Over Thanksgiving, several people suggested to me that for a troubling look at prevailing attitudes about women I should check out the customer reviews for Maureen Dowd’s “Are Men Necessary?” on Amazon.com. I should preface this by saying that while I really liked the book, many people I respect did not. So I wasn’t at all distressed to see both positive and negative takes on Dowd’s work; she’s written a book that is bound to inspire debate.
But some of the responses are just too astounding to go unmentioned. Below is the first in what may have to be a series on what some reviewers have to say about Dowd and her take on gender relations, or what I’m hoping to call “Scary backwards screeds by threatened men about Maureen Dowd on Amazon”:
John F. Ross from St. Louis, Mo., writes a review in which he mentions his liberal academic credentials (Amherst class of ’79, sisters who went to Smith) and recaps Dowd’s argument thus: “She thinks the fact that she’s a columnist at the New York Times is the reason she’s never been married. She turns 54 in January … Maureen, Columnist Fred Reed has taken you to task for being a disagreeable shrew and failing to see that that is the reason no man will marry you.” Fred Reed also referred to Dowd as a “professional spinster” and “aging poultry,” but hey, bully to you, John F. Ross, for citing him.
Ross thinks Dowd has a bigger problem than disagreeable shrewishness: “Here’s the deal, Maureen,” he writes. “With one exception, men can accomplish anything that we think is important all by ourselves. Explore, build empires, create new industries, invent, discover, make money — all these things come naturally to us. We don’t need your help.” (What about being cowboys and fixing cars? Why does Ross stop himself at six phallic accomplishments?) The only thing men need help with, he says, is having a family. “For that, we need a woman … a woman whose youth and fertility will give us the greatest chance of having healthy children.” These children, Ross feels, must be “raised by a mother young enough to not be an old woman by the time they reach high school, [not] by a woman that’s old enough to be their grandmother.” Here Ross is gathering steam for his thesis statement, which readers will be able to recognize easily thanks to his helpful capitalization:
“WOMEN HAVE AN EXPIRATION DATE. MEN DON’T. That’s the elephant in your living room, Maureen. You may not like to hear this, but it’s true.”
Ross has examples! He writes that any man would choose 19-year-old Maria Sharapova (or comparably “slutty” 24-year-old Paris Hilton) over 38-year-old crone Pamela Anderson. Why? Oh, John F. Ross, please say it again: “WOMEN HAVE AN EXPIRATION DATE. MEN DON’T.”
This mantra, which would no doubt look great on a T-shirt or possibly a mud flap, also explains, in Ross’ mind, why professional men choose “their secretaries over female lawyers” — “because the secretaries are younger and more fertile than the female lawyers.” Apparently, you lose eggs every time you take the bar exam. And secretaries are all in their 20s. When they hit 30 they spontaneously combust.
Ross explains to “Maureen” that she lost Michael Douglas to Catherine Zeta-Jones because the actress “bore Michael the first of their two children, [and] was 30 years old, while you were 47. Michael was 55. WOMEN HAVE AN EXPIRATION DATE. MEN DON’T.” Douglas already had a child by his first wife, but that’s of no concern to Ross, who is already on to how 82-year-old Anthony Quinn (whom Dowd does not seem to have dated, but whatever, Ross is on fire!) married his secretary “because she was young and fertile enough to bear him two children. If [Quinn's secretary] had been 53 years old, as you are now, he wouldn’t have married her, no matter how subordinate she was.” Why not? (This might make a good song for a male-pride edition of “Free to Be You and Me.”) “WOMEN HAVE AN EXPIRATION DATE. MEN DON’T.”
“Maureen, the time for you to attract the kind of husband you’d like to have was over thirty years ago, when you could have given a man the family he wanted … Accept the fact that you’re past your expiration date, and quit complaining about it … If you regret missing out on having a family, don’t whine about it, use it to benefit others. Write a column (or a book) urging parents to inform their teenage daughters of the consequences of pursuing careers while disregarding their own expiration dates.” (Those consequences being that they might become Op-Ed columnists at the New York Times?)
Raise your hand if you think Ross saw a photograph of the smokin’ Dowd and got all pissy because it was unlikely she’d ever sleep with him!