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Are Men Necessary?
Befuddled wisdom from Maureen Dowd…

[Sally C. Pipes] 12/12/05

That's the question New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd poses on the cover of her new book, subtitled When Sexes Collide. The subject, often addressed by the Contrarian, is fascinating. Here is what the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer says about it on page nine: "I admit I have no answers. But for decades now I've loved asking the questions…I am not peddling a theory or a slogan or a policy. I'm always as baffled as the next woman."

Dowd provides plenty of evidence for her bafflement. A freshman thesis replete with facile reflections on surgery and fashion, Are Men Necessary? reads not so much like a book as a transcribed cell-phone call or extended newspaper column, with lots of one-sentence paragraphs. Some of these show a decent turn of phrase. Others showcase a rhetorical superficiality and love of affected form that eclipses any effort at substantive comment. Consider this exhibit: "Girls are doing everything girls did prefeminism and postfeminism. No wonder everybody's bumfuzzled."

Sally C. Pipes
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute [go to Pipes index]

So bumfuzzled is the author, lost in her trademark obsession with the pop culture zeitgeist, that she ransacks cinematic mediocrities such as Spanglish and Maid in Manhattan for wisdom. She muses about the meaning of Barbie dolls, has some fun with Cosmo sex advice, and digresses into the "beauty bias" that parents maintain with good-looking children.

Never so content as when wading into the stale pools of faded celebrity, Maureen Dowd finds time to query celebrity “experts” like Carrie Fisher on the need for men. One gets the feeling that the author readily includes herself in the pop luminary ranks. This book’s fondness for the vertical pronoun contains equally many familiar pronouns – and some breathtaking observations that negate whatever serious case the author wished to build. For example, according to Dowd, the modern history of women, can be summed up in three sentences:

Women demand equality
Girls just want to have fun.
Ladies long to loll about.

Adding to her book’s confusion, Maureen Dowd can't stay away from politics. Given that her fame rests on her 1990s conflation of popular celebrity and politics, this sad digression is almost inevitable. Howard Dean, she says, has had "many outbursts that, if he were a woman, would certainly be labeled hysteria." She alludes to "Rummy's hot flashes" and "Cheney's hormonal mood swings."

Condoleezza Rice, one of the nation's most distinguished women, is a favorite target. "Condi set a new standard for dominatrix diplomacy…[she] always seems subservient to her president and vice president, a willing handmaiden and untiring spokeswoman for their bellicose bidding."

As for her boss, George W. Bush, Dowd explains that he is only interested in women who wear burkas.

In a nod to her own career-making epoch, Dowd includes some gems from the Clinton era. She recalls then-Senator Carol Mosely-Braun’s comment that the story of Monica Lewinsky could be seen as triumph of Democratic diversity because, "Not so many years ago, a woman couldn't be a White House intern." It is comforting to know that "The Clinton bimbo patrol took over and tried to persuade the public that a twenty-one-year-old intern was able to overpower the will of the most powerful man on earth and vamp her way past Secret Service agents to force him to do her vixen bidding."

Maureen Dowd steers this scattered narrative toward Hillary Clinton, whom some say would like to be President of the United States.

"She finished off what was left of feminism, yet remained a feminist icon," says Dowd. "She rules over 'Hillaryland,' a cultlike universe of Ellen Jamesians who are determined to see their warrior queen take back the White House from the hypermasculine and domestically Dickensian reign of the Bushies."

For her part, Hillary "has been playing the freshman worker bee rather than the pushy queen bee." Dowd wonders whether the senator will ever be genuinely independent of her husband and revealingly ends the book by asking, "Or are men necessary?"

Most probably so, but is Maureen Dowd necessary? One doubts whether anyone should spend $25.95 to find out, or $24.95 for A Time to Run, the new novel by Barbara Boxer, one of California's two female senators. You've been warned. -one-

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute




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