Is this book necessary? No, but fun

The Sexes

November 13, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,SUN REPORTER

Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide

Maureen Dowd

G.P. Putnam's Sons / 338 pages

Reading Are Men Necessary? by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is like being trapped in the collected episodes of Sex and the City.

Only you have to bring your own cosmopolitan.

Dowd establishes this context when, early in her new book on the fate of feminism, she describes herself in contrast with the black-sweater-and-Birkenstock feminists of her college days:

"I was more of a fun-loving (if chaste) type who would decades later come to life in Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw. ... I longed for style and wit."

There is plenty of style and wit in this flip and biting discourse on the decline of gender relations. Dowd's signature zingers are strung together in pithy, one-sentence paragraphs and catchy mini-conclusions that skewer both sexes.

On one hand: "As a species, it's possible that men are ever so last century. Are they any longer necessary for procreation? Have they proven themselves emotionally incapable of governing the country because they are really the ones subject to hissy fits and hormonal imbalances?"

And on the other: "We had the Belle M-Ipoque. Now we have the Botox Epoch, permeated by plastic emotions from antidepressants and plastic veneers from collagen, silicone, cosmetic surgery and Botox. This, freedom?"

But this is entertainment, not social science. Dowd clearly had fun writing it, and you can have fun reading it, as long as you realize that this work has the shelf life of an issue of People.

Dowd, the youngest of five in an Irish Catholic working-class family, has worked her way up to a measure of success thought impossible for women less than a generation ago: She has risen to become the only female among the op-ed columnists on The New York Times, and her work has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

But everybody would rather talk about what a vamp she is than what an eviserating voice she is on the subject of the presidency, and she does nothing to discourage the talk. She's had a series of high-profile BFs, and her column picture looks like it was shot by Richard Avedon for Vogue.

Dowd may be a bundle of contradictory stereotypes, but her thesis is right: Feminism is dead, a casualty of the war between the sexes.

"Maybe we should have known that the triumph of feminism would last a nanosecond while the backlash lasted 40 years," she writes.

Feminism wasn't done in by conservatism, Dowd argues. It was replaced by narcissism and materialism and a generation of young women who have decided that the have-it-all baby boomers made the work-family grind look unappealing; a generation of young women who don't believe "going Dutch" ever happened.

Unlike Natalie Angier's brilliant history of our gender, Woman: An Intimate Geography (1999), which Dowd generously quotes, Dowd recycles faux trend topics like whether she should pick up the check, whether she should take his name, the stereotype that smart girls can't get dates, the ticking of the biological clock, women discovering their inner slut.

Her writing is snarky and sassy, but the life has long ago been drained out of these topics.

Dowd dreads her reputation as a castrator, but what makes her fascinating is her willingness to use the knife on anybody, of either party or either sex.

She was as tough on Clinton for Monica as she is on Bush for the war in Iraq.

And she is as tough on Hillary, whom she blames for the destruction of feminism, as she is on the feminists who insisted that Hillary be punished (Monica) for her arrogance before she could reap the rewards (Senate seat) of her arrogance .

Dowd lets it fly against aging feminists who disdained shopping and flirting, and believed that if they dressed in navy suits like men they would be equal in every way.

And against young women who are too busy shopping and flirting to pay attention to the politics that will affect their rights for a generation.

The gender wars rumble on as background noise to real wars and economic wars, but Dowd doesn't bring much more to this discussion than smart-girl slumber party banter and movie dialog.

When one of her GFs at The New York Times wins a Pulitzer and howls in dismay that this means she will never get a date, Dowd offers this as evidence that powerful women intimidate men.

Not only is there no news here, one has to wonder what rarefied planet Dowd lives on.

And if there are any men on it.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

Susan Reimer is a columnist for The Sun.

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