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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

There Are a lot of Vaginas Out There

Or better social science through anecdote.

Last week Atrios brought a number of the books that he receives free for review because he’s so important, and I was fortunate enough to snag myself that golden copy of Kathleen Parker’s Save The Males. So as a lark I decided to actually read it and write up a review in the hopes of snagging a coveted Eschaton link. It was pretty bad, and after 190 pages of “There are a lot of vaginas out there. And you thought Wahhabism was a problem.” (direct quote, page 125) I think I deserve not a link, but a medal. Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and at the very least, I hope you don’t pay money to read the book. It’s really just not worth it.

As a 23 year old heterosexual male raised in a liberal family that believes in the radical notion that women are people too (feminism) , I am, it seems, situated squarely within the demographic that Kathleen Parker believes needs “saving.” I didn’t even realize I needed saving, and after slogging through 190 pages of the same four arguments I remain unconvinced of my perilous state.

I should start by admitting that I’m an engineering student, and not at all qualified for literary criticism. That’s alright though, because “Save the Males” is not literature. As I’m more familiar with technical papers and prefer the passive voice, I will refrain from criticizing Mrs. Parker’s writing style (except right now when I point out that the book is written in such a casual style that it feels as though Mrs. Parker has you trapped in a corner at a cocktail party and insists on regaling you with anecdotes about teen sex and single moms. In 1994.) But I really don’t want to criticize her writing on aesthetic grounds, as my own glass house lies on a slippery slope made of clichés.

To chronicle everything with which I disagreed with in Save the Males would be a waste of everyone’s time, especially my own, so I thought it might be more illustrative to first list those statements that I find accurate.

“I’m not a social scientist,…” Page 8.

“This is not quantum physics.” Page 13.

“Nothing quite says ‘Men Need Not Apply’ like a vial of mail-order sperm and a turkey baster.” Page 71

“What Lorena Bobbit lacked in nuance, she made up for with precision.” Page 91

“There are a lot of vaginas out there.” Page 125

“In 2003, girls ages thirteen to seventeen spent more than $157 million on thong underwear.” Page 132

“Avoiding gender stereotypes is, perhaps, well and good, but the cost of such gender correctness has been that boys no longer read.” Page 15.

Actually, maybe not that last one…

If there is one thing that a technical education helps you understand it is that the plural of anecdote is not data. Save the Males rests almost entirely on a foundation of anecdote and sweeping personal impressions (“America may never fall for a regular guy again, but that’s the way it was post-Clinton.” pg. 112).

The book opens, in fact, with an anecdote so bizarre and illustrative of nothing that I would be remiss if I didn’t mock it. Here it is, in its entirety:
“Jackson Marlette was just fourteen when he summed up the anti-male zeitgeist for his father, political cartoonist Doug Marlette. They were in a North Carolina chicken joint awaiting their orders when the younger Marlette picked up a tabletop ad boasting boneless chicken and read aloud: ‘Chicken good, bones bad.’

Then, beaming with insight, Jackson made the analogous leap and proclaimed: ‘Women good, men bad!”

Yesssssss! Give that boy a lifetime pass to The Vagina Monologues.”
That’s it. Was that anti-male zeitgeist summoning apropos of anything? I certainly couldn’t tell. I know that I probably shouldn’t make fun of a fourteen year old, but I was fourteen not too terribly long ago, and I remember speaking in complete sentences. This was the anecdote to introduce the book, to demonstrate that males of my generation have so internalized anti-male propaganda that we need saving? Because an eighth grader, cribbing from a menu, once said “Women good, men bad!”?

That was only the first of many anecdotes that were comically unconvincing. Shortly after that opening salvo, Parker related an equally bizarre story of a boy who was diagnosed with ADD, when in fact his problem was that he couldn’t hear his teacher. You see, the teacher was “talking in a tone of voice that is comfortable to her and the girls in the class, but some of the boys were practically falling asleep.” Oh I see! Woman, what with their annoyingly high pitched voices, are talking in dog whistle code at frequencies that young boys can’t hear! Diabolical! So that’s why I never heard a teacher tell me to do my homework! Women bad!

Parker also lamented the “highly lucrative boy bashing industry.” Did you know that there is a company that manufactures T-shirts with such horrifying slogans as “Boys Are Goobers…Drop Anvils on Their Heads” and “Stupid Factory: Where Boys Are Made.” Shocking, I know, but someone might point out to Mrs. Parker that what with the internet and all, anything imaginable is for sale on a T-shirt. Hell, in the darkest corners of the internet you can actually find people selling T-shirts saying “Fred Thompson for President.” Fred Thompson! Can you imagine?

