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The Myth of Male Power

An Interview with Warren Farrell

Copyright © 1993, 1997 by Bert H. Hoff

This article appeared in the October 1993 issue of M.E.N. Magazine

Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex, has appeared in our magazine several times. Bert called him to talk about reactions to his book.

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The Myth of Male Power
by Warren Farrell
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Why Men Are the Way They Are
by Warren Farrell
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Bert: Youíve been on a lot of radio and TV shows. What has been the reaction to your book, and how have those shows gone?

Warren: There are a lot of ways to judge the reaction. The mail that I have been getting, about 400 letters so far, has run about 65% male and 35% female. And itís been about 100% positive. I need to acknowledge, of course, that this is a self-selective group that has chosen to write. The most frequent comment from men is that I have articulated for them something that they, themselves, have felt at some level, but have been unable to articulate. A lot of men have also said that Iíve helped them to understand their fathers or their sons better.

In particular, my analysis of the origins of homosexuality has helped a lot of fathers to be a lot more compassionate towards their homosexual sons. One man just wrote me a very touching letter saying that for all of his sonís life he has ostracized his son because he was gay. Now he realizes why he was doing that, and can reach out to his son. His letter made me cry.

About a third of the women react so strongly to the title that, for them, the idea that male power is a myth just makes them angry. It means that they have to confront their victim power and their entitlement power. They donít even want to touch it. They respond almost reflexively negatively, without reading a word of it. Another third of the women get into the book a ways, then have various stages of dealing with themselves. They realize theyíre getting defensive. They put it down for a while, then they go back to it and struggle with it. Another third of the women get through the whole book, and the further they get into it, the better they understand their fathers or husbands. They say, "He never expressed his feelings. He was always focused on his job, meaning that he didnít love me." Now, she says that he couldnít express his feelings, because if he got in touch with them, he wouldnít have been able to work so hard at a job he liked so little, in order to love me. Sheís re-framing the very same behavior, taking it from a lack of love to love. That comment Iíve gotten quite a few times from women.

Bert: Thatís consistent with one of the themes of your book, that stage 1 behavior required stifling all of that, so you could keep your nose to the grindstone.

Warren: Precisely. In fact, along those lines, the section I had on the dysfunctional family has seemed to be the most helpful section to both female and male therapists. I suggest that we not call the adults dysfunctional, but call them stage 1 functional. That distinction has really been helpful for a lot of therapists. They help their clients by saying, "Well, O.K., your family hit you, and that was functional for stage 1, but itís no longer functional for stage 2." Rather than making their parents wrong, they make their parents right for their time, but also allows them the freedom to make the transition to the current time, where the hitting behavior or the critical behavior no longer is functional.

Bert: One response Iím getting to your book from a lot of women is that some inherently disbelieve a lot of the facts and statistics cited. They wonder if the statistics from only one side are being presented.

Warren: I was very careful in the book to double-check my data, the sources of it, and even where the sources got their sources from. I didnít just cite a government study, but I looked at how the study was done, to make sure it was responsible. So the more a person questions the data, if they check the extensive footnotes, the more they will find themselves reassured as to the accuracy of the source.

Bert: Let me pursue this a bit further. The statistics you cite seem to fly in the face of public perceptions or the "politically correct" perspective. People donít seem to want to hear anything that refutes the common beliefs.

Warren: Thatís an absolutely 100% natural reaction. There's never been any major social change that has occurred without challenging public perceptions. During the civil rights movement people felt that blacks were inferior and nobody wanted to deal with issues like integrated schools or integrated bathrooms. The same was true of women at the beginning of the feminist movement. But what Iím challenging in the book is much deeper than the civil rights movement and the womenís movement. My book challenges the very fundamental biological instinct, our need to protect women and our need to have men be the protectors. The more one knows about biology and cross-cultural anthropology, the more one sees how pervasive that instinct is. Iím really calling for a major paradigm shift. Thatís always going to meet resistance. It shouldnít meet such resistance that one canít keep an open mind. But every time weíre challenged it should always meet at least the resistance of suspicion. Otherwise, we would be easily manipulated, and change from day to day. (chuckle.)

