The cover of Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power (uncredited art, as far as I could see) sums up his belief men are powerless in the face of a “genetic celebrity,” AKA an attractive woman. He’s wrong about that, as he is about much else.
The book isn’t all bad. As I said last week, unlike many critiques of feminism Farrell doesn’t assume old gender roles are the goal, or that they’re fixed and unchanging. He doesn’t think men are made for violence, and he believes they can be good caregivers and stay-at-home dads. He realizes shattering gender stereotypes is good for both sexes. And that prison rape is not a funny thing or a form of justice.
All of which makes me appreciate why it’s so tempting to just hate your enemies as monsters: it’s much simpler. It’s like seeing Mona Charen, who’s big on the buyer’s remorse rape-apologist bullshit, condemning Republicans for supporting Donald Trump and Roy Moore. It’s unsettling to realize someone I despise isn’t all bad.
That said, this book gives me plenty to despise. Farrell starts from illogical premises and then builds badly (not to mention including bad statistics and untrue statements). For example, he claims men are genetically hardwired to be women’s protectors, and women to crave protectors for mates). This is a paleofantasy, an assumption that as society is this way, it must be in our genes. Like most such assumptions, there’s no science to back it up. As philosopher Daniel Dennett once said, our ancestors often chose to live in caves but we don’t have a cave-dwelling gene.
Nevertheless, Farrell explains all kinds of things based on his assumption. Boys bully each other to test their fitness as protectors. Polygamy exists to protect women from winding up monogamously married to a poor man. Workplace gender discrimination protects married women by ensuring their husbands have fewer competitors at work. Men die in war to protect women. In Farrell’s eyes, society doesn’t oppress women, it cherishes them.
Farrell also believes our biological imperative is for man to aggressively pursue women while women keep saying no; eventually the man overwhelms her resistance and she surrenders happily, knowing she has a strong mate who’ll fight for her. In other words, no means yes. Farrell doesn’t literally say every no means yes but he comes close. He claims, for example, that sexual harassment suits mean “yes” — the woman doesn’t want him to give up pursuing her, she’s still just testing him. Besides, if women look attractive at work, obviously they’re open to hooking up (and marrying and quitting, so the boss is totally justified in firing good-looking women).
This leads into another flaw, Farrell’s complete lack of empathy for women. In writing about dating and relationships, he thinks both men and women should be willing to ask the other out, pay for dinner if they ask, etc., which is reasonable enough. But he focuses almost entirely on the male side, the pain and discomfort of being rejected by a genetic celebrity. He ignores that most women aren’t sexy, any more than men, and that the mating dance is just as agonizing for women, if not more so. As Laurie Penny says, “I was taught to fear being a whore or a loser if I answered, never mind asked myself. Sex isn’t an achievement for a young girl. It’s something we’re supposed to embody so other people can consume us, and if we fail at that, what are we even for?” Farrell seems to think the problem is women enjoying their power and making men come to them, not that society — and a fair number of men — often treat them like shit for not doing womanhood right.
And that leads into his utterly loathsome views of rape and harassment. For Farrell it’s men who suffer: men have to take the initiative in sex and relationships but if they’re not a good lover or they “initiate at the wrong time,” suddenly it’s rape! They have to ask the woman out but if she’s a coworker and she isn’t interested, bam, he’s a harasser (asking a colleague out once, assuming you’re not in authority over her, is not usually enough to cause harassment). Feminists have “taught” women to sue for date rape but nobody’s taught men to sue if women say yes, then change their mind which is just as traumatic (no, it isn’t).
Stranger rape, that’s bad, but date rapists are just dudes who “initiated badly” or weren’t good lovers. And yet as soon as they make their innocent mistake, blammo, a woman can ruin them. She feels buyer’s remorse, or she just lies — Farrell’s convinced there are huge numbers of false rape charges out there. The FBI doesn’t think so, but federal statistics are unreliable: as far as the FBI knows, we could have no false charges, or we could have 100 percent (the FBI can state as a fact we do not have 100 percent fake rape charges).