Does Feminism
Discriminate Against Men?
A Debate


Excerpts from Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A debate by Warren Farrell

Everyone’s life experiences create biases to which they are usually blind (they see them only as their life experience). I would like to share mine up front...

Although I am critiquing the feminist analysis of men and what I perceive to be feminist dependency on “victim power,” my background is as a feminist, and I support the portions of feminism that strive to create new options for women. Because I feel the underlying biology of men and women is to adapt, I see the future as an opportunity to develop more flexible roles than the past allowed. I feel that the male-female roles that were functional for the species for millions of years have become dysfunctional in an evolutionary instant. I feel that traditional men and women are incomplete psychologically. In these respects, I differ from most conservatives.

Without feminism, fewer companies would have experimented with part-time workers, flexible schedules, childcare options, and improved safety standards. Without women in police work, few police forces would have discovered that 95% of conflicts are not resolved by physical strength; without women doctors, few hospitals would be cutting back 90-hour work weeks for doctors; without women therapists, short-term counseling and couple counseling would be much less available.... The feminist movement has allowed thousands of workplace assumptions to be re-examined; feminism brought into the workplace not only females, but female energy.

When I see girls playing baseball, my eyes well up with tears of happiness (Farrell is Irish!) for what I know they are learning about teamwork. Without the feminist movement, those girls would be on the sidelines. Without the feminist movement, millions of girls would see only one dimension of their mothers and, therefore, of themselves. They would have to marry more for money than for love. They would be even more fearful of aging.

My background as a feminist includes serving three years on the Board of the National Organization for Women in New York City, starting hundreds of men and women’s groups, and speaking around the world from this perspective during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. In the process, I put tens of thousands of men through “men’s beauty contests” to give them an emotional experience of what it was like to be viewed as a “sex object.”

Let me share with you first some of the personal reasons I was so receptive to feminism, and then some of what led me to balancing that with equal empathy for men.

Growing up (in the fifties and sixties), I had seen my mother move in and out of depression. Into depression when she was not working, out of depression when she was working. The jobs were just temporary, but, she would tell me, “I don’t have to ask Dad for every penny when I’m working.” At forty-eight her depression and a dizzy spell led to a fall that led to her death.

My mother died before the current feminist movement was born, but she would often say, "I'm your mother, not your slave." I can recall coming home after being elected seventh-grade class president, proudly announcing it to her, and saying, "Our class meetings are on Fridays... could I have an ironed shirt when I have to preside in front of the class?" She said "sure" and without missing a beat, took out the ironing board and showed me how to iron my shirts.

Whether for these reasons or others, when the women’s movement surfaced, it made sense to me in an instant. I found myself at the homes of emerging feminist friends in Manhattan, plopped in front of their husbands with instructions to “tell him what you told me.” Soon I was involved with the National Organization for Women, formed men’s groups, gave up my position as an assistant to the president of NYU, wrote a book called The Liberated Man on the value of women’s independence to men, and began speaking around the world on these issues.

Some years later, though, another family experience was to open my eyes differently. My brother Wayne, twelve years my junior, and his woman friend went cross-country skiing in the Grand Tetons. They came to a dangerous pass. It was April, and they both feared the avalanches. Two of them going forward would put them both in danger, yet would give each the opportunity to save the other. Wayne went forward alone. The snow slipped from the mountain, gathered momentum and tumbled its thousands of frozen pounds over my brother. Burying him 40 feet under. He would have been twenty-one.

Wayne and his woman friend had unconsciously agreed that it was his life that would be risked – and in this case sacrificed – as he and she both played out their roles. I would soon see much more evidence of how deeply ingrained it is both for women to unconsciously expect men’s protection (even when it means the man sacrificing his life), and for men to compete to give it in exchange for approval, respect and love.

The experience with Wayne catalyzed my thinking about male vulnerability. In my presentations, rather than just having men walk a mile “in the beauty contest of everyday life” that women experience, I asked women to experience male vulnerability by asking men out on a “role reversal date,” and risking just a few of the 150 or so risks of rejection that men might experience between eye contact and intercourse.

Risking rejection male-style opened up women’s eyes to male vulnerability and opened up men’s mouths about their feelings. Especially men’s feelings of powerlessness that evolve from his sexual desire—whether he’s in college or “single again” after a divorce. For example, a man who talks about the compulsive sexual feelings he has is being vulnerable exactly because he is revealing his compulsiveness. This makes the woman he’d like to feel closer to feel less special, and more distant from him—and therefore makes him vulnerable to losing her love.

I began to see men’s vulnerability in other ways. After divorce, a man is ten times as likely to commit suicide as is the woman. Why? Women are more likely to have the children -- someone to love them and need them. People who feel loved and needed rarely commit suicide.

And women develop support systems. Women’s traditional support systems support women to be vulnerable; men’s traditional support systems support men to be invulnerable.

This creates a paradox: the support men get to be invulnerable makes them more vulnerable; the support women get to be vulnerable makes them less vulnerable. It is just one example of how women’s strength is their façade of weakness and men’s weakness is their façade of strength.

Take, for example, the most archetypal of men’s support systems -- the cheerleader, his football team, and his family. When a cheerleader says, “first and ten, do it again!” she isn’t saying “first get in touch with your feelings again." Nor is his coach. Nor are his parents cheering in the stands. All of us are unwittingly supporting him to “risk a concussion again.” His motto is, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” (they don’t cry to the school therapist). If, instead of getting a touchdown, he gets in touch with his feelings, and quits his position on the team to avoid the concussion, the cheerleader doesn’t say, “Next week I’m going to cheer for you -- I noticed how open and vulnerable you were when you were playing football." Yes, next week she does cheer. But she cheers for his replaceable part.

Expressing feelings of vulnerability brings women affection and men rejection.

© 2010, Warren Farrell (with Steven Svoboda) vs. James P. Sterba

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Man is not the enemy here, but the fellow victim. - Betty Friedan

Warren Farrell, Ph.D., is the author of numerous international best-sellers on men and women, including Why Men Are The Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and Father and Child Reunion has led to Dr. Farrell doing expert witness work that has encouraged many judges to keep dads in children’s lives. Dr. Farrell’s released Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap and What Women Can Do About It in 2005 and Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A debate in 2008.

Warren is the only man in the US ever elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in New York City. He has been chosen by The Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders, is in Who’s Who in America and in Who’s Who in the World. He has taught in five disciplines, most recently at the School of Medicine at the University of California in San Diego, and is ranked by the International Biographic Centre of London as one of the world’s top 2000 scholars of the Twentieth Century. He has appeared on over 1,000 TV shows worldwide and lives in Mill Valley, California with his wife and two daughters.You can visit him at or E-Mail

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