Warren Farrell, former feminist, says men are oppressed

August 12, 1993|By Pamela Warrick | Pamela Warrick,Los Angeles Times

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 an early leader of the National Organization for Women. 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 Mr. Farrell back on his show.

The reason? "The Myth of Male Power," Mr. Farrell's newest book. 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 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 Welsh, president of the National Organization for Women in New York.

"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 Mr. Farrell because "I refuse to be used to give him credibility."

Mr. Farrell's book indicts the media "for a quarter century of male bashing," criticizes 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.

Mr. Farrell has come a long way, baby. In the 1970s, as a political-science graduate 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 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, Mr. 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!' "

Mr. 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 best seller, "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 Mr. Farrell.

Susan Faludi, whose book "Backlash" suggests Mr. 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 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 Ms. 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."

Finding new roles for men and women that go beyond gender is the theme of his latest work, says Mr. 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 Mr. Farrell, lots of love.

He concedes his message can be difficult for some to hear. "I ask hard questions and they may be painful."

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'?"

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