Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are Men Necessary - A Review (of sorts)

It was a nifty coincidence that Maureen Dowd's book Are Men Necessary went on remainder at my local bookstore about the same time that I began my adventures in online dating. I remember reading lots of reviews of the book and articles about Dowd when the book came out in 2005 and I had always meant to check out the book; however, I rarely by hardbacks due to cost, so time passed and I forgot about it. Until last month, that is, when it was prominently displayed on the remainder table. I bought it and delved into Dowd's controversial book.

To begin with, Dowd's chapter titles are humorous in and of themselves:
1. How To Set Your Bear Trap In The Mink Department of Bergdorf's
2. Why Pandora's Box Is No Tender Trap
3. Whipping The Pants Off The Women Who Wear Them
4. Why The Well-Hung Y Is Wilting, Even As The X is Excelling
5. Of Pussycats, Booty Calls, Road Beef, And Slump Busters
6. The Drag Of Going Stag
7. Whence The Wince
8. How Green Is My Valley Of The Dolls
9. How Hillary Smushed Cupcakes And Filleted Feminism

Essentially, Dowd's point is this: Women tried so hard in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s to gain equal rights with men and to eliminate all of the gender stereotypes that had such deep roots in American society, but have begun to revert to their 1950s predecessors, who willingly gave up their careers upon marriage and did everything they could to snag a man so as to become that stay-at-home mom. In that, I generally agree with her. Take the bulk of 30-something women I encounter on a regular basis: they have graduate or even doctorate degrees, were once on the fast-track to high-power/upper-level jobs, and wanted to make their mark on the world; but then they got married and began having kids and now they are stay-at-home moms. Very active and involved stay-at-home moms, but they no longer work or put those advanced degrees to use. Sure they have an an attractive, well-off, and successful husband, but is that really all there is to life? Snag a good man and proceed to produce beautiful, intelligent, (and probably over-indulged) children?

I know that there is more to say on this topic and about this book, but I'll stop here for now. What are your observations of women today? Of men? Do women need men to give them a place in life, or can women do that just fine for themselves?


Ily said...

I read this book a few months after it came out, and I remember it being interesting, but without a clear point. But, I think you've probably gotten as close to finding the point as is possible. You know, I wish I could agree or disagree, but my own experiences will always color my observations so much that I find it nearly impossible to make any claims about "women". Maybe I should do a survey. :-)

Katie said...

From my friend Superquail:

I have heard of this Maureen Dowd and I must admit that the one article of hers that I have read made me want to fly back to the US just to punch her in the face. She is the person who decided that Al Gore was so feminine that he was "lactating" and she basically roasted Hillary Clinton for daring to get choked up a bit in New Hampshire - never mind that she went on to win the primary in that state.

So often [my boyfriend] shows me these articles written by women that argue that either women should have the right to vote (Ann Coulter), or that women are stupid, or some other blatantly sexist and offensive bullshit that would never have gotten published if the author was male. It's kind of like the way Black people can get away with saying the n-word and white people can't.

As for the roles of men and women in American society today, I really don't have the data to make any claims about nation-wide trends or anything like that. One thing I can say, though, is that Hillary Clinton's campaign has stirred up a lot of misogyny. People were holding up signs at her rally saying "Iron My Shirt!" and all kinds of political commentators seem to think it is acceptable to talk about the sound of her laugh or whether she wears pants or skirts or how her hair looks on a given day - the sort of crap no one ever says about McCain. Let's be honest here, McCain is not a good looking man, and yet no one seems to be holding that against him!

Though I have a lot of problems with Clinton's policies, and I haven't liked the nasty turn the campaign has taken towards Obama, every time I hear a criticism of her that sounds gender-driven (like [parksdh] calling her "shrill"), part of me shrivels up inside and whimpers. Hillary Clinton is testing the limit of what women in American society can do, and I can just see the glass ceiling coming crashing down on her. People are holding her to a different standard than they would ever hold a male candidate to, and that is not ok.

Even on supposedly liberal-swinging radio shows like "Wait, Wait . . ." I hear some stuff that real bothers me. Peter Sagal makes comments all the time about Hillary and Bill's marriage, about how Bill must love the fact that someone else is fighting with his wife for a change, or how he must be happy to get away from her during the campaign, and all kinds of really mean shit that no one has said about Obama's marriage or McCain's marriage.

Are there women who get advanced degrees and never put them to use? Yes. Are there more women failing to use their higher education then men? I would believe it. But I do not think the reason for this is just that women give up on themselves. It is really hard to get a higher degree and have a child. Ask [fellmama] about this subject, she posted an article about it on her blog awhile back. Basically, there is this sort of clock that starts once you finish your Ph.D. and you only have a certain number of years after that to snag a tenure position. Having a child slows everything down and makes much harder to fit into that rigid time schedule.

For men, having children doesn't seem to have the same effect on their ability to get higher degrees or get a job. This is because our society still makes the wife the one primarily responsible for child care. I don't think having children caused my father any career inconvenience at all. Neither did having a wife. But my mother moved to a different country when she got married.

There is still a huge double standard in US for men and women when it comes to having a family. Men rarely feel they have to choose between work and children, whereas women usually do. If they don't give up their job entirely, they generally have to compromise in some way on their career in order to have kids. And that isn't fair.

So, that is my response!

Ily said...

Totally agree with Superquail-- I don't want Hilary to be president, and I didn't vote for her, but the way she is being treated by the media kind of breaks my heart. Like the crying thing- wtf?! I saw that video and she barely teared up, but people were making it sound like she was bawling like a baby. Crazy!