But there is a difference between the resistance of suspicion and the resistance of disbelief, or not even allowing yourself to open yourself to new information.

The other part of this issue is whether the data are a fair and balanced perspective. Maybe Iíve found a study here that counters the prevailing norm. But is this a fair representation, or have I been such a good researcher that I have taken a needle out of the haystack? The answer is that Iím trying to present the information that got left out of our public perceptions. For example, weíve heard that women work 15 hours ore per week inside the home,. Iím presenting a fair piece of information that got left out, that men work 22 hours more per week outside the home. Weíve heard that breast cancer is neglected. Iím presenting another, very fair piece of information, not contradicting that breast cancer has been neglected, but contradicting that it has been neglected in comparison to menís health problems. I point out that men die almost as often of prostate cancer, but breast cancer gets 660% as much funding.

Bert: This ties very neatly into my next question. Recognizing that menís powerlessness is being labeled power is seen by some women as an attempt by men to seek to hold power at the expense of womenís power and womenís gains.

Warren: Yes, and Iím saying itís part of our old thinking to think that there has to be a win-lose situation. That when either sex wins, both sexes win, and that when either sex tries to defeat the other, both sexes lose.

Now, let me be more practical with this. The fundamental mistake of the feminist movement was to take the female area of sacrifice, raising the children, and call that sacrifice, and take the male area of sacrifice, raising money, and call that power. I think this is the most succinct statement of what my book is about.

Bert: So you are not disagreeing that raising children is a sacrifice, or denigrating that sacrifice, but merely trying to have people recognize the other sacrifice.

Warren: Yes, and not having that sacrifice being turned around and labeled as power instead. Itís like saying that because women have the option to raise the child, they have manipulated the world to get themselves in charge of the home while men went out and died for them. It would be like taking womenís area of sacrifice, and calling that sacrifice power. Iím saying that both approaches are equally wrong. Youíre 100% right, Iím acknowledging the areas of female sacrifice. You donít have to blind yourself to the areas of female sacrifice in order to see the areas of male sacrifice.

Bert: What about the media reactions? I recall when the New York Times touted Robert Blyís evening with Deborah Tannen as the "battle between the sexes," but when they praised each otherís work the media lost all interest in covering it.

Warren: My experience with the media has been fascinating. First of all, itís been a fabulous learning and growing experience for me! (chuckle.) I have become so much more articulate about these issues, and Iíve also seen dozens of layers of insights that Iíve never had before, not only about the issues, but about how the media works.

Secondly, itís been fascinating to me that Iím writing a book that is perhaps the rough equivalent to what The Feminist Mystique was for women, but four out of five of the people who interview me are feminists. Mostly female feminists, but roughly half of the males that interview me are reflexive feminists. The rest are more open-minded, including open-minded feminist men. Can you imagine what would happen if Betty Friedanís book were being reviewed today, and four out of the five reviewers were men who are avowed male chauvinists? It would be like expecting Rush Limbaugh to give Betty Friedan a fair hearing. Thereís no attempt on the part of the media to have one interview by a man, and one by a woman.

Many of these women have been quite fair. Even some of the ones who call themselves fairly strong feminists, when they have read the book, have acknowledged that theyíve learned a great deal. Theyíve also acknowledged that they were very resistant to it, and went through a huge amount of anguish in the process of reading the book. Many of them were quite open-minded and fair, and really struggled in the process of writing an article about me.

And then, there have been others where the name of the game has been entertainment. For example, on Crossfire there was no attempt to understand, just an attempt to put two chickens, the feminist and me, up against each other and hope for as much blood as possible. That was basically the only purpose of the program.

Bert: I thought cock-fighting was illegal in most states.

Warren: It is, except where you have human beings in place of chickens.

Bert: Well, chickens are more valuable!

