Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A Debate. Point/Counterpoint Series.
Warren Farrell with Steven Svoboda vs. James P. Sterba. Edited by James P. Sterba.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 258 pp. $17.95 (paperback).
Published online: 17 September 2008
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008
In this volume in Oxford’s Point/Counterpoint Series (edited
by James P. Sterba), Warren Farrell and James Sterba take
opposing positions on the question posed in the title. Farrell
gets the first half of the book, and goes through thirteen key
issues item by item: men’s studies; power; the military; health
and mortality; domestic violence; rape, sex, and love; the
criminal justice system; work and earnings; the double day;
marriage, divorce, and child custody; popular culture and the
media; and bias in schools. This is followed by Sterba’stake
on the same thirteen issues: Finally, each part has a
concluding chapter, “The Future of Feminism and Men.”
To address these large topics in a book of only 250 pages
is indeed a challenge, and it is not surprising that many
chapters are highly schematic. Nor does each author always
focus on the same issues, chapter titles notwithstanding.
Sterba, for example, introduces a discussion of pornography,
which Farrell does not address at all. Thus, we have two
writers, each convinced of the correctness of his own point of
view, and each looking at different pieces of the puzzle of
what contemporary feminism is and has become. Unfortu-
nately, the book is not a genuine debate, for its very structure
introduces a bias: Farrell first addresses the issues, and
thereafter Sterba largely addresses Farrell’s statements about
these issues, responding not merely to what Farrell says here
but to his earlier books as well, in particular The Myth of
Male Power (Farrell 1993); Women Can’t Hear What Men
Don’t Say (Farrell 2000); and Father and Child Reunion
(Farrell 2005). Farrell has no opportunity to reply in
comparable fashion to Sterba’s particular arguments. Still,
there’s enough here to both feed and annoy most readers.
The format, brevity, and contrasting perspectives presented
in the book make it useful for courses in women’s studies
and related areas.
Any discussion of whether feminism discriminates
against men will naturally depend on what one understands
feminism to be and to have achieved. As a result, the most
useful approach to the book is to focus on the underlying
differences in the perspectives of these two scholars.
Farrell, a former feminist activist, stresses the damage he
believes feminism is now causing to men by its failure to
address women’s privileges. He points out that if it were men
who lived longer than women, women would be using this
information as ipso facto evidence of the disadvantages
under which women suffer, and would demand remedies.
Farrell protests the “disposability” of men—as soldiers, as
workers, as fathers, and as human beings. His concern is that
feminists have not objected to the many inequalities that are
prejudicial to men: Only men, not women, are required to
register for the draft; men work at the most dangerous jobs
and are overwhelmingly the victims of accidents at work;
they have shorter lifespans (the lifespan of a white woman is
currently 11 years longer than that of a black man), and they
commit suicide at higher rates.
By contrast, he argues, women have options and choices
that men lack, including the choice to abort a pregnancy or
not, while men have to bear the consequences (financial
responsibility) for choices they don’t get to make. It’s hard
not to see in this reality a tendency for society to punish
men for sexual activity (as it used to punish women).
Women used to have to marry their seducers if they wanted
to avoid stigma. Now they need not bother; they can simply
demand their financial support until the child is 18 to
21 years of age, even if they deceived the man into thinking
they were using birth control, or lied to him about the
Sex Roles (2009) 60:447–450
D. Patai (*)
University of Massachusetts Amherst,
Amherst, MA, USA