Is Feminism Favoritism?
Q&A / Warren Farrell, author: The flip side of feminism
A new book asks whether lifting women up means taking men downBy Maureen Downey
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Warren Farrell is a leader in the men’s movement who contends that the culture cares more about saving whales than males. James Sterba is a University of Notre Dame philosophy professor who believes that the feminist ideal of equality has yet to be realized but remains a moral imperative.
The two face off in a provocative new book called “Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?” While the book is aimed at students of gender studies, most women and men can relate to the topics it discusses, from who does more housework to who gets custody of the kids in divorce.
The book is more a friendly skirmish than a war, with both men agreeing that discrimination based on gender is wrong. They disagree strongly, however, over which gender suffers the greater discrimination today.
In a telephone interview with editorial writer Maureen Downey — who admits to siding far more with Sterba’s position — Farrell shares his views on the gender divide.
Q: In questioning women’s assigned roles, didn’t the feminist movement also question men’s fixed roles? You seem to argue that feminism didn’t try hard enough to answer those questions about men’s roles, but was that the responsibility of feminism?
A: Historically, we taught women to row, metaphorically, on the right side of the boat, and men on the left. Fortunately, feminism taught women how to row on both sides. Unfortunately, no one re-socialized men to row on both sides. Until we do, we also limit women’s flexibility, because when women row on the left, if men can’t also row on the right, the boat goes in circles. And men and women are in this boat together.
Q: You contend that one of the institutions whose sexism benefits women is the military, because of male-only drafts and combat exclusion of women. But can’t these exclusions hurt women who choose the military, since it’s through combat that officers win the most prestigious positions in the military?
A: First, if we registered only blacks, Jews or women for the draft, we would immediately recognize that as racism, anti-Semitism, or sexism. When we require only our sons to register, we call it responsibility. Thus the U.S. Post Office’s slogan to register our sons is “A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do”; our slogan for women is “A Woman’s Body, A Woman’s Choice.”
Women are the only group who get the right to vote without responsibility. Only adolescents expect rights without responsibilities. Adults know they go together.
Second, women are 14 percent of the military but only 2 percent of those killed. Women get administrative and other jobs that are more easily transferable to civilian life than is killing. They become officers at equal rates to men. This protect-the-woman attitude is reinforced by both sexes in all hazardous professions. However, this protection of women also hurts women. It is hard to place women equally at the very top of responsibility if we prevent women from equally sharing the toughest responsibility: death.
Q: You maintain that men die younger than women and that it’s really men’s health that’s been ignored by the medical establishment. Yet aren’t most of the trials for new drugs in this country based on men’s health conditions and metabolism?
A: Medical database searches show that during the past 40 years women have been studied more than men. Prior to that, drug companies tested new drugs more on men (especially male prisoners) for the same reason they tested them more on rats. They tested them most on what they valued least.
Q: You cite the 5.2-year advantage in life expectancy that women have over men as your best example of discrimination against men in health care. But aren’t many of those early deaths among men due to higher levels of smoking, drinking and car crashes?
A: Yes, speeding is a symptom of our approval for male risk-taking behavior: We teach boys playing football to call abuse “glory”; we teach girls to call the police. We are unaware that men who divorce are 10 times as likely to commit suicide as their wives; so we take the children away from them, leaving them without purpose and leaving children without dads. We still expect our successful men to repress feelings rather than express feelings, yet success is still his best preventive medicine for avoiding the cancer of female rejection.
Ignoring men’s health is like ignoring global warming. We are all interconnected. When either sex wins, both sexes lose.
Q: You maintain that many date-rape policies on college campuses are unfair to men, specifically those that say a rape can take place if a woman is drunk and thus incapable of expressing unwillingness. Yet if a man signed away his car or his home while drunk, would you say that he should be held to that contract?
A: […]The real question here is when a man and woman drink together, why is the woman not held responsible for saying yes to sex and the man is? We either hold them both responsible or we hold neither. More important, why are we treating our daughters like children and treating our sons of the same age like adults?
Q: If men are so powerless, why do they still dominate the nation’s critical institutions — the U.S. Supreme Court, the Congress, the CEO positions in most companies?
A: To me power is about control over one’s life. I discovered that, when women earn about $100,000 per year, they say, “I have enough money; I need time — for my family, friends, myself, to travel, and for exercise.” Men need to learn this from women. Psychologically, men are about where women were in the 1950s. We need to help our sons question the traditional male definition of power — feeling obligated to earn money someone else spends while he dies sooner. That’s powerlessness.