BOOK REVIEW / Hapless underdogs in a bitchy world: 'The Myth of Male Power' - Warren Farrell: 4th Estate, 6.99

Share
Related Topics
PEOPLE often wonder why, since women represent more than half the voting public, they are so unrepresented and powerless. At some point, perhaps, people will start wondering why, since women represent more than half the voting public, they don't take more than half the responsibility for the governments we get. Meanwhile, we have to endure noisy polemics on the subject of the gender gap. Most of these are by women; but men are beginning to get in on the act. This ought to be a good thing, though it is not clear whether the men who have picked up the sex-war gauntlet are anything like the ones we would have chosen, given a choice.

It is possible, indeed, to see all these gender- war polemics as little more than a lucrative and easy modern genre. Boy beats girl, girl beats boy . . . anything goes, especially these big, sploshy manifestos with urgent-sounding titles. But the doomy rhetoric of, for instance, Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf at least has the advantage of speaking up for an obviously disadvantaged group. No amount of fudged statistics can persuade us that women occupy all the senior positions in society, or that women earn more than men, or that men get battered and raped by women. Yet this is Warren Farrell's thesis: that male power is really powerlessness, that the cultural pressure to occupy all the top jobs and play all the golf and go off with all the secretaries to Tahiti is really a ghastly plot by women to victimise the hapless modern male.

It won't wash. Farrell suggests that 'the expectation to earn more is actually a form of social discrimination against men'; he doesn't wonder whether this pressure, however intolerable, isn't preferable to an expectation of lower earnings. But then, anyone who can write that 'men are the new niggers' cannot really want to be taken seriously.

On one level, The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex is an inevitable reaction to the wilder, all-men-are-rapists fringe of feminist polemic. It is also a response to the torrent of magazines telling women how to get men, how to tease them, how to please them, how to get rid of them, and how to juggle perfect orgasms with high-performing stock portfolios, while still having time to sun-dry their own tomatoes. Men might well be tired of apologising for the sins of their fathers.

But did it have to be so sour and humourless? The title says it all: shock-horror hyperbole posing as scholarship. Just as the most reckless feminism makes a mistake by taking 'male power' to mean the power enjoyed by a cross between a top barrister and a shipping magnate (the blokes on the factory floor, down the mine or on the dole have less power than an educated, affluent woman) so Farrell takes the most forthright, extreme and uninteresting feminist writers to be typical of what the average woman (whoever she is) thinks.

The irony is that the book seems like a well- motivated and genuine attempt to explore a vexed area; and Farrell does conduct quite a few useful pieces of research. He has a close look, for instance, at the survey behind the idea that 25 per cent of American women had been raped by the time they went to college, and finds that the question generating this figure went: 'Have you given in to sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because you were overwhelmed by a man's continual arguments and pressure?' Quite rightly, he draws a distinction between 'giving in' and being raped, and (again rightly) insists that we find a language to distinguish between the various types of forced entry. But this hardly needs emphasising.

One would have thought that such alertness to the ambiguities of statistics and the dubiousness of categorical judgements might have led Farrell to handle them with care, but no. His book is dampened by a steady drizzle of implausible numbers and wacky-sounding poll results. We can tell the author is not sure about them because they are couched in cod-serious tabloid grammar: 'FACT: Women do not experience more depression; they report more depression . . . ITEM: With the exception of rape, the more violent the crime, the more likely the victim is a man.' With the exception of rape? It is hard to see how, in an argument about sexual violence, we can ignore its grisliest manifestation. It's a bit like saying that except for the rain, the weather in Britain is fabulous.

Again, Farrell might be right to see the gender conflict as a war to which only one side has turned up, but this is only a sarcastic way of confessing to an authentic male worry: the twinge of jealousy men sometimes feel when confronted by feminine solidarity. Farrell, however, just like some of his female opposite numbers, prefers accusation to self-examination. It's a real waste, because this is a serious subject. The overdue and incomplete advance of women in the public sphere needs to be matched by male inroads into domestic life, and it is up to both sexes to figure out a way of making these inroads safe and productive. In these abuse-phobic times it is hard to imagine women renouncing their dominant role in child care; but women are in the army now, so men need to make up numbers in the nursery.

To be fair, Farrell does keep repeating the perfectly admirable belief that when one sex wins, both sexes lose. He claims, too, that he is arguing for a holistic approach to the sex trap, for what a physicist might call a unified theory. He wants to move beyond a situation in which women blame men for everything bad that happens, and ends by looking forward to a time when women are not sex objects, men are not success objects and everyone loves everyone. The pity is that he doesn't take himself at his word: he is too busy trading grudges. One of the most depressing things is that his book will no doubt enter the self-referring media loop and become a prime exhibit in a fresh bout of grudge-trading going the other way. People might even be inspired to persist in their boring habit of blaming all the world's ills on maleness, and then we'll get many more books as mad and bad as this. And then someone will write Backlash IV, and so it will go on.

The Myth of Male Power is a joyless whinge that is wholly blind to the merry and unruly aspects of the sexual debate, the ordinary busy liveliness of human affairs. Farrell is a self-appointed cheerleader anxious that men should explore their inner maleness before it is too late. His shrill, topical book is an appeal to victimised masculists everywhere. It is hard, however, to see people gathering anywhere near his banner: the taking of sides creates sides, and not everyone wants to see the world across such a crude gender divide.

Farrell is pretty keen on Robert Bly-style get-togethers in the woods, but some men will be offended by the presumption that they are not capable of 'emoting' without playing pat- a-cake in a moonlit forest. Speaking purely for myself, I've taken a quick, confused look into my inner maleness, and the only word that comes to mind in response to all this urging, I am ashamed to say, is: bollocks.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, presides at the reinterment of Richard III yesterday  

Richard III: We Leicester folk have one question: how much did it all cost?

Sean O’Grady
David Cameron revealed his decision not to remain as Tory leader beyond 2020 to the BBC's James Landale last night  

Could the BBC be any more left-wing? First they employ loads of Tories, and then they're caught chillaxing in Cameron's kitchen

Mark Steel
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss