Sterba's section makes it four stars

Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?: A Debate - James P. Sterba, Warren Farrell


                This book is a Point/Counterpoint book from OUP, so one half of the book is a yes answer to the title question, the second half is a no answer. 


                So if I were giving the first half a book a star rating, it would be one star.  If it was the second half, it would be four stars.


                So let’s go with three stars.


                Actually that’s not really fair.  It really is a four star book from a teaching stand point because part 1 by Farrell could also be titled “how not to present an argument and alienate all readers except people like you” while part 2 could be titled “Bitch Smack down of Part 1”.  So if you are teaching a writing course, this is a pretty good book to use.


                And honestly, in all fairness to the idea, couldn’t OUP find a better author for the first part?  Yes, I know Farrell started the whole thing and all, but still.


                Because Farrell’s part is just so bad and insulting on so many levels. 


                In fairness, he does have some good points.  It’s true that gender roles affect both genders, and perhaps more attention should be paid to that.  It’s also true that the fact the men have to register for the draft and face combat while women don’t (at least at the time of this book’s publication the change in women in combat had not occurred) is unfair.  I might even concede that making fun of men can be just as insulting as making fun of women.  I am even willing to entertain the idea of asking women out is really hard and scary for men.  And, quite frankly, I agree that sometimes women should pay or at least help out with the bill depending on circumstances.


                Yet, Farrell does not present these points well.  To say he presents his thesis badly would be unfair to writers who do it badly.  He does it worse than badly.  I’m not sure what that is, but whatever it is; Farrell is the textbook example of it.


                Here’s why.


                In his discussion of the draft, Farrell keeps bringing up the Battle of the Somme.  For those of you who don’t know, the Somme occurred in WW I.  WWI lasted from 1914-1918.  A whole generation of men was lost, a whole generation of European men.  Americans weren’t affected by it as much.   Furthermore, America hadn’t even joined the war when the Battle of the Somme occurred.  Considering that Farrell seems to confine his argument to American (white) men and feminism (though he never actually says he is confining it to American.  However most of his “data” is American focuses.  When it is not, he refers to the UK or Canada), why does he keep bringing up this battle?  And, women didn’t have fully or any voting rights during WWI, so why is he using it as an example of unfairness?


                He also says he can’t find a feminist who believes that women should register for the draft.  I know several.  He’s not looking very hard.


                And this brings us to another problem.


                Much, if not all, of Farrell’s support is anecdotal and statistics/studies that are too older (he cites something from 1969, for instance, and treats the information as currently true)   or whose information he doesn’t fully reveal (or according to Sterba misrepresents).  For instance, early in his section Farrell gives us an example of student in a gender studies case who told him, the class kept telling her to hate men.  Then there is a girl who he is sitting near on a plane who tells him she has three friends who got pregnant to keep their boyfriend.  All these things might be true (however, as a teacher, I always question the subject matter got me a low grade.  I know some teachers do grade this way, but I’m not convinced it is a high number, and I would like to know the full case), yet one story does not a case make.    Farrell even uses the death of his brother as an example of gender roles leading to men being placed in harm’s way, but he doesn’t give us enough information about the situation for his reading of his brother’s death to make sense. While it does give reason for Farrell leaving the women’s movement and focusing on men, the lack of information makes the reader distrust him from the start.


This further compounded by the use of studies.  At some points, Farrell gives the reader the percentage or number that study determined (admittedly without the margin of error), but in at least half the cases he doesn’t, and just uses terms like nearly equal. 


                Which means what?


                Then there is the discussion about rape.  Let’s leave aside the sickening idea that women ask for it by dressing nicely and the idea that men deserve intercourse because they have to ask women out and pay for dinner.  When discussing rape, Farrell refers to an Air Force study.  There are several problems with this.  The first is that if a reader looks at the footnotes, she/he will discover that the study is unpublished and dates from 1996 (the book’s copyright is 2008).  Additionally, the study is only of 556 cases of alleged rape.  The conclusion, supposedly, is that the study found that 60% of those cases were false accusations.  This was determined by some women admitting they lied, and then independent reviewers using a list of characteristics those women had in common to judge the other women.




                Yet despite Farrell’s lack of argument, the book is still worth using because of the second half.  The second half is the no argument, presented by James P. Sterba, who had the pleasure of going second.  This allows him to pick about Farrell’s points.  It is wonderfully done, and not just by showing how Farrell ignored more recent studies for older ones or the misrepresentation of some studies, but by showing how feminists are actually concerned about some of the issues (such as the draft, combat, health care)  that Farrell raises.  And Sterba’s presentation of these concerns is far more detailed, and not just in the terms of the feminist movement.  This is because, in part, that Sterba seems to be aware that all men are not heterosexual.  Farrell does seem to think that the only gay men in existence are in jail where they will infect 18 year old boys who refuse to register for the draft with AIDS.  The other part is that Sterba footnotes far more and his data is more recent.  Farrell has 14 pages of footnotes, numbering 219.  Sterba has twenty-five (or twenty-four if you take one away because his first page had fewer footnotes on it than Farrell’s), numbering 384.  Sterba’s footnotes also tend to have far more information than Farrell’s, and he doesn’t seem to rely on private correspondence as much.  He also doesn’t use much anecdotal evidence, and when he does, it is immediately followed by a study.  He also gives details about cases, something that Farrell does not do.


                Sterba’s section is a brilliant example of how to refute another person’s argument without name calling.  It’s wonderful.  Quite frankly, it’s why you should read the book.