A New Role for Men: Victim : Former feminist Warren Farrell says he’s sick and tired of guys getting bashed. ‘Male power,’ he proclaims, is just a myth.
Gloria Steinem hasn’t spoken to him in years. Alan Alda doesn’t invite him for tennis anymore. And then there’s the matter of those millions in lost income.
But, please, don’t feel sorry for Warren Farrell.
At 50, America’s most outspoken former feminist is “right where I want to be.” So what if that happens to be 180 degrees from his days as one of the first leaders of NOW. Warren Farrell-the-Man is back.
Back on the magazine racks (Playboy now, not Ms.), back on the morning talk shows, back in the hearts of his countrymen. Even Phil Donahue wants to kiss and make up--or at least get Farrell back on his show.
The reason? “The Myth of Male Power,” Farrell’s newest book, was out last week. And, oh, what a fuss it’s making. Its message is a bold one: Men, not women, are the true victims in our society.
“A real bombshell!” announces one reviewer. “The book of the decade!” raves another. “So exhilarating (and) unnerving,” gushes “Cathy” cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, “that an entire quart of ice cream melted, untouched, by my side while I read it.”
So outrageous, say some feminists, they can barely get through it. “He’s certainly entitled to say whatever he wants, but this sort of biased rhetoric isn’t helpful to anybody,” says Diane Welsch, president of the National Organization for Women in New York City.
“Warren never was my role model for what a man who truly supported feminism would be,” says Betty Friedan, one of the founders of NOW, who refuses to debate with or about Farrell because “I refuse to be used to give him credibility.”
But Farrell says Friedan has been unhappy with him ever since he told her about his plans to write a book on incest that would include stories of “those who had positive (incest) experiences.”
“Can you imagine?” gasped Friedan.
Incest isn’t covered in Farrell’s new book, but most every other controversial topic is.
* “The key to wealth is not in what we earn, it is in what is spent on us.”
* “Sexual harassment legislation is a male-only chastity belt. With women holding the key.”
* “Women’s control over spending gives women control over TV programs because TV is dependent on sponsors.”
* “The powerful woman doesn’t feel the effect of her secretary’s miniskirt power, cleavage power and flirtation power. Men do.”
Farrell’s book indicts the media “for a quarter century of male bashing,” blasts feminist leaders for conspiring to create publicly funded commissions on women and even accuses law enforcement of padding the numbers of rape victims to pander to women’s groups.
He tells the “shameful” story of how during the 1991 rape trial of boxer Mike Tyson, public attention focused on the feminist view of “men-as-rapists” instead of the heroic efforts of firefighters to put out a blaze in the jury’s hotel.
“Two firefighters died, but men-as-saviors don’t make news,” complains Farrell. “Ninety-nine percent of the nation’s 1 million firefighters are men. In exchange they ask only for appreciation. In exchange they are ignored.”
Well, so are women who would be firefighters, argues NOW’s Welsch. “There hasn’t been a new woman firefighter hired in (New York City) in 10 years. Warren Farrell seems to have forgotten that women do two-thirds of the work in the world for one-tenth the money. We aren’t victims sitting around saying, ‘Take care of me, take care of me.’ We have our own families to take care of. We just need some help.”
Farrell has come a long way, baby. In the 1970s, as a political science grad student at New York University, he was leading consciousness-raising groups to help men “stop dominating and start communicating with” women. He served on the New York City NOW board for three terms when, he recalls, “I became good at saying what women wanted to hear.”
As a soldier on the new sexual frontier, he received standing ovations and “the equivalent of $100,000 a year” for his speeches. But as he listened to his own words, Farrell says he grew troubled. “When women criticized men, I called it ‘insight’. . . . When men criticized women, I called it ‘sexism’ and ‘backlash.’ ”
“I said to myself, ‘Wow, this isn’t equality; it’s opportunism!’ ”
So Farrell’s metamorphosis began, and a decade after his pioneering first book, “The Liberated Man,” set down how the liberation of women would liberate men, his second bestseller, “Why Men Are the Way They Are,” concluded that men should probably take care of themselves.
But some critics say “The Myth of Male Power” goes beyond the nurturing rituals of the male movement to mount an outright assault on the victories of the modern women’s movement.
The book attacks affirmative action and other legal protections for women as sentimental offerings to the old sexist myth of woman-as-child. “So long as you create laws that define women as victims, as creatures that demand protection, that need bodyguards, you are going to perpetuate the very worst of our sexist past,” says Farrell.
Susan Faludi, whose book “Backlash” suggests that Farrell was never as truly changed by the feminist cause as he claimed to be, disagrees.
“As feminism lost its media glitter, Farrell’s enthusiasm seemed to fade, too,” she says. “Now, he has turned feminism on its head. He wants us to believe that men are twice victims because they have the most burdens under the traditional arrangement and they are getting pounded by women’s new assertiveness. . . .