It’s not just highly offensive boy bashing T-shirts, though. Apparently, some college Republicans at Roger Williams University got in trouble for walking around in penis mascot costume to protest a campus performance of The Vagina Monologues. What about free speech!? And, as Parker noted, “Performances [of said Monologues] at colleges and universities are usually preceded by a weeklong celebration that includes blanketing of campuses with vagina propaganda—pamphlets, displays, sculptures, and other, frankly aggressive vagina-mongering.”

I’ve never seen The Vagina Monologues and it may be that the aggressive vagina-mongering does indeed warrant protest with a giant foam penis. But college Republicans do stupid stunts all the time and school administrators over react all the time. This is hardly evidence of a war on men. I am concerned about vagina-mongering in general, however.

There are too many overblown anecdotes to mention them all, but I have to include Parker’s concern that the co-ed showering in Starship Troopers is Hollywood forcing its unisex values on the Heartland. “This may be science fiction, but it’s not far removed from what ‘progressives’ must have hoped for when they installed unisex bathrooms in college dormitories.” Really? It's not just that T&A puts boys in the seats?

I should admit that I had judged the book before I read it, but my best attempt at objective analysis has justified my immediate impression. I expected a few offensive and simple-minded unoriginal arguments spiced up with anecdotes “proving” what naggy bitches women are, and how men are hurting for it. There were a few areas where my expectations were disappointed, such as the unimpressive nature of the scare stories, but overall I think I got it right.

What was most surprising, however, was that at times Parker herself appeared aware of the absurd implications of some her arguments. It was like she walked up to the edge of cliff, looked over and stepped back, and then said “but still…” For instance, on page 70, after having spent quite some time arguing that a nuclear family with a biological mother and biological father are not only the preferable, but the only honorable, family, Parker writes:
“I’ll concede that loving families do not necessarily have to be blood kin. ‘Love’ is the key word, and most of us are lucky if we have even one solid adult who loves us unconditionally.”
Yet, this cuts at the core of what preceded it. Parker argued that “biological fathers do matter, and they are essential” to attack homosexual partners with children, single mothers who choose artificial insemination, and African-American women with children out of wedlock, for whom the government has “made unwed motherhood profitable.”

Similarly, regarding stay at home dads and that most insidious feminist plot, getting guys to help with housework Parker seems almost schizophrenic. She writes of a feminist conspiracy to pollute our culture with images of stay at home dads, and cites as evidence a 1983 Michael Keeton movie (Mr. Mom) and a 2002 cover story in Fortune magazine. She argues that even suggesting that a man pick up his dirty socks (confession; I’m guilty as sin when it comes to leaving dirty socks lying around) or do the dishes is to “geld the American male.” But she steps back from that cliff again. Parker writes:
“And there’s nothing wrong with any of it—women working, men diapering. What raises a red flag is the didactic tone of such stories and the implication that if you don’t play house the new way, you’re either a troglodyte or a witless Stepford wife.”
But this is built from the same straw-man that much of Parker’s arguments are. Feminism isn’t about oppressively enforcing new gender roles; it’s about equality of choices and equality of opportunity. Feminists aren’t out to tell women that they can’t or shouldn’t be a mother and housewife any more than they would tell women that they can’t or shouldn’t be an executive, a doctor, or anything else that they’re willing and able to do. After mocking “apron-men” Parker writes
“It isn’t enough that modern men and women help each other out because they love each other and because it makes sense. Enlightened men share recipes and and are fluent in hormone replacement therapy—not to mention the best walk-in manicure salon—while enlightened women kick ass at the gym and shatter glass ceilings with a strategic thwap! of their brass heuvos.”
This caricature is so absurd it must be deliberate, and yet the answer to Parker’s apprehension is in her own words; It is enough that modern men and women help each other out because they love each other and because it makes sense. Is that so hard to understand? Apparently so.

I can save you the trouble of reading the book by just summarizing the seven chapters thusly:
  1. Women nag and nagging is like rape or castration.
  2. Deadbeat dads are a myth, plus there are deadbeat moms.
  3. Dads are good, and Murphy Brown is seditious.
  4. Women nag and nagging is like rape or castration.
  5. The vagina is icky.
  6. Lots of women are sluts.
  7. Women aren’t as strong as men
Kathleen Parker is part of a long tradition of anti-female women, joining the ranks of Phyllis Schlaffly, Ann Coulter, and Caitlin Flanagan. As long as there are sexist men to buy them, there will be women willing to write books like this. They aren’t really intended to persuade, but rather to gently reinforce the prejudices of the reader. See, you aren’t a sexist asshole, you’re just not PC enough for those femi-nazis; A women said so!

She did make her point, in one small way. I now know at least one women who isn't as smart as most men.

Click "There's more..." for the full review of that monstrosity.