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'New Sexism': Men Cry Foul at Male Jokes

December 14, 1987|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Women may laugh at a card that reads "If men are God's gift to women, then God must really love gag gifts," or at notepaper that says "Men have only two faults: Everything they say and everything they do." But men are not amused, said San Diego-area psychotherapist Warren Farrell.

In fact, he said, a growing industry of books, magazine articles, cartoons, greeting cards and advertisements that rebuke and ridicule men is top-selling evidence of a dangerous "new sexism."

Worse than merely fostering male backlash to what many men see as the excesses of the women's movement, Farrell charged at a press conference here last week that this surging new sexism "creates after a while a life experience" that further alienates the sexes.

To further illustrate his position, Farrell flashed a slide of a 1983 book, "No Good Men," by Genevieve Richardson. Never mind the patently impossible notion of a book called "No Good Women," he said, "Can you imagine a book called 'No Good Blacks' or 'No Good Jews'?"

Monitoring the Male Image

He then indicated a display table at the back of the room. "Honey, breaking off a relationship is like eating Thanksgiving leftovers," a grandmotherly type advised on one greeting card. "You're better off when the turkey's gone."

Farrell was joined at the press conference by Fred Hayward, head of a Sacramento-based organization called Men's Rights Inc., that for three years has undertaken a "media watch" to monitor the image of men.

"What we found in looking over approximately 1,000 advertisements, whenever there was a male/female relationship, if one of them was incompetent, 100% of the time it was the male," Hayward said. In short, he said, "100% of the jerks were male."

His research suggests that "we seem to have made a commitment as a society to view everything from the female perspective," Hayward said. "I think that is the new sexism."

Farrell, author of "The Liberated Male" and, most recently, of "Why Men Are the Way They Are," goes so far as to label the trend "women's soft pornography," contending that the anger and vitriol he sees aimed at men actually reflect objectification of men by women that stems from disappointment and feelings of rejection. He takes particular exception to the recently published "Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress," the last volume of Shere Hite's trilogy about love and sexuality.

"The Hite Report"--or rather, as he often calls it, "The Hate Report"--"took the new sexism to its quintessential level," Farrell said. No publisher, this specialist in relationships between men and women said, would consider a male counterpart to Hite's latest book "worthy of publication."

Hite, reached by telephone at her apartment here, refused to comment.

But social pendulums are bound to swing back and forth, said Los Angeles counseling therapist Barbara De Angelis. "I think there is a new sexism, and I think it's a natural reaction," De Angelis, author of "How To Make Love All the Time," said in an interview. "There's obviously a backlash happening. Whenever anything goes to an extreme, that's going to happen."

Using his own "personal odyssey" as a "metaphor" for the new sexism, Farrell drew a complicated picture that showed the contemporary woman expecting male success with the option to work in her own profession, the option to stay home with children or a combination of both. By contrast, Farrell said men today feel pressured to be financially successful before women will even look at them.

"You don't want his clothes to be taken off unless he's a star," Farrell said. Sensitivity comes in the persona of what Farrell calls "the Alan Alda Syndrome": that is, "a man can be sensitive and caring if he comes in the package of being a success first."

His options are limited, Farrell said of the man trapped by this new sexism. "He can work full-time, he can work full-time, or he can work full-time," he said.

'Jerk Objects'

Angered by what they see as raging male inadequacies, women turn men into "jerk objects," Farrell added, much as men who fear sexual rejection turn females into pornographic sex objects. Nowhere is this pattern more clear, Farrell said, than in the cornucopia of best-selling "self-improvement" books targeted at women.

His slide show mimicked, for example, the cover of a best-selling book by Stephanie Brush called "Men: An Owner's Manual." Farrell's parody depicted a book cover called "Blacks: An Owner's Manual." Dryly, Farrell said, "Someone might even think of that as racist."

"These books begin to become a formula," Farrell said of a list that included such huge-selling titles as "Smart Women, Foolish Choices," "The Peter Pan Syndrome" and "Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them."

"Fitting that formula makes the best-seller list," Farrell said. "Always the man must have something bad about him, and the woman must have something good about her."

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