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A New Role for Men: Victim : Former feminist Warren Farrell says he's sick and tired of guys getting bashed. 'Male power,' he proclaims, is just a myth.

August 09, 1993|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gloria Steinem hasn't spoken to him in years. Alan Alda doesn't invite him for tennis anymore. And then there's the matter of those millions in lost income.

But, please, don't feel sorry for Warren Farrell.

At 50, America's most outspoken former feminist is "right where I want to be." So what if that happens to be 180 degrees from his days as one of the first leaders of NOW. Warren Farrell-the-Man is back.

Back on the magazine racks (Playboy now, not Ms.), back on the morning talk shows, back in the hearts of his countrymen. Even Phil Donahue wants to kiss and make up--or at least get Farrell back on his show.

The reason? "The Myth of Male Power," Farrell's newest book, was out last week. And, oh, what a fuss it's making. Its message is a bold one: Men, not women, are the true victims in our society.

"A real bombshell!" announces one reviewer. "The book of the decade!" raves another. "So exhilarating (and) unnerving," gushes "Cathy" cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, "that an entire quart of ice cream melted, untouched, by my side while I read it."

So outrageous, say some feminists, they can barely get through it. "He's certainly entitled to say whatever he wants, but this sort of biased rhetoric isn't helpful to anybody," says Diane Welsch, president of the National Organization for Women in New York City.

"Warren never was my role model for what a man who truly supported feminism would be," says Betty Friedan, one of the founders of NOW, who refuses to debate with or about Farrell because "I refuse to be used to give him credibility."

But Farrell says Friedan has been unhappy with him ever since he told her about his plans to write a book on incest that would include stories of "those who had positive (incest) experiences."

"Can you imagine?" gasped Friedan.

Incest isn't covered in Farrell's new book, but most every other controversial topic is.

For example:

* "The key to wealth is not in what we earn, it is in what is spent on us."

* "Sexual harassment legislation is a male-only chastity belt. With women holding the key."

* "Women's control over spending gives women control over TV programs because TV is dependent on sponsors."

* "The powerful woman doesn't feel the effect of her secretary's miniskirt power, cleavage power and flirtation power. Men do."

Farrell's book indicts the media "for a quarter century of male bashing," blasts feminist leaders for conspiring to create publicly funded commissions on women and even accuses law enforcement of padding the numbers of rape victims to pander to women's groups.

He tells the "shameful" story of how during the 1991 rape trial of boxer Mike Tyson, public attention focused on the feminist view of "men-as-rapists" instead of the heroic efforts of firefighters to put out a blaze in the jury's hotel.

"Two firefighters died, but men-as-saviors don't make news," complains Farrell. "Ninety-nine percent of the nation's 1 million firefighters are men. In exchange they ask only for appreciation. In exchange they are ignored."

Well, so are women who would be firefighters, argues NOW's Welsch. "There hasn't been a new woman firefighter hired in (New York City) in 10 years. Warren Farrell seems to have forgotten that women do two-thirds of the work in the world for one-tenth the money. We aren't victims sitting around saying, 'Take care of me, take care of me.' We have our own families to take care of. We just need some help."

*

Farrell has come a long way, baby. In the 1970s, as a political science grad student at New York University, he was leading consciousness-raising groups to help men "stop dominating and start communicating with" women. He served on the New York City NOW board for three terms when, he recalls, "I became good at saying what women wanted to hear."

As a soldier on the new sexual frontier, he received standing ovations and "the equivalent of $100,000 a year" for his speeches. But as he listened to his own words, Farrell says he grew troubled. "When women criticized men, I called it 'insight'. . . . When men criticized women, I called it 'sexism' and 'backlash.' "

"I said to myself, 'Wow, this isn't equality; it's opportunism!' "

So Farrell's metamorphosis began, and a decade after his pioneering first book, "The Liberated Man," set down how the liberation of women would liberate men, his second bestseller, "Why Men Are the Way They Are," concluded that men should probably take care of themselves.

But some critics say "The Myth of Male Power" goes beyond the nurturing rituals of the male movement to mount an outright assault on the victories of the modern women's movement.

The book attacks affirmative action and other legal protections for women as sentimental offerings to the old sexist myth of woman-as-child. "So long as you create laws that define women as victims, as creatures that demand protection, that need bodyguards, you are going to perpetuate the very worst of our sexist past," says Farrell.

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