
the palatability of his message. It's quite an impressive feat.
After an admirably pithy state-of-masculinity summary of men's
current position in American society, Farrell cuts to the chase and
presents a detailed program to improve communication techniques
between the sexes. The most critical and most therapeutically
neglected aspect is learning to handle personal criticism from
one's partner. These ideas appear to owe a heavy (if
unacknowledged) debt to the doctrine of "conscious listening," far
from a novelty in self-help circles. And yet Farrell manages to
provide so many useful nuances and writes so beautifully that this
section still shines. Moreover, its location in a book by Warren
Farrell and prior to some heavier duty masculist material
accentuates its importance. Interestingly, Farrell appears to be
applying some of the information from his most unabashedly radical
book to date, The Myth of Male Power, to the relationship context.
In the style of his more accessible, earlier book, Why Men Are the
Way They Are (my personal introduction to masculist writing), he
also includes male-bashing excerpts from contemporary
advertisements and popular media.
The man does have quite the way with words. Labeling, he tells us,
is the lobotomy of our soul. Men are offered a choice between
disposability and powerlessness. Women's feelings are called both
education and entertainment, while men's are repressed until they
become ulcers. Only our daughters are taught to be both entitled
AND angry. In one particular felicitous phrasing that sums up the
goals of many of us in the gender equity movement, he writes:
"Ultimately, this book is about both sexes speaking and both sexes
listening in a radically different way. But prior to the
'ultimately,' there are reasons why men are the silent sex..."
Surprisingly, argument-provoking feelings are predominantly
expressed by women. Men are more inhibited by angry women and less
comfortable with emotional confrontation. Farrell states that his
goal "is to create a method of communicating that transforms anger
in the way a solar panel transforms heat--by taking intense heat
that would normally leave us hot one moment and cold the next, and
transforming it into energy that keeps us warm all the time."
Farrell includes a primer on how to get in touch with one's
feelings. (I must confess I do wonder how many men will actually
learn to connect with their emotions by reading a book, but I
suppose everyone must start somewhere.) He explains in detail the
value of men's groups. Farrell provides the rules of the game for
giving criticism so that it can be heard. He never misses a chance
to personalize his points by supplying examples from his own life
and relationships, including a detailed and very humanizing
portrait of his own father.
Later in the book, in the style of his last and most radical book,
The Myth of Male Power, Farrell moves into debunking the "second
shift" myth and the myth that men commit the overwhelming
percentage of domestic violence, adding advice to both sections to
promote male-female relationships. Farrell has unearthed some
fascinating information, such as outright fraud by both the United
Second Shift author Arlie Hochschild to perpetuate the
second shift mythology.
Farrell never falls into the trap of writing a blaming book. He
notes that regarding the definition of "housework," for example,
anger toward men is also perpetuated by men's blindness to the fact
that their contributions need to be seen and appreciated so that
both partners in a relationship can benefit. To promote this
possibility, Farrell provides an exhaustive (if not exhausting)
fifty-four-item "male housework" list.
Including a very useful appendix compiling all the two-sex
randomized studies of domestic violence completed to date, Farrell
notes the ignorance of feminists who claim that men believe they
are entitled to batter. Men who batter, he notes, represent a
breakdown of the male role. Thus it is intriguing that in a
phenomenal 100% of all advertisements in which only one sex is
hitting the other, it is women who are beating men.
Both men and women, we learn, devalue the importance of male
injuries. Farrell even mentions in passing that the learned
helpless and battered (wo)men's syndromes which feminists have
inserted into the laws would more properly be applied to men. And,
of course, it is well documented, to feminists' evident
discomfiture, that significantly MORE violence occurs with lesbian
couples than with heterosexual ones. Finally, he explains why
"battered women's syndrome" insults women's intelligence by
implying that they are not smart enough to leave their husbands
while the men are at work, on a business trip, etc.
Why is it, as Farrell asks in yet another devilishly effective
formulation, that when a rich older man marries a younger women we
speak of him as robbing the cradle, but we don't say that she is
robbing the bank? Almost every woman who marries thinks on her
wedding day that it is at least likely that her husband's potential
earnings will exceed hers.