Warren: Exactly right. Itís like bullfighting. The objection to bullfighting was not that the man might get hurt, but that the bull might get hurt. So that that type of psychological drawing of blood was very much my experience on Crossfire. In my half hour on Crossfire I never got a single chance to even say my fundamental thesis.

Thatís one type of problem. The other is like Sonia Friedman on Sonia Live. And the woman who substituted for John London on Good Morning America. Sonia Friedman just could not hear me. She could hardly hear out any single thought that I offered, without interrupting and becoming angry at it. There was also the Los Angeles Times woman who did a real distortion number on the interview. That interview got syndicated all over the country.

On the other side of the spectrum has been an excellent excepts in Playboy and the New York Times Syndicate. Theyíve been circulating everywhere, from the San Jose Mercury to the New York Post.

Bert: Some of the mythopoetic reaction to the press has been that men are supposed to be feeling and expressive now, yet when men do this in menís gatherings the media exposure has been to focus on the drumming and the seemingly nonsensical, and overlook that men are actually getting in touch with their feelings.

Warren: I 100% agree with that media propensity. Itís a sick part of our society, to be honest with you. Thereís nothing that is more constructive and necessary for men to do than to be able to express their feelings with other men. No one single behavior is more important than that. When that behavior is mocked and ridiculed, itís just coming from a very traditional place, and when feminist women mock it, theyíre coming from a place of fear. Fear that men will speak up and that women will lose their victim power and entitlement power.

Bert: What do you see as your relation between your work and the mythopoetic work?

Warren: I see them both as one-two punches, or better yet, one-two hugs. (chuckle) They are really inseparable, for two reasons. One is that I want every man who does work on social change to simultaneously to be doing work on themselves. My basic belief is that movements in the past have been made up of unhealthy people. Yet few healthy changes have occurred without movement. If weíre going to make any real changes in the future, what we need to be doing is have men do their internal work at the same time theyíre doing their external work. Internal work and external work, when theyíre done simultaneously, reinforce each other.

At the same time, men who do their internal work, but are afraid to effect social change really are oftentimes shrinking away from being effective in the world, and usually shrinking away from the courage it takes to confront the women in their life. And thatís the degree to which they need to do more internal work.

Bert: The Mendocino conference reflected this concern about balancing inner and outer work. The thrust seems to be shifting to myth, poetry, community and justice. The idea is that, aside from doing inner work, we need to be more inclusive, for example with gays and men of color, and making menís work visible in the community.

Warren: Yes, I think it is. I would say that the contribution of a book like mine would be to help us straighten out the misunderstandings of the last twenty-five years. To help us see where menís health is neglected, even as we see that womenís health is neglected. To help us be aware, not just to see that women work 16 hours more per week in the home, but that men work 22 hours more a week outside the home. To help us see not only that men have higher gross incomes, but to help us understand that women have higher net worth. It is helping us to understand both sides of the problem, so that we have a balanced view.

That is difficult, however, in a "politically correct" environment, especially when there is an instinctual background to protect women. Men have all their emotional eggs in the basket of women. They fear female withdrawal. The enormous fear that men need to confront in order to say these types of things is the fear of withdrawal of the affection of some women. The degree to which the mythopoetic menís movement hesitates to enter into this arena, is the degree to which they need to ask themselves the question "Am I staying with myth and poetry for fear of receiving the female withdrawal of approval that will come if I speak of these everyday, nitty-gritty issues that deal with whatís really going on between us at home?" That would be the shadow side of the mythopoetic movement, and that would be the next level of growth to confront. Now, this is not mean that every person that is involved in myth, poetry and internal work has these fears. But it does mean that everyone needs to check out whether thereís a part of them that fears entering into this arena. The only person who can answer that question is the individual.

Bert: You say in your book that if men are not being heard, it may not be that women are closed to hearing them, but that men are not speaking out.