“He seems to have picked up this political line that claims feminists are whiners and wallowing in victimhood. . . . Well, that isn’t coming from women,” says Faludi. “It’s coming from men themselves, and it is interesting that he uses all the language of feminism and just changes all the pronouns to male ones.”
Warren Farrell is standing in his well-appointed kitchen brewing Red Zinger tea in a hand-thrown pot. “The problem is that Americans care more about saving whales than saving males.” He looks up and smiles. “It’s true, you know.”
For a social provocateur, Farrell is awfully sweet. “I don’t want confrontation,” he says softly. “I want communication. Care for some cheese Danish?”
He didn’t bake it, but wishes he had. “I do make quiche and have a very good recipe,” he mentions.
This is the man the women’s movement fell in love with: He’s tall, handsome, articulate and sensitive. He adores flowers and will hug you if you bring him some. He collects vases and keeps them filled with colorful blooms throughout the year.
“Is this your nurturing side?” a visitor asks as he arranges a bouquet of day lilies and iris.
“Oh, we really don’t need to pigeonhole people in such roles anymore, do we?” he gently chides. “We all need to find new roles that fit us; there is no need to connect them with gender now, is there?”
Indeed, that is the theme of his latest work, says Farrell. What the world needs now is not a women’s movement, not a men’s movement, but “a gender transition movement.” And love, says Farrell, lots of love.
On a personal scale, there is much love in Farrell’s life today. Since Memorial Day, he has been living with Lisa Longworth, a therapist and artist in her mid-30s. They had known each other only a few months before she moved in with him, but already there is a formal portrait of the couple on the mantle.
Elsewhere in the two-story house in the hills above Carlsbad hang other tokens of love, including sculptures by Longworth and paintings by a former resident girlfriend.
Farrell has been single for more than a decade. He was divorced after 10 years of marriage to a Harvard-educated IBM executive. “We just grew in different directions,” recalls Farrell, “and one day I asked her if I died, would she marry someone like me or another IBM executive? And she said an IBM executive. So we cried . . . or rather I cried, she rarely cried . . . and that was the end of that.”
Since then, Farrell says he has loved women older and women younger than himself, but has never remarried. (His ex-wife did get married again--to an IBM executive.) “I’m amazed I don’t have children by now, and somewhat disappointed I don’t. I love children, but I know it is not easy to be a writer and a parent at the same time.”
Although child care is not one of Farrell’s household concerns, housekeeping and cooking are, and he says he and Longworth work hard to achieve an equitable division of labor. “The fact is that I work 70 hours a week and she works about 30 hours, so I pay the mortgage basically and she handles most cooking and many other aspects of the home.”
Farrell says he has missed the spotlight as spokesmale for the women’s movement in the 1970s. “When I dropped the feminist party line, I was surprised at how quickly my standing ovations ended. To give you some idea of the sacrifice, I probably lost $2 (million) or $3 million in speaking engagements over the years. . . . But I don’t have an internal choice. The truth is, I must say my best grasp of the truth.”
He concedes his message can be difficult for some women to hear. “I ask hard questions and they may be painful,” says Farrell.
Questions like these:
* “If men are the powerful sex, then why do they commit suicide at a far greater rate than women?”
* “Why do men die an average of seven years before women do?”
* “Why do women ask if God is a ‘She,’ but never ask if the devil might also be a ‘She’?”
“It would be hard to find a single example in history where a group with more than 50% of the vote got away with calling itself oppressed,” says Farrell. “We need to drop this preoccupation with women as victims. People do favors for a victim but they do not respect victims.
“I’m a great supporter of women who take risks and don’t make victimhood into an art. It’s not good for women and it’s not good for men. Too many men put all their emotional eggs in one basket--a woman’s basket. This needs to change.”
And what do the women in Farrell’s life think of his latest work?
“I don’t know really. My sister had great trouble reading ‘Why Men Are the Way They Are,’ and she’s not read the new one yet. (Girlfriend) Lisa hasn’t read any of my books yet all the way through and that has been a big disappointment. . . .
“But that is her choice. And choice is what all of this is about, right?”
A ‘Male Power’ Excerpt
By the 1980s and ‘90s, feminism’s ability to articulate women’s light side and men’s shadow side led to women’s magazines, talk shows, “self-improvement” books, and TV specials all equating “progressive” with women as victims and men as victimizers but rarely with men as victims (of false accusations, emotional abuse, visitation deprivation. . .) and women as victimizers. It was soon considered progressive to critique “male legislators” for making war but not to credit them for making democracy. We saw TV specials titled,” Does the Man Next Door Molest Girls?” but not “Does the Man Next Door Save Girls?” In our everyday lives we might see six firefighters saving women, but no TV special titled “Men as Saviors” points out that all six were men--or that firemen who save women’s lives are far more ubiquitous than men who jeopardize women’s lives.
--From “The Myth of Male Power,” (copyright) 1993 by Warren Farrell