The Myth of Male Power

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The Myth of Male Power
Myth of Male Power cover.jpg
Author Warren Farrell
Country United States
Language English
Subject Gender Studies, Psychology, Law, Politics
Genre Non-fiction,
Publisher Berkley Trade
Publication date
Media type book
Pages 488 pp
ISBN 978-0-425-18144-7
OCLC 46792833
Dewey Decimal 305.32 21
LC Class HQ1090.3 .F36 2001

The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex (Simon and Schuster, 1st Ed., 1993; 2nd Ed., Berkely, 2000) is an internationally best-selling book by Warren Farrell. In the book, Farrell argues that the widespread perception of men having inordinate social and economic power is false, and that men are actually systematically disadvantaged in many ways.

Despite Farrell's background as the only male elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women's New York City chapter, and a teacher of women's studies,[1] The Myth of Male Power is considered to be a classic in the discipline of men's studies, and has been translated into several languages, including German and Italian.[2][3][4]

Defining male power and powerlessness[edit]

In The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell offered his first in-depth outline of the theses he would eventually apply in his subsequent books—books on communication (Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say), parenting (Father and Child Reunion), and the workplace (Why Men Earn More).

As The Myth of Male Power's title implies, Farrell challenges the belief that men have the power by challenging the definition of power. Farrell defines power as "control over one's life." He writes that, "In the past, neither sex had power; both sexes had roles: women's role was [to] raise children; men's role was [to] raise money."[5]

One of the examples that Farrell uses to illustrate male powerlessness is male-only draft registration. He writes that if any other single group (the examples he lists are Jews, African-Americans, and women) were selected based on their birth characteristics to be the only group required by law to register for potential death, we would call it anti-Semitism, racism or genocidal sexism. Men, he says, have been socialized to call it "glory" and "power," and as a result do not view this as a negative.

Farrell contends that this viewpoint creates psychological problems for both sexes: that "men's weakness is their facade of strength; women's strength is their facade of weakness."[6] He adds that societies have generally socialized boys and men to define power as, in essence, "feeling obligated to earn money someone else spends while we die sooner." Feeling obligated, he contends, is not power.[7]

"Why Men are the Disposable Sex"[edit]

The subtitle of The Myth of Male Power is "Why Men are the Disposable Sex." This is a key tenet of Farrell’s philosophy. Historically, he says, both sexes were disposable in the service of survival: women risked death in childbirth; men risked death in war. However, Farrell notes, there is a key difference: women's disposability emanated more from biology; men's required socialization.[8]

Farrell asks, "how does a society get its sons to compete to die?" Farrell's thesis about socialization for male disposability is that virtually every society that survived did so by training a cadre of its sons to be disposable—for example, in war and in work (coal miners; firefighters). Successful socialization required rewarding boys with social "bribes of approval." These bribes included being labeled "hero," giving them promotions and "Purple Hearts" for risking their lives, and the love of women. This love leads to children, who are then socialized by parents who reinforce the cycle.[9]

The Myth of Male Power proposes that, because death is not particularly healthy, this cycle creates a "paradox of masculinity": what it has taken to create a society that is healthy creates boys and men who are unhealthy.[10]

Perhaps Farrell's most controversial contribution to gender politics is The Myth of Male Power's confrontation of the belief that patriarchal societies make rules to benefit men at the expense of women. Farrell cites hundreds of examples to the contrary, such as male-only draft registration not benefiting men at the expense of women; or men constituting 93% of workplace deaths; or being expected to risk sexual rejection, pay on dates, and buy women diamonds. Once married, rules made by men are more likely to lead to men losing children and their home after divorce—what he cites as another example of male disposability. Farrell contends that nothing is more telling about who has benefited from "men's rules" than life expectancy and suicide rates—and men lose in both of these categories.[11]

"Where Do We Go From Here?"[edit]

Farrell posits that men and women need to make an evolutionary shift from a focus on survival to a focus on a proper balance between survival and fulfillment. (Farrell’s theory on the evolution of gender roles from Stage I 'role-mate' to Stage II 'soul-mate' can be seen in the chart below.)

Farrell's theory on the evolution of gender roles[edit]

Stage I Roles Stage II Goals*
MARRIAGE MARRIAGE (or Long-Term Relationship)
Survival Fulfillment
Role mates: women and men married to create a "whole" Soul mates: "whole" persons marry to create synergy
Division of roles Commonality of roles
Woman raises children; man raises money Both sexes raise children; both sexes raise money
Children obligatory Children a choice
Women expected to risk life in childbirth; men expected to risk life in war Childbirth ideally risk-free; war ideally eliminated
'Till Death Do Us Part 'Till Unhappiness Do We Stay Together
Neither party can end contract Either party can end contract
Women-as-property; men-as-less-than-property (expected to die before property was lost) Sexes equally responsible for self and other
Both sexes subservient to needs of family Both sexes balance needs of family with needs of self
Love emanates from mutual dependence Love emanates from choice
Love less conditional Love more conditional (no verbal or physical abuse; expectations of mutual respect, common values…)
Parental influence is primary Parental influence is secondary
Women expected to marry their source of income (“marry up”) Neither sex expected to provide more than half the income
Men deprived of female sex and beauty until they supply security Neither sex deprived more than the other
SOURCE:[5] *Stage II goals are the ideal; most of these goals are not yet reality for most couples.

