A Journalist's Archive

Are Men Necessary?
Maureen Dowd
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

The pulp fiction style cover caught my eye; the title, “Are Men Necessary,” made me laugh. Both were designed with that purpose in mind, but author Maureen Dowd, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New York Times, warns readers, “I’m not peddling a theory or a slogan, or a policy.” No, instead Dowd insists, “This book offers only the diligent notes – on the job and off – of a fascinated observer of our gender perplexities.”  But don’t believe that for a second, the woman famous for bashing both the Clinton and Bush dynasties with equal zeal and wit doesn’t publish mere observations; Dowd’s musings are an insightful look into all aspects of the gender clash.

 “Are Men Necessary” opens with Dowd claiming she is as “baffled as the next woman” about men, and wondering if she “overcomplicated their simplicity.” She is loath to accept Jerry Seinfeld’s explanation that “men are really nothing more that extremely advanced dogs,” but she can’t come up with a better definition. Dowd then devotes an entire chapter to the vitality of the Y chromosome. While much of the information is based on scientific fact, Dowd is having a little fun with readers as she skillfully manipulates facts to create a brand new urban myth. So guys, don’t be alarmed if you hear that males, like blonds, are scheduled for extinction.

While neither blonds nor men are actually doomed, that doesn’t stop Dowd from fantasizing about a world without anchor men, March Madness, or cold pizza in the morning. Dowd points out this would also end the dilemma over who picks up the tab on a date. But without men, there would be no need for dating or Dowd’s career that is built on exposing the foibles of politically powerful men.

This book is packed with decades of “bad-behavior” by the likes of everyone from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, with a multitude of lecherous men in between. Her comments about Senator Bob Packwood, better known around the Beltway as “The Tongue,” make me wonder why women tolerated his behavior for so long. But Dowd actually lets men off easy and saves her most biting sarcasm for women.

It’s understandable. Dowd began her career in 1974 working as an editorial assistant for the Washington Star. She, along with many other women of her generation, expected equality between the sexes, including equal pay for equal work. To her dismay, she discovers Helen Gurley Brown, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, has more influence on younger women than Gloria Steinem ever did. Dowd wonders how American women could have gone from “playing with Barbie to denouncing Barbie to remaking themselves as Barbie.” Her anger over women’s obsession with beauty is so intense that it becomes unbearable at times. When her fixation on women’s flaws got overwhelming, I put the book down, but returned to it later because her writing is thought-provoking.

She laments, “It seems unfathomable now, in an era when women obsess on wiping out winces and removing wrinkles in their earlobes. But there was a time, long ago and far away, when women didn’t only talk about their skin. They talked about books, plays, and politics.” Well, I hate to tell Dowd, but she needs to get out of New York City because here in the heartland women still talk about politics. However, looking around at all the nail and tanning salons now littering our landscape, maybe it’s only a matter of time before talks about botox and collagen treatments replace our political conversations.

“Feminism lasted for a nanosecond and generated a gender tangle that has bewitched, bothered and bewildered men and women for forty years,” Dowd says. I disagree with her assessment. Perhaps she is so caught up in the world of rich and powerful people that she can not see the opportunities the feminist movement provided to ordinary women. However, her statement, “Whether or not American feminism will be defeated by American conservatism, it is incontrovertibly true that American feminism was trumped by American narcissism,” has merit. As Dowd points out, American women pop more and more pills each day to control their moods. Perhaps if we understand the flaw in seeking physical perfection, women wouldn’t be quite so depressed.

The last chapter of the book deals with the present political battle for the White House. It becomes crystal clear Dowd doesn’t believe a win for Hillary equals a win for feminism, and she skillfully ends the book with the following questions. “Will the ‘I am woman, see me grow’ senator ever be genuinely self-reliant from her husband? Or are men necessary?”

Read this witty, provocative, and sometimes annoying book. You may not agree with her opinions, but “Are Men Necessary,” will darn well make you think. And that’s what a book is supposed to do.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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