I really enjoyed Warren Farrell’s incredibly insightful book, Why Men Are the Way They Are. In fact, I liked it so much I put together a list of quotations from the book. I’ve also just finished one of his other books, The Myth of Male Power. I can’t say that I agreed with everything in it, but it was still a fascinating read.
So, I was particularly happy to get the opportunity to interview Warren Farrell. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. Enjoy!
Intriguingly enough, you started out working with NOW (The National Organization for Women) and you became interested in talking to men about gender issues out of a desire to actually address concerns you heard from women. However, when you got the answers, you wrote that you found NOW and other women’s groups weren’t interested anymore. Why do you think that’s the case?
I think it’s very hard for anyone to be interested in any point of view that contradicts their self-interest. That’s whether it’s women or men or labor or management or Republicans or Democrats. We all tend to be amazingly advanced at our scientific capabilities and amazingly limited at our social skills.
Now you’ve written a whole book on the pay gap between men and women; could you give us a brief synopsis on why it exists?
Yes. What I discovered in a book called Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — and What Women Can Do About It is that there are 25 measurable differences between the choices that men make in their life around pay and work and pleasure and balanced life and the choices that women make. The differences all have one thing in common; Each of the choices that men on average make lead to men earning more money and each of the choices that women make lead to women having more balanced lives which usually means healthier, happier, better lives. So women’s lives tend to be more balanced between the demands on them for a work life and the demands on them for family life — and they can choose what they wish to do based on their personality. This leads to a huge pay gap.
So, for example, men and women who have never been married and never had children — those woman earn 117% of what the male counterparts earn even when you control for education, hours worked and years in the workplace. So the pay gap occurs between men and women, only after men and women get married. Then women increase their time with the children and men increase their time with the workplace. Then women want choices that allow them more flexibility and more fulfillment and more ability to be with the children. Men make choices, too. They may go from making a lower salary to a higher salary so they can support not just themselves, but also their wives who are working less on average and their children who need their help.
High pay, I explain, is basically a toll road. You pay 25 different tolls like working more hours, working on jobs that are less fulfilling, working on more hazardous jobs, working on weekends, working at night, commuting further distances to get to a city that pays more, taking sub-specializations like in medicine…You might take a specialization that deals with cardiac problems and life and death issues rather than pediatric issues or psychological issues where you can control your appointments.
So basically the gap in pay between men and women is a statement of the increased obligations that men take on under certain conditions — supporting wives or children. Therefore, it should be acknowledged as an increase in male obligations for which men should be praised, rather than criticized as if it were discrimination against women. If anything, it’s actually discrimination against men.
Well, playing into that, feminist blogs I read today still talk a lot about the patriarchy and how men have all the power while women have none. You, on the other hand, wrote an entire book called The Myth of Male Power. Give us a quick rundown of why you say men aren’t the powerful ones in modern society.
Yes, first of all the larger picture is…
And by the way, don’t you like how I’m asking you to summarize whole books in short quips here?
Yes, yes, it’s giving me a good challenge. Basically what I’m saying in The Myth of Male Power is that power is about control over one’s life.
I once remember meeting a woman at a workshop who heard me say that and said, “Huh, let me run this by you. I’m a female in my 40s who is a medical doctor. I earn a good amount of money, but I became a medical doctor because my father was a medical doctor and originally my brother was going to become one. When my brother decided not to become one, my father was so devastated that I chose to become one. Then my father started paying so much more attention to me and focusing on me so much more that I couldn’t tell him the truth, that I really didn’t want to become a doctor. I, like my brother, wanted to become a writer. So I kept it to myself because I loved the attention which I interpreted as love. Now, long story short, I’ve become a medical doctor and given up what I really wanted to do. I guess I really don’t have control over my own life. I guess feminists would say I have power and you would say I don’t have power. Is that accurate?”
I said, “Yes, I’m afraid that that’s accurate.” And I said, “Do other people in the room feel that that’s accurate?” Virtually everybody in the room, female and male, raised their hand and said that, yes, they could see that the real power is about control over one’s life. Then I said to the woman, “What you’ve done, the decision you’ve made, is a decision that virtually every man has made. He’s learned from society that he will be loved, respected and more attractive to females, more respected by his parents and his peers, more honored by everybody if he earns more money.”
That’s part of what feminism is. Another part of what feminism is the enormous amount of power that women have. Beauty power, for example. Men are almost slaves to female’s beauty power and youth power. There are millions of stories written on that issue. But feminists do not talk about that when they talk about beauty like in Naomi Wolf’s book called The Beauty Myth. It’s always about how women are seduced to buy the beauty myth and, of course, that’s true. That’s the female experience of powerlessness. They are the ones least capable at the present moment of understanding the male experience of powerlessness and the female experience of power.
Feminists have honed victim power as a fine art and they have therefore developed many government programs that are based on telling a lack of truth about their status. So, for example, many government programs are based at the very deepest level on the belief that there is a patriarchy that has made rules to benefit men at the expense of women. One of those things is that we still pay men $1.00 for each 79 cents that women get paid for the very same work. Even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics has proven that that’s completely untrue, feminists completely ignore that. It’s deeply sad when a movement becomes dependent on victim power. That’s the same type of mentality that a welfare recipient has when she or he starts depending upon having themselves seen as victims in order to get money.
Now thanks to people like Mark Steyn, conservatives have gotten a lot more interested in demographics over the last few years. In the Western world, you’re seeing a lot less marriage and a lot less people having children. Now you’ve written a couple of books about divorce and you’ve had a lot of experience talking about marriage. Why do you think marriage is simply less appealing to men today than it used to be a few decades ago?
I think, first of all, it’s both more appealing and less appealing. For example, when I wrote Why Men Are the Way They Are in 1986, almost invariably women would say that the first chapter that they opened up to was the chapter on why are men afraid of commitment. There was a deep interest in the ’70s and early ’80s – and for hundreds of years before that — on the part of women on how to get a man, how to get married and so on. Men were oftentimes the resisting party to that. Today, from what I can tell anecdotally and what I see in surveys, men and women are about equally interested in getting married. Having said that, there is a statistical shift that actually is in the opposite direction. Men have a greater interest, compared to women, in getting married in relation to what it used to be.
Nevertheless, there are many men whose fear of getting married is based on many things — one of which is that they see that their dad was married when he was younger, but now he lives in an apartment while their mom lives in a home. The mom got to raise the children, which they interpreted when they were younger as “Dad was just not interested,” but then as they got to be age 18 to 25, their dad eventually let them know that he was extremely interested and showed them court documents about how he fought in court to be involved with them, but how the mom resisted that involvement. So the man starts saying, “Wow, if I get married to the wrong woman, I could end up like my dad. My dad thought he was in love with my mom at the time and my mom was in love with my dad. Then my dad ended up not getting the home, not getting the children, having us feel that he hated us or was at least neglectful of us, his being depressed and disappointed and paying child support for children he couldn’t see in a home he couldn’t live in….” That gets pretty depressing for some boys that feel they could fall into the same pattern. The reason it isn’t even more depressing for many men is that when a man falls in love, he believes his woman will be different and oftentimes she is. But, sometimes she isn’t.
Okay, outstanding. Warren, I appreciate your time.