Give a guy a break

Warren Farrell has abandoned feminism and embraced a new cause: downtrodden men. Jojo Moyes met him
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's tough being a man. We girls have known that for years (it's one of our best- kept secrets). But now television is on a mission to show the boys just how downtrodden, discriminated against, emasculated and just generally hard done by they are.

Hot on the heels of last week's The Trouble With Men series, in which the male population discovered that even their sperm wasn't safe, A Bad Time To Be a Man, which starts this week, adds insult to injury by suggesting that women are also wearing the trousers.

The first film in the series, The Myth of Male Power, which airs tonight, features Warren Farrell, once one of America's most notable feminists, who has since defected back to the home side. The author of the best-selling book The Liberated Man (1974), who was elected three times to the board of the National Organisation of Women, is now vehemently opposed to what he says is the feminist movement's tendency to "hone victimhood to a fine art".

His programme, billed as one that will "explode the myth" of male power and "correct misapprehensions about the battle between the sexes", argues that men have no real power, just responsibility and obligation.

Real power, he says, is about choice; a fact that the post-feminist generation of women are wise to and men are not.

"The essence of my work is confronting men with their false definition of power," says Farrell. "I'm saying 'Men, no woman would be stupid enough to buy as a definition of power an obligation to earn money that someone else spends'."

He explains away the wage differential between men and women with a claim that men work an average nine hours more per week, and spend an average two hours extra commuting. He will accept that this is often because women have more family commitments, but, he counters, let's get real here: "The husband pays the woman in community property. The unequal division of labour is not a worse deal or a better deal, it's a deal. It's a trade- off."

Men, according to Farrell, are angry. They believe women have it better in the workplace, thanks largely to "affirmative action programmes", and that their own position at work is made worse by the threat of litigation over sexual harassment.

"Women are getting promoted even if they're not qualified," he continues. They get into positions of power, encroaching upon what used to be men's "turf", and then start issuing writs. And men, says Farrell, are thinking: "I haven't come into your kitchen and sued you for what I might be doing. They're the views I'm hearing and I understand them."

This former champion of feminism understands these poor men because, in his opinion, women never had it so good. They're working and they're being paid handsomely for it. And the more they earn, the more this increases men's attraction and respect for them. So how, one might ask, does one account for the eternal popularity of the trophy wife? Ah, he says, men still need to be nurtured.

"If a man has a choice between a woman earning money and not spending any time with him, then he'll choose affection, yes," says Farrell. "But if a woman just doesn't do much of the housework most men are just fine with that. They'll go out to dinner, they'll hire someone to do the housework."

After a brief interlude, during which your interviewer asks for the phone numbers of said males, he adds: "It's true that when someone is a top executive he or she has less time for intimacy, but women are more willing to trade for the money than men are. Women will give a lot of slack to the doctor. The doctor will be arrogant and she'll give him room, whereas an unemployed artist can be arrogant and he'll be out."

Farrel is fond of what might be called the sweeping statement. His speech is awash with Californian psycho-babble, his arguments are often chaotic, and some of his examples are, well, spurious to say the least.

Take this exchange on men's health, a subject he feels has been neglected for too long:

Farrell: "Yes, millions of women died in childbirth but millions of men died in wars."

Q: "But surely men started the wars".

Farrell: "But that's like saying women started the wars because they gave birth to men. Saying men started wars is like a chicken and egg argument and it's part of the blame problem, as opposed to saying that wars were started by the need to survive."

This steers Farrell towards his next favourite theme: "Women are still falling in love with the warrior but in the wrong context. Historically speaking, it used to lead to survival of the fittest for women to fall in love with the killer man who was the protector and, historically speaking [he is fond of this phrase], it used to be functional for men to fall in love with the young beautiful female, which meant maximum years of fertility, and that she was genetically the best choice. But now with nuclear technology, choosing men who are the best killers rewards a minority, which will lead to the destruction of humankind."

So there you have it: the end of the world will be caused by women's poor choice in men. Sorry.

Farrell, 52, is amicably divorced. He has a girlfriend who is in her mid-forties. (No trophy wives for him, he says.) He is a friendly, lucid man who comes across as anxious to be liked. Much of his work appears to be a plea for understanding.

Many of his arguments, such as his central premise that men are not all- powerful, are compelling. As is his complaint that the women's movement is unwilling to examine its own "shadow sides"; and that women give out mixed signals, while still leaving the responsibility for sexual initiative with men. Take Cosmopolitan, for example: "One article teaches her how to file for sexual harassment, then another how to touch a man you like at the office, then how to wear a mini-skirt. This is what I call a mixed message for many men."

The problem with being a woman listening to a man arguing that men are having a rough time, is fighting the temptation to say: "so?" In this, according to Farrell, I am typical.

"Women have a very difficult time hearing this argument and the feminist movement makes an active effort to stop the perspective gaining credibility. Most of the men who have tried to write from that perspective, their books have not done so well." He cites Neil Lyndon and David Thomas, both of whom had widespread media coverage for their anti-feminist tomes, but whose work, according to Farrell, was consistently rejected.

Might that be simply because no one believes their argument? Or perhaps that their books aren't actually very good?

"The problem is that men will agree [with us] but they won't get out and buy the book," says Farrell. "Books that sell well pander to females' versions of men and not men's versions of men." This may be why that he claims to have lost $2m in projected income since "switching sides". He is, however, optimistic enough to be working on a new book, Seven Great Myths About Men, due out next year.

But the real problem for Farrell (and Thomas and Lyndon) is that a younger generation won't wear their brand of gender argument. Sorry boys, but the sex war is out of fashion. One has only to look at the success of men's magazines such as Loaded, with their unapologetic emphasis on "having a laugh" - and then note that a large proportion of the readers are female. To this generation these arguments, from both sides of the gender divide, sound humourless, whingey and divisive.

Personally, I'll accept the need for a little more understanding. But then again, when Farrell chips in with "We care more about saving the whales than we do males", this girl is tempted to respond: Yeah, well whales moan less.

'A Bad Time To Be A Man: The Myth of Male Power', Monday 4 March, BBC2.

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