Before that, however, I want to emphasize one thing: David argues that men being drafted (in the past) proves discrimination against men. But this is the same as saying the fact that open homosexuals were not sent off to fight proves discrimination against straight people. Or that only men died in the early astronaut programs proving men were facing discrimination. Jeebus.
This book is just one extended deepity, a concept thought up by Daniel Dennett. Insofar as anything in this book is true, it is trite. Insofar as anything in this book is profound, it is false.
Before I delve into the problems in this book, let me just say that I am not a feminist and am, in fact, quite critical of feminism. I purchased this book hoping that I would learn about varieties of discrimination against males that I had heretofore not considered. I reasoned that David Benatar, the controversial philosopher and famous antinatalist, would have some profound insights to share. I was wrong.
Benatar structures this book in a way that, at first glance, seems designed to minimize any enjoyment readers derive from reading it. He spends the first 20-30 pages of the book telling us what he is going to tell us. I realize this is an academic book, but this is just incredibly boring and unnecessarily protracted. I was seriously depressed 20 pages in at how slow he was moving. The original insights and good points in this book could easily be condensed to 25 pages. Benatar treats his audience like we are complete morons. He responds to the most inane criticisms of his positions that, as far as I know, no one has actually made, and spends pages upon pages refuting these, dare I say it, strawman arguments. Unfortunately he does not address what I consider to be good criticisms of his book, such as the fact that it is dull, uninsightful, misleading, and unimportant. The first half of the book details the disadvantages of being male. I did not read this book in order to learn that it sucks to live a few years less than women on average. I read this book to perceive how men are being unjustly discriminated against. Amusingly, he then goes into how many, but not all of the disadvantages males face are due to discrimination (again, why talk about disadvantages not due to discrimination at all?), but then completely fails to make persuasive arguments for causal linkages between disadvantages and discrimination. For instance, in discussing male life expectancy, he points out how much money is spent on breast cancer research and how little is spent on lung cancer research, all the while ignoring the fact that people are far less inclined to donate to a cause to help people when they feel that those individuals are responsible for their problems. People with lung cancer are often blamed for their states due to the link between tobacco products and lung cancer, while most if not all view breast cancer victims as just that, victims.
Benatar essentially makes the claim that just under half of sexual assaults are by women by stating that some studies show that sexual assaults committed by women account for 2% of the total, while some suggest they account for half. He then concludes that it is reasonable to the assume the answer is somewhere in the middle. Except he never actually evaluates how good the studies are he is drawing from. I would often look at the references only to find that the study making a controversial claim was like 30-40 years old, while the study he cites confirming common knowledge was more recent and had been replicated repeatedly. He seems to just treat all studies equally and doesn't take the time to weed out studies that made errors and drew faulty conclusions. Worse, he repeatedly discusses the "uncertainty" surrounding a variety of questions due to "conflicting" studies when some studies are quite clearly less reputable than others.
He makes the claim that men are subject to more violence than women, and argues that this suggests there is discrimination against men. Except he also fails to consider that men are statistically more violent themselves, more likely to commit violence that results in violence against them, more likely to exact revenge, less likely to be deterred by more minor punishments, etc. These qualities provide reason to think that the greater violence directed against males is not evidence of discrimination. Benatar fails to provide any evidence that violence is frequently committed against men as a result of them being men.
One of the biggest wastes of time in the entire book (and there are many) is the section on how men are discriminated against because they are often conscripted into armies. While I agree that this is sexist because men who do not want to join the army and are forced to fight in a conflict that could cost them life or limb are suffering when many women would be adept at fighting alongside them, one simply must inquire how frequently this happens today, considering liberal democracies have abolished the draft. Benatar apparently addresses the criticism that this is merely a past form of discrimination and not applicable by essentially responding "So what? The point is that men have been discriminated against." Yes, except you misled me and other readers into thinking that you were addressing contemporary sexism against men, and this simply does not qualify. Indeed, reading over 20 pages that Benatar spends boringly arguing about every minute point in goal of showing that women are adept at serving alongside men in contemporary armies was pointless. His rationale in doing this was to show that women can be effective in combat, therefore there is no rational argument for excluding them, therefore military drafts should conscript both men and women into combat. This doesn't even serve to make any point for his argument, as no liberal democracies have drafts, and those countries that do have drafts are almost certainly discriminating far more against women than men in various other ways. Moreover, few countries are engaged in wars at the present - warfare is at an all time low. Lastly, if you really want to go into the history of discrimination between men and women, there is an even clearer case that women have borne the far greater share of suffering resulting from discrimination. I'm not sure that is a wise avenue for Benatar to take.
