No book has had more influence over the Men’s Rights movement than Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power. Published in 1993, in the heyday of the early 90s antifeminist backlash, it set the agenda for the Men’s Rights movement as it’s developed over the last two decades. He’s the one who came up with the notions of “male disposability” and the “death professions.” He’s the one who got MRAs fixated on the issue of draft registration.
Indeed, so pervasive has his influence been that if you see an MRA making a dumb argument anywhere on the Internet, the chances are probably more than 50-50 that it originated in the pages of Farrell’s book. Despite its age, and its eccentricity, The Myth of Male Power is still the first book recommended to MRA newbies in the sidebar of the Men’s Rights subreddit, the most active MRA hangout online.
It’s a book that deserves a lot more attention than I have been giving it on this blog. Sure, I’ve written about Farrell’s strange and creepy notions about incest, as set forth in a notorious interview in Penthouse in the 1970s, and about his recent attempts to explain away these views. But I haven’t devoted any blog posts to his most influential work. I intend to rectify that now, with a series of posts on some of Farrell’s chief arguments and assertions.
I will start with several posts on Farrell’s views on rape, which has been the subject of much controversy of late. This part will deal with his general statements on rape and sexuality; another will explore in more detail his views on date rape (did he really describe it as “exciting?”); and still another will look at the vast assortment of things he has inappropriately compared to rape.
Pinning down what Farrell “really believes” about rape – and indeed, about almost anything– is difficult. Farrell’s arguments, such as they are, are slippery and evasive. Instead of setting forth a clear argument about rape, Farrell instead provides us with a series of jumbled metaphors and strange comparisons. Instead of trying to summarize them – many of them defy summary — let’s just go through them one by one.
Farrell supporters will likely suggest that these quotes are taken “out of context,” to which I can only say: Check his book to see for yourself. None of his troubling quotes are any less troubling, or for that matter any clearer, in context, and many don’t have much of a context. Farrell writes in a rambling, free-associational style, and many of the “arguments” he makes in the following quotes seem to come from out of the blue, and are never developed further (though some, as you will see, are referenced again in later quotes).
Page numbers given are from the 1993 hardcover edition of The Myth of Male Power.
All that out of the way, let’s jump right in:
Near the start of his book , Farrell sets the tone for what will come by suggesting that men suffer as much sexual trauma from women’s mixed signals as women do from rape:
Feminism has taught women to sue men for sexual harassment or date rape when men initiate with the wrong person or with the wrong timing; no one has taught men to sue women for sexual trauma for saying “yes,” then “no,” then “yes.” … Men [are] still expected to initiate, but now, if they [do] it badly, they could go to jail. (p. 16)
Here, he elaborates on the notion that rape is a matter of bad timing, of “tak[ing] risks too quickly.”
In the past, both sexes were anxious about sex and pregnancy. Now the pill minimizes her anxiety and condoms increase his. Now the pimple faced boy must still risk rejection while also overcoming his own fear of herpes and AIDS and reassuring her there is nothing to fear. He must still do the sexual risk-taking, but now he can be put in jail if he takes risks too quickly or be called a wimp if he doesn’t take them quickly enough . (p. 168)
Here, Farrell falls back on the old “rape is misunderstanding” canard, and somehow manages to compare sexual activity –- from kissing up to and including rape — to eating a bag of potato chips.
It is also possible for a woman to go back to a man’s room, tell him she doesn’t want to have intercourse, mean it, start kissing, have intercourse, and then wish she hadn’t in the morning. How? Kissing is like eating potato chips. Before we know it, we’ve gone further than we said we would. (p. 311)
Here, he seems to seriously suggest that juries could do a better job judging rape cases if they were sexually aroused.
The problem with every judgment of sexual behavior is that it is made by people who aren’t being stimulated as they are making the judgment. A jury that sees a woman in a sterile courtroom, asks her what she wanted, and then assumes that anything else she did was the responsibility of the man is insulting not only the woman but the power of sex. (p. 312)
And then he returns to the potato chip metaphor.
A man being sued after a woman has more sex than intended is like Lay’s being sued after someone has more potato chips than intended. In brief, date rape can be a crime, a misunderstanding, or buyer’s remorse. (p. 312)
Farrell repeatedly tries to absolve men of sexual wrongdoing by suggesting that they are literally intoxicated by female beauty.
Sexually, of course, the sexes aren’t equal. It is exactly a woman’s greater sexual power that often makes a man so fearful of being rejected by her that he buys himself drinks to reduce his fear. In essence, her sexual power often leads to him drinking; his sexual power rarely leads to her drinking. If anything is evidence of her power over him, it is his being expected to spend his money to buy her drinks without her reciprocating. …
It is men – far more than women – whose mental capacities are diminished when they are “under the influence” of a beautiful woman. (p. 320)
But Farrell thinks it’s “sexist” – against men – to put men in jail for “selling sex” to intoxicated women:
As long as society tells men to be the salespersons of sex, it is sexist for society to put only men in jail if they sell well. We don’t put other salespersons in jail for buying clients drinks and successfully transforming a “no” into a “maybe” into a “yes.” If the client makes a choice to drink too much and the “yes” turns out to be a bad decision, it is the client who gets fired, not the salesperson. (p. 321)
We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of Warren Farrell’s equally daft and disturbing views on sex and rape. Stay tuned.