Losing the big Mo

Posted: Nov 18, 2005 12:05 AM

It’s generally considered good form to actually read a book before one reviews it. But in some cases we can make an exception. If, for example, the author proves foolish or unreliable.

Consider Maureen Dowd and Mary Mapes.

Dowd, the award-winning New York Times columnist, is promoting her new book, “Are Men Necessary?” Of course, Dowd doesn’t think so. Which is fortunate for her, since she also believes we’re going away.

“There’s a body of evidence now that the Y chromosome is rotting at such a fast rate that it will go out of business in about 100,000 years,” Dowd said recently on CNN. “Now that women don’t need men to reproduce and refinance, the question is, will we keep you around?”

This line of reasoning made for a humorous column a few years ago, but it highlights the problem she’s up against: There’s a difference between a 700-word column and a 350-page book. A column can be timely for just one day, while a book is supposed to hold up over the long-term. This one won’t.

Consider her Y chromosome example. “It turns out the human Y has barely changed in the last 6 million years,” wrote David Brown in the Sept. 5 Washington Post. “Predictions that it will cease to exist in another 10 million years -- and with it, men as we know them -- may be wrong.”

 So men are here to stay, like it or not. And with that, the purported reason for Dowd’s book evaporates. Unless her point is to paint men as shallow, brittle creatures.

In a portion excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, Dowd describes a conversation with “a top New York producer.” He admitted he’d once wanted to ask Maureen out, but decided that her job as a columnist made her “too intimidating.” He reportedly added that men “prefer women who seem malleable and awed,” which she presumably didn’t.

“I’d been noticing a trend along these lines, as famous and powerful men took up with young women whose job it was to care for them and nurture them in some way: their secretaries, assistants, nannies, caterers, flight attendants, researchers and fact-checkers,” Dowd writes. “So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax?” she wonders. “Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?”

Well, since Dowd’s entire book seems to be about people she knows, it seems only fair to answer her questions by writing about people I know.

My male friends include lawyers, professors, executives, journalists. Their wives are lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs and, yes, stay-at-home mothers. Each of the college-educated men I know married a college-educated woman. No one married a servant girl. Each is with a woman at least as smart as he is.

As to about feminism, it has indeed become a “cruel hoax,” because it’s become the very thing it set out to oppose. The feminist movement tells women what they must do: Work outside the home and have a career, or be considered a failure.
That’s really not much different from the old days, when society supposedly prevented women from working outside the home and insisted they stay home and raise children.

Some mothers work full-time outside the home. Some work part-time. Some work from home. Some are full-time moms. The key is each can choose. That choice is what feminism ought to be all about.

On her way out of the CNN studio, Dowd might have bumped into another celebrated journalist-author, Mary Mapes. She’s the woman who in 2004 peddled obviously forged documents about President Bush’s National Guard service on “60 Minutes II.”

When the documents were exposed as frauds, most expected Mapes to quietly go away. Instead, she’s attempting a comeback with her book, “Truth and Duty, the Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.”

Sadly, Mapes simply doesn’t understand journalism. “No one has been able to prove [the documents] were forged,” she told CNN’s Larry King. Well, Mary, that’s your job. It’s not up to viewers to determine documents are real -- it’s up to the journalists putting the story together to prove they’re real. They weren’t.

Two weeks after the story aired, CBS News appointed a blue-ribbon panel to investigate. Its report faulted CBS for shoddy reporting. As a result four people, including Mapes, lost their jobs.

“The panel finds that once serious questions were raised, the defense of the segment became more rigid and emphatic, and that virtually no attempt was made to determine whether the questions raised had merit,” its report said. That one sentence is as good a review of Mapes’ book as anyone will ever need. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t bothered to read either Dowd’s book or Mapes’s. Nor should anyone else.