By this point, Farrell resembles a prizefighter on a phenomenal
roll, landing one telling blow after another. He follows a
thought-provoking analysis of anti-male greeting cards with a pithy
summary of how men's attitudes toward sex parallel women's
attitudes toward money. And yet when a woman marries a millionaire
we congratulate her, while "in men's area of addiction, sex...
there is no arena in which we have been more judgmental..."
The men's movement has tossed around comparisons of feminism with
Nazism for years, but in one awesomely succinct passage, Farrell
responds to the cover of the book, "No Good Men," by creating the
parodies, "No Good Blacks" and "No Good Jews." Farrell notes, "We
might think the difference in our reaction [to these three
potential book covers] has to do with the perception of men as all-
powerful, but it was exactly that perception of Jews [as all-
powerful] that led to the passive acceptance of such slurs in Nazi
Germany." Later, he adds a great, reasoned comparison of feminism
and Nazism, acknowledging that the analogy is far from perfect,
but noting that some disturbing similarities do exist.
Farrell provides some fascinating detective work documenting that,
despite the intentional obscuring of this fact by federal data
collection categories, women may kill their husbands more
frequently than they are killed by them. Provocatively, the author
categorized as "domestic violence, female style" such acts as
reputation ruining through false accusations of abuse, career
destruction, and psychological abuse. Farrell labels as "the great
inequality" the fact that women's misuse of their "relationship
power" to triumph in and control arguments is legal, while men's
misuse of their physical power is illegal.
So why are women so angry? Many women are socialized to expect a
prince. When men turn out not to be princes but rather flawed
human beings, the women feel betrayed. In another felicitous
phrase, "women's dream of being swept away is swept away." Today
we have created a sexual double standard which is much more lenient
toward women's affairs then men's, even where the affair puts
children at risk and betrays a loving father. Thus men's problems
ruin them, and men are also held responsible for women's problems.
Women's magazines teach women to seduce their boss, then sue for
So why haven't men changed? Men haven't changed, Farrell shows,
because men's options haven't changed. We have expanded women's
freedoms and men's obligations, then complained that men haven't
changed. That, Farrell notes, must change.
Farrell's last, longest, and most devastating chapter sketches out
the remarkable power of the "Lace Curtain," feminism's equally
totalitarian, and equally one-sided, answer to communism's Iron
Curtain. Driven by government, education, the media, and the
helping professions, the Lace Curtain runs on victim power and the
"genetic celebrity" power possessed by attractive women.
The results? Justice is murdered, and the reasons explaining WHY
men earn more than women are suppressed. The causes of men dying
seven years earlier than women are ignored. We have women's
studies and no men's studies. Overprotection infantilizes our
daughters. In the end, nobody wins.
Inevitably, Farrell's balancing act between self-help talk and
political talk does not fully succeed all the time. Nits can
always be picked. With his talk of "conscientious feminists," he
is a bit too charitable towards the realities of the current
women's movement. For my taste, he also throws a few too many sops
to women--a title which implicitly faults men for our predicament
today, his talk of "men's blindness" perpetuating anger toward men,
his questionable statement that men are the passive-aggressive sex.
Occasionally Farrell's suggestions seem a bit silly. Perhaps this
is only because the ideas are so novel, but what would affirmative
action to encourage men to express their feelings look like?
But these are minor complaints indeed. Farrell's genius is to note
feminism's six unspoken rules: Define the issues; define an
oppressor; sell feminism as the champion of the oppressed; always
open options for women; never close options for women; when
something is wrong, never hold women responsible.
Where to go from here? Farrell does retain hope for a gender
transition movement which will transform society. Peppered
throughout the book are suggestions and proposals for change and
political action, many of which may seem idealistic or hopeless in
the present climate. And yet since we got here, Farrell seems to
be saying, there has to be a path back out. Radio (and perhaps the
Internet?) provide our last main bastions against the Iron Curtain.
Men can only get there from here if they do their homework and have
the courage to take their perspectives to the outside world and ask
for women to join them. "Men can't say what men don't know, and
women can't hear what men don't say." Thus concludes our most
celebrated writer's latest brilliant, complex stab at unraveling
anti-male sexism and leading us toward a brighter future.