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Lit Review - "The Myth of Male Power"

Although this book has been around for some time (since the last century, 1993), it’s surprising how few people have heard of it.

Nonetheless, the book is important, if only because it would appear to have its own literary gravitational field – it is constantly referred to, and it’s weight has been used to slingshot many other books and ideas out into various genres across the bookshelves.

Its relative obscurity is even more surprising considering how well it sold and also that a previous work by Prof. Farrell was a best seller. He did the circuit, the conferences, the lectures, the Oprah Winfrey show. There was a buzz for a while, and then it died down. Perhaps the timing was wrong – hedonistic youth culture was far too busy taking pills and raving to take any notice.

However, there is renewed interest in the book and maybe that is because there has not been an adequate rebuttal. Although the data and references are now historical, the central tenets still ring true. The observations and ideas put forward are perhaps still as startling today as they were in the 90s, and they remain unchallenged. For example, the widely held, mistaken belief that men have power is hurting everyone and we should reconsider our understanding of that paradigm. Themes explored in the book include; power as a cage, glass cellar/disposable male, two-tier law and big-government-as-husband.

It may be that the ideas and questions raised are so contrary to popular opinion that time was allowed for it to cool down and let the dust clear. Now that an acceptable amount of time has passed, it’s ok to take another look. Not that there is anything radical or aggressive about the book – it is very reasoned and gentle in its presentation (which probably reflects the authors personality more than anything).

There may be yet another reason why it has a new generation of readers which is slightly more worrying: If what is presented is reasonably correct, or true (in the absence of reasonable challenge), then why has it had no perceptible effect?

Prof Farrell, gentle being that he is, probably felt that all one had to do was present reality and explain very simple ideas which are backed up with an impressive catalogue of research for the conversation to begin. He may have genuinely believed that people in university humanities departments, government bodies and social commentators were simply mistaken in their beliefs. They simply hadn’t noticed, and this new understanding would lead to a more inclusive social discussion.

Well, as it turned out, he was mistaken. The book, and others like it are conspicuously absent from university campuses, gender study departments and libraries. Even though Prof. Farrell was greatly involved in the early (1970s) feminist movement and was elected 3 times to the board of the National Organisation of Women, the response to the book is to call it backlash and refuse to read it.

Now, this is where it gets worrying.
This generation of readers is angry; angry that so much time has passed and still nothing has been done, the conversation stifled. Their patience is wearing thin. No one involved in gender issues can say that they are not aware of the issues raised, so there is a general assumption that they (policy makers, social commentators, “society”) simply don’t care. There is a real danger here of a genuine backlash which will not be pretty. There are some who say that it has already started, as it becomes more and more obvious that feminism does not do exactly as it says on the tin.
There are rumblings, but please do try to avoid a knee-jerk response of either dismissiveness or anger.

So, well worth a read, even allowing that it is “of it’s time”, the style is somewhat quaint, and some of the narrative is distinctly “90s”. For example, “vulnerability” is a catch-all buzz word used as a segway into emotional descriptions which doesn’t sit well with me, just because I think it’s unnecessary; emotions don’t need an intro and male descriptions in these terms just seem over compensatory.

But, put that on one side, its just my opinion.

There are plenty more reviews available from amazon.
Here are other recommended reads if you need something for the weekend

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