It seems there are two Maureen Dowds.
One who broke barriers in DC political reporting in the early 80s, who is one of a handful of women op-ed writers for the New York Times, who is unmarried and without children and still ostensibly leading a full and fulfilling life …who gets really, really close to making some interesting points about “the 1950s-ification” of culture in recent years (“A friend of mine … noted a shift in the type of gifts being given at wedding showers: soup ladles and those frilly little aprons from Anthropologie”), why studies have shown that men would rather marry women in subordinate jobs, the absurdity of the early-90s political correctness movement, narrowing beauty standards and the inanity of botox …
And then another Dowd, Dowd’s evil twin, perhaps, who — despite what would all evidence above pointing to the conclusion that Dowd is an intelligent, together, logical human being — has decided that all evil and inequality in the gender world, from marital unhappiness to the over-sexualization of teen girls to anorexia to our country’s plastic surgery fetish to the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky hoopla, can be attributed to one group of people: feminists.
I finished reading “Are Men Necessary?” by Dowd over break. I remember a lot of people posting about this when it first came out, so I’m a bit behind the times, but I found the book way too immensely frustrating not to rant about it in some way.
I should have known to stop reading after the first three sentences:
I don’t understand men. I don’t even understand what I don’t understand about men. They’re a most inscrutable bunch, really.
I should have put it down right there, I really should have. There’s not much I can stand less than writers/comedians/etc. pulling out the whole “Whoa! Aren’t men and women so different?!? Isn’t that SO crazy and funny?” shtick. But for some reason I kept reading (I really think my initial decision to give the book a chance was because I so liked the pulp/noir graphics on the cover), and as I have a self-imposed rule about not quitting books once I’ve read more than a chapter or so, I soon found myself in a position where I had to finish the damn thing.
Every time Dowd mentions feminists, it is in terms of their failings. Her logic goes something like this: Feminists promised women’s equality, sexual fulfillment, egalitarian marriages, and a society where women were judged on more then their looks. Because this didn’t magically materialize in the past 30 years, it is all the feminists fault. And they eat babies.
What is more frustrating about this than your typical Independent Women’s Forum everything-from-canccer-to-the-Iraq-war-can-be-blamed-on-feminists style jibberish is that Dowd, on the surface, epitomizes the benefits of feminism. And she includes quotes and anecdotes from so many other women enjoying independent lives and important careers, all of whom also seem to be suffering from Dowd’s delusions. There’s this gem from Cosmo editor Kate White. Explains Dowd:
(White) said her goals in college were ‘to be cute, get cute guys, and be the editor of a magazine …. But the feminists made you feel that if you wanted to have your cake and eat it, too, if you wanted to be pretty and sexy and like guys, you couldn’t be a feminist.’
Ahh, yes, those feminists. They hate when you’re pretty! Hate it! Because then you might attract men! And everyone knows they hate men! And your job as an editor of a nationally circulated magazine? They’d want to take that from you, too! Because they hate women’s careers … and … wait …
Gag. You’d think someone of Dowd’s position would at least be able to make a slightly more coherent anti-feminist case, if she’s so inclined, than trotting out the same tired old straw-feminist stereotypes. Which is probably way to much to ask, because she can’t even get away from some of the most tired stereotypes about women in general … (What does Dowd think women want? “women are still dreaming of … a pill that ensure that he always calls the next day”).
Dowd also devotes significant word count to Helen Gurley Brown, long-time editor of Cosmo, another woman who has enjoyed all the comforts of feminism while denouncing it at every turn. “The Cosmos girl, once scorned by feminists, outlasted feminism,” Dowd writes. After singing the praises of Brown’s girlishness and love for sexual harassment (she finds it charming), Dowd turns around several pages later and, after quoting Brown’s advice that “there’s no free lunch. You’ve got to do it yourself,” asks “What could be more feminist than that?”
Exactly Dowd, you idiot! Exactly! Or wait … maybe this has all been a ruse! Maybe Dowd is actually on to something! She’s been teasing us, baiting us, making us think she’s unaware of the grand paradox she’s been presenting. Maybe, just maybe, all these 181 pages up ‘til now have been a build up to some fabulous revelations on straw feminist myths and all the inherent contradictions she’s been setting up! And then …
P. 209 “a group of feminists and parents calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization…” (feminists hate Barbie!)
p. 229 “I never related to the unstyled, unisex, un-made-up look of early feminists” (feminists hate make-up!)
p. 232 “the early feminists attempts to demonize .. such innate female proclivities as shopping and make-up” (women are born with an innate desire to shop and put shit on their faces and feminists want to destroy our genetic fiber!)
Okay. Or maybe not.
The most insidious and over-the-top offensive part, however, might be an entire section in which she compares women to cows.
“I am expecting that one day soon women will turn into chimeras – the top half human female, the bottom half cow,” Dowd writes. She then goes into something supposedly witty about how many wrinkle fillers are made of “cow goo,” etc. etc., that allows her to conclude with this quote:
“Husbands have to start worrying now,” New York dermatologies Patricial Wexler says mischiveiously, “If their wives are ranting and raving, is it menopause or is it mad cow disease?”
As always, Amanda at Pandagon says it best:
Dowd thinks that not only are men necessary, she finds even sexist pigs who despite making a gazillion dollars and being famous and shit still must soothe their fragile egos by purchasing trophy wives with only three settings–”Suck”, “Giggle” and “Pretend It’s Huge”–to be necessary and even desirable.