Warren: Yes, thereís only one phrase that I repeat three times in the book, and thatís that women cannot hear what men do not say. The first job of men is to do the reading and do the homework, to find out what their side of the story is. Whatís been left out for the past twenty-five years? The second job is to discuss this openly, lovingly and supportingly with other men. To see how it's affecting our everyday lives, our lives with our fathers, and our job choices. The third job is to confront the part of us that fears mentioning these things to women, for fear that they will respond negatively to us. And then the next step is getting the courage to do it, risking that rejection, and weeding out women who canít hear us. Then the last step is listening, in return. Listening as lovingly to womenís responses as we wanted them to listen to our appealings.

Bert: That feeds into a problem in the book Women Respond to the Menís Movement. The women authors had a tendency to say, "Iím wounded, but youíre not," or "my wound is worse than your wound." As opposed to acknowledging each otherís wounds.

Warren: Precisely. And understanding that each otherís wounds were our parentsí and our grandparentsí wounds, and that they didnít even have the luxury of questioning these things. Our ability to call these things wounds is part of our privilege. Thatís the first sign of freedom. The group that is most free is the group that will talk the most about wounds, the most about depression. The group that is the most survival-focused and most imprisoned doesnít have the opportunity to afford a psychologist to talk about whatís going on inside. Thatís where men are at, and where poor people are at.

Bert: Thatís like the point in your book that weíve done a wonderful job of taking women from stage 1 survival to stage 2 self-fulfillment, and worried less about men being able to reach stage 2.

Warren: Yes, exactly, what Iím saying successful men have played an important role in freeing women, but forgot to free themselves in the process.

Bert: Sometimes there is the tendency to view men as the source of the problem and women as the source of the problem. There has been the talk of the Goddess culture prior to patriarchy, but thereís a dark side of the Goddess, a Goddess of slaying and death as well as of new life.

Warren: All of history was focused on survival issues prior to recently, whether there was a God or Goddess culture. There is one difference: many of the Goddess cultures arose in cultures like Crete, Tahiti or central Malaysia, where there was adequate food, adequate water, and no fear of attack. The survival needs were taken care of, so you didnít need men to do the protecting.

Bert: They are, in effect, the precursor of the stage 2 culture that you are talking about creating, where the survival needs are met and both men and women are free to focus on self-fulfillment.

Warren: Exactly. There were exceptions to the rule. When you had a fear of attack, or needed food or water, and had to go get somebody elseís, thatís when you got the men to do the killing and the protecting. But men had to often seek killer and protector gods. And the reasons that these were male gods is that they symbolized the male role of protecting.

When we have women saying that men cause war, it would be like saying that women cause juvenile delinquency. That would be missing the fact that we assigned women to bring up children, and we assigned men to play the role of warrior and protector, from the age of age of three or four. They didnít make a choice to do that; that was simply their role.

The beautiful princess never fell in love with the Conscientious Objector. She always fell in love with some form of provider or the other, the prince or the warrior. And the warrior killed. So, basically, women defined love as falling in love with men who killed.

Bert: And men knew what it took to get the eye of the woman they wanted.

Warren: Thatís true whether youíre talking about Africa or the United States, and whether youíre talking about birds or elephant seals. Thatís why in the woods the beautiful bird will be the male bird. The predator will see the colorful male bird and satisfy its appetite by eating it, then leave the female alone because itís full.

Thatís why I call men the disposable sex. Our jobs were to make ourselves disposable, so women and children in the community would be protected. Thatís why the word "hero" comes from the words for servant, slave and protector.

Bert: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Warren: Perhaps that itís time for us men to understand why issues like sexual harassment and date rape are sexist framings of deeper issues, of how males and females have played out the sexual games. We need understanding of that from both sides in order to understand how we can most constructively change our male-female sexual games, find ways of coming together, and eliminate the destructive dimensions of both of those games.

More interviews

Men, Spirit, Soul and Shadow

Audio Cassette Tapes with Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade, John Lee, Malidoma Somé,Marion Hillman, Clarissa Ponkola Estés and many others

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