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Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say

Destroying Myths, Creating Love

by Warren Farrell
Book review © 1999 J. Steven Svoboda

 


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Warren Farrell, Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love (New York, NY: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999). Order on-line Audio Cassette

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Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love
by Warren Farrell
Review
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Dr. Warren Farrell


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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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Warren Farrell has written another stunning blockbuster of a book. And yet it's a bit more complicated than that. The current position of men as well as of the still somewhat nascent/moribund men's rights movement seems so problematic that Farrell apparently chose to make this work as broadly relevant as possible by somewhat surprisingly combining pop psychology with confrontation of feminist falsehoods. Farrell thus appears at times to be seeking to help us closer to the promised land of genuine gender equality by offering us a book which can be all things to all people, or at least more things to more people than any one book could normally be expected to satisfy. The genius of the book is that while not entirely successful at everything it attempts, it nevertheless pulls off a remarkably enlightening blend of the self-help and political analysis strands. The author manages to present an unapologetic masculist perspective while simultaneously maximizing the palatability of his message. It's quite an impressive feat.

After an admirably pithy state-of-masculinity summary of men's current position in American society, Farrell cuts to the chase and presents a detailed program to improve communication techniques between the sexes. The most critical and most therapeutically neglected aspect is learning to handle personal criticism from one's partner. These ideas appear to owe a heavy (if unacknowledged) debt to the doctrine of "conscious listening," far from a novelty in self-help circles. And yet Farrell manages to provide so many useful nuances and writes so beautifully that this section still shines. Moreover, its location in a book by Warren Farrell and prior to some heavier duty masculist material accentuates its importance. Interestingly, Farrell appears to be applying some of the information from his most unabashedly radical book to date, The Myth of Male Power, to the relationship context. In the style of his more accessible, earlier book, Why Men Are the Way They Are (my personal introduction to masculist writing), he also includes male-bashing excerpts from contemporary advertisements and popular media.

The man does have quite the way with words. Labeling, he tells us, is the lobotomy of our soul. Men are offered a choice between disposability and powerlessness. Women's feelings are called both education and entertainment, while men's are repressed until they become ulcers. Only our daughters are taught to be both entitled AND angry. In one particular felicitous phrasing that sums up the goals of many of us in the gender equity movement, he writes: "Ultimately, this book is about both sexes speaking and both sexes listening in a radically different way. But prior to the 'ultimately,' there are reasons why men are the silent sex..."

Surprisingly, argument-provoking feelings are predominantly expressed by women. Men are more inhibited by angry women and less comfortable with emotional confrontation. Farrell states that his goal "is to create a method of communicating that transforms anger in the way a solar panel transforms heat--by taking intense heat that would normally leave us hot one moment and cold the next, and transforming it into energy that keeps us warm all the time."

Farrell includes a primer on how to get in touch with one's feelings. (I must confess I do wonder how many men will actually learn to connect with their emotions by reading a book, but I suppose everyone must start somewhere.) He explains in detail the value of men's groups. Farrell provides the rules of the game for giving criticism so that it can be heard. He never misses a chance to personalize his points by supplying examples from his own life and relationships, including a detailed and very humanizing portrait of his own father.


Later in the book, in the style of his last and most radical book,

The Myth of Male Power

, Farrell moves into debunking the "second shift" myth and the myth that men commit the overwhelming percentage of domestic violence, adding advice to both sections to promote male-female relationships. Farrell has unearthed some fascinating information, such as outright fraud by both the United Nations and

Second Shift

author Arlie Hochschild to perpetuate the second shift mythology.

Farrell never falls into the trap of writing a blaming book. He notes that regarding the definition of "housework," for example, anger toward men is also perpetuated by men's blindness to the fact that their contributions need to be seen and appreciated so that both partners in a relationship can benefit. To promote this possibility, Farrell provides an exhaustive (if not exhausting) fifty-four-item "male housework" list.

Including a very useful appendix compiling all the two-sex randomized studies of domestic violence completed to date, Farrell notes the ignorance of feminists who claim that men believe they are entitled to batter. Men who batter, he notes, represent a breakdown of the male role. Thus it is intriguing that in a phenomenal 100% of all advertisements in which only one sex is hitting the other, it is women who are beating men.

Both men and women, we learn, devalue the importance of male injuries. Farrell even mentions in passing that the learned helpless and battered (wo)men's syndromes which feminists have inserted into the laws would more properly be applied to men. And, of course, it is well documented, to feminists' evident discomfiture, that significantly MORE violence occurs with lesbian couples than with heterosexual ones. Finally, he explains why "battered women's syndrome" insults women's intelligence by implying that they are not smart enough to leave their husbands while the men are at work, on a business trip, etc.