The women's movement, he claims, has led to the re-socialization of girls to become women who balance survival with fulfillment, but that no one has similarly re-socialized boys to become men who pursue that balance once they take on the responsibility of children. Thus, Farrell believes, boys and men are decades behind girls and women psychologically and socially, and increasingly behind women academically and economically.[12] In Farrell's recent presentations on this topic, he estimates that men are in 2011 where women were in 1961.[13]

Farrell's political solution is "neither a women's movement blaming men nor a men's movement blaming women, but a gender transition movement." He defines a gender transition movement as one that fosters a transition from the rigid roles of our past to more flexible roles for the future.[14]

The "Pay Paradox"[edit]

Farrell responds that The Myth of Male Power concurs with academic feminists that men hold the highest positions of institutional power, but that institutional power is not real power, which he has defined as "control over one's life."

Farrell explaining the future of our sons' definition of 'power'.
Farrell explaining the future of our sons' definition of 'power' at the Integral Spiritual Experience World Conference of Spiritual Leaders, 2010.

Men, Farrell posits, learn to earn money to gain the approval of their parents and the respect of other men; heterosexual men also learn to earn money to earn their way to female love ("Women don't marry men reading Why Men Are the Way They Are in the unemployment line.")[13]

Farrell introduced in The Myth of Male Power a thesis that he pursued in-depth in Why Men Earn More in 2005: that earning money involves forfeiting power. He goes on to describe his theory that earning money is less about power, and more about trade-offs. Farrell proposes that "the road to high pay is a toll road--you earn more when you pay 25 specific tolls such as working more hours, or taking less-fulfilling or more-hazardous jobs..."[15]

Critical responses[edit]

The Myth of Male Power is both Warren Farrell's most-praised and most-controversial book.

It is praised by social critic Camille Paglia, who, reviewing it for The Washington Post, called it "A bombshell...forcing us to see our everyday world from a fresh perspective" by highlighting the sacrifices that men have made to protect and provide for their families and challenging radical feminist rhetoric that casts men as abusers and tyrants.[16] Similar praise comes from ideologically diverse intellectuals such as the libertarian Nathaniel Branden and the liberal Ken Wilber, and from mainstream publications such as Time, Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, The Vancouver Sun, the Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.[17]

The most ardent critics are academic scholars such as Margot Mifflin[18] and book reviewers such as Robert Winder.[19] Among their criticisms is that male power is not a myth since men still hold the highest government and corporate positions of power.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ San Diego State University, Department of Women’s Studies, 1979 1980.
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  4. ^ "Boys and the Boy Crisis Speakers- July 13-14 2007 - Washington DC". Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  5. ^ a b Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1993), Chp. 2
  6. ^ Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1993), Chapter 2 & 3.
  7. ^ This critique of Farrell is part of feminist James Sterba's critique of The Myth of Male Power and Why Men Earn More in Oxford University Press' book, Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men?, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), which is a debate of thirteen gender issues between James Sterba, representing feminist theory, and Warren Farrell, articulating gender transition theory.
  8. ^ Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, (N.Y.:Simon & Schuster, 1993), Chp. 2.
  9. ^ The subtitle of The Myth of Male Power is, Why Men Are the Disposable Sex. For cross-cultural documentation, see Chapter 3.
  10. ^ Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power (N.Y.:Simon and Schuster, 1993), Chp. 2
  11. ^ Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, (N.Y.:Simon & Schuster, 1993), Chp. 3. Dr. Farrell develops this in greater depth in Father and Child Reunion.
  12. ^ especially Components 1 and 2.
  13. ^ a b (text of a presentation from the Dec. 2010 Integral Spiritual Experience).
  14. ^ Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1993), Personal Introduction.
  15. ^ Why Men Earn More, Dr. Warren Farrell, Part I.
  16. ^ and also a jacket quote.
  17. ^ and also on the book jacket.
  18. ^ Margot Mifflin (1993-08-27). "The Myth of Male Power Review | Book Reviews and News". Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  19. ^ Robert Winder (1994-03-11). "BOOK REVIEW / Hapless underdogs in a bitchy world: 'The Myth of Male Power' - Warren Farrell: 4th Estate, 6.99 - Voices". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 

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