Salon's Rebecca Traistler reviews NYT columnist Maureen Dowd's new book Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide, and finds much to both slag and recommend in it.
An excerpt: (free with a day pass)
… Dowd's 338-page cultural analysis and memoir of sexual politics is a blistering critique of modern gender relations, dressed up in a pulpy cover and too many puns. She's asking some very uncomfortable questions of her male and female readers, and presenting some startling answers, including the winked-at implication that, as the title suggests, men may not be necessary anymore. Dowd has clearly touched a nerve. And you only touch a nerve by telling a truth.
The Times excerpt pissed off bloggers and Op-Ed columnists alike. Outrage was varied: Women ripped Dowd's casual claims about the death of feminism, along with her assertions about women who want men to pay for their dinners, who believe “The Rules,” who take their husbands' names and consider “Mrs.” a status symbol. She has been rightly criticized for her reliance on questionable trend stories, many from her own newspaper, about women who want to opt out of careers and men who marry their secretaries. Young women felt they'd been misrepresented as plastic husband-hunters; older women were furious with Dowd's portrayal of second-wave feminists as earnest and Birkenstock-shod. Blogger Catnip snapped at Dowd: “I know lots of smart, career-driven women who … didn't have to act dumb and dress like a tart to 'catch' their husbands.” Feministing's Jessica Valenti knocked her for the “assumption that feminism ended back in the day, [her] reliance on dubious studies, and … [her] elitism,” while elsewhere, ruffled writers like Katie Roiphe and Kathleen Parker squawked their defenses of what Dowd, in the book, terms “the weaker sex”: men.
Clearly, Dowd has exposed herself to an enormous amount of vitriol. A recent New York magazine profile of the columnist opens with a description of the naked women decorating her home, and her friend Michiko Kakutani's suggestion that she paint clothes on them. The response she's received so far makes me want to paint clothes on her.
Far from being any kind of feminism-denier, Dowd, the only female Op-Ed columnist at the most powerful newspaper in the world, is the embodiment of its triumphs, and she knows it. What she has to say in this book is sometimes crass, often recycled from old columns, intermittently sloppy, consistently over-generalized and rooted too firmly in her own rarefied D.C.-N.Y. corridor of power. But just because Dowd's sphere is a privileged one doesn't mean her observations aren't both fascinating and true. And, as the blizzard of response demonstrates, Dowd has kicked off a conversation we are desperate to have.