Why is it, as Farrell asks in yet another devilishly effective formulation, that when a rich older man marries a younger women we speak of him as robbing the cradle, but we don't say that she is robbing the bank? Almost every woman who marries thinks on her wedding day that it is at least likely that her husband's potential earnings will exceed hers.

By this point, Farrell resembles a prizefighter on a phenomenal roll, landing one telling blow after another. He follows a thought-provoking analysis of anti-male greeting cards with a pithy summary of how men's attitudes toward sex parallel women's attitudes toward money. And yet when a woman marries a millionaire we congratulate her, while "in men's area of addiction, sex... there is no arena in which we have been more judgmental..."

The men's movement has tossed around comparisons of feminism with Nazism for years, but in one awesomely succinct passage, Farrell responds to the cover of the book, "No Good Men," by creating the parodies, "No Good Blacks" and "No Good Jews." Farrell notes, "We might think the difference in our reaction [to these three potential book covers] has to do with the perception of men as all- powerful, but it was exactly that perception of Jews [as all- powerful] that led to the passive acceptance of such slurs in Nazi Germany." Later, he adds a great, reasoned comparison of feminism and Nazism, acknowledging that the analogy is far from perfect, but noting that some disturbing similarities do exist.

Farrell provides some fascinating detective work documenting that, despite the intentional obscuring of this fact by federal data collection categories, women may kill their husbands more frequently than they are killed by them. Provocatively, the author categorized as "domestic violence, female style" such acts as reputation ruining through false accusations of abuse, career destruction, and psychological abuse. Farrell labels as "the great inequality" the fact that women's misuse of their "relationship power" to triumph in and control arguments is legal, while men's misuse of their physical power is illegal.

So why are women so angry? Many women are socialized to expect a prince. When men turn out not to be princes but rather flawed human beings, the women feel betrayed. In another felicitous phrase, "women's dream of being swept away is swept away." Today we have created a sexual double standard which is much more lenient toward women's affairs then men's, even where the affair puts children at risk and betrays a loving father. Thus men's problems ruin them, and men are also held responsible for women's problems. Women's magazines teach women to seduce their boss, then sue for harassment.

So why haven't men changed? Men haven't changed, Farrell shows, because men's options haven't changed. We have expanded women's freedoms and men's obligations, then complained that men haven't changed. That, Farrell notes, must change.

Farrell's last, longest, and most devastating chapter sketches out the remarkable power of the "Lace Curtain," feminism's equally totalitarian, and equally one-sided, answer to communism's Iron Curtain. Driven by government, education, the media, and the helping professions, the Lace Curtain runs on victim power and the "genetic celebrity" power possessed by attractive women.

The results? Justice is murdered, and the reasons explaining WHY men earn more than women are suppressed. The causes of men dying seven years earlier than women are ignored. We have women's studies and no men's studies. Overprotection infantilizes our daughters. In the end, nobody wins.

Inevitably, Farrell's balancing act between self-help talk and political talk does not fully succeed all the time. Nits can always be picked. With his talk of "conscientious feminists," he is a bit too charitable towards the realities of the current women's movement. For my taste, he also throws a few too many sops to women--a title which implicitly faults men for our predicament today, his talk of "men's blindness" perpetuating anger toward men, his questionable statement that men are the passive-aggressive sex. Occasionally Farrell's suggestions seem a bit silly. Perhaps this is only because the ideas are so novel, but what would affirmative action to encourage men to express their feelings look like?

But these are minor complaints indeed. Farrell's genius is to note feminism's six unspoken rules: Define the issues; define an oppressor; sell feminism as the champion of the oppressed; always open options for women; never close options for women; when something is wrong, never hold women responsible.

Where to go from here? Farrell does retain hope for a gender transition movement which will transform society. Peppered throughout the book are suggestions and proposals for change and political action, many of which may seem idealistic or hopeless in the present climate. And yet since we got here, Farrell seems to be saying, there has to be a path back out. Radio (and perhaps the Internet?) provide our last main bastions against the Iron Curtain.

Men can only get there from here if they do their homework and have the courage to take their perspectives to the outside world and ask for women to join them. "Men can't say what men don't know, and women can't hear what men don't say." Thus concludes our most celebrated writer's latest brilliant, complex stab at unraveling anti-male sexism and leading us toward a brighter future.

Introduction to the book

MenWeb is delighted to present the Introduction to Warren's book.

Top Ten Predictions About Women and Men

Here are Warren's Top Ten Predictions from the book.

Comparing Warren Farrell to Susan Faludi

Here's an article comparing Warren Farrell's writing to Susan Faludi's new book Stiffed

Book description and reviews

Here are a book description and reviews from Amazon.com

 


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