Benatar downplays differences in male and female innate psychology when it makes men look bad, but plays it up when it defeats feminist arguments. For instance, he endorses the claim that women tend to have smaller standard deviations in intelligence and thus fewer idiots but also fewer geniuses (something I agree with), but he calls into question claims that men are innately more aggressive than women are (something that is also true). This is just obnoxious.
Benatar makes some truly petty claims. He spends an inordinate amount of time complaining about how male prisoners are not afforded the same privacy from the opposite sex that female prisoners are. For instance, male guards cannot see female prisoners nude, while female guards can see male prisoners nude. This is absurd, because prison is already violating one's privacy and is not supposed to be enjoyable, so even if a few male prisoners were bothered by this, that doesn't mean that it should be addressed. If anything, I would rather women than men see me nude in prison, because there is a far smaller chance that they would sexually assault me, whereas there have been a handful of instances where male prison guards have raped prisoners. Female prisoners are not allowed to be seen naked by male guards because of the threat of rape. They are very vulnerable in that situation, and many men would take advantage of that. Which brings me to a nice segue in Benatar carrying on endlessly about women raping men. Anyone who thinks that there is a moral equivalency between 30 year old women having sex with 14 year old boys and 30 year old men having sex with 14 year old girls is delusional. Benatar even talks about women forcing men to copulate, which is seriously such a rare occurrence that one wonders what the point of talking about it is. Does he draw any meaningful conclusions about it? No. He just points out that it happens. Yeah, many things physically possible have happened. Does that mean that it is all worth mentioning? No. He even wastes paper complaining about urinals in male bathrooms and how we have less privacy as a result.
Benatar then discusses the issue of custody of children in divorce cases. Women win far more often. Can we draw the conclusion that men are discriminated against? No. Men attempt to get custody of children far less often, children more often want to be with their mothers, and women are probably more suitable candidates for custody more often due various female tendencies that males more frequently lack. Benatar has to prove that there is systemic discrimination here, but from his armchair he can do no such thing. He instead says that we should inspect this matter further. He makes this claim a number of times, which is annoying, because he is the one claiming there is rampant sexism against males. Why is it so hard to prove if it is there? Where is the empirical data? He makes the claim that mothers are statistically more likely to exact violence upon their children than fathers are. However, he then proceeds to inform us of the obvious likelihood that this is explained by the fact that mothers are around their children far more often. What use does this piece of information serve? More investigation is needed, he asserts. Actually, I really don't think more manpower is needed to study these insignificant questions. There are far more important social problems meriting our limited attention.
Let me also take the opportunity to say that Benatar is a dreadful, uninspired writer. He evidently thinks that maintaining the calm, logical, clear writing style of the logician is optimal. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of readability and enjoyability. Emotional investment and display, even in nonfiction work (for instance, see Lawrence Lessig's appeal at the end of "Republic, Lost"), show how important the author feels the issue at hand is, and can be inspiring to the reader. Of course, I would find it incredibly difficult to feel emotionally invested in asserting Benatar's claims, because they are so trite and insignificant, so perhaps the blame really lies there.
Benatar asserts sexism is displayed in homosexual males being targeted for violence more frequently. Aside from the obvious rejoinder that there are more gays than lesbians, Benatar completely ignores the fact that gay males tend to be more outspoken about their sexuality. He also ignores the fact that the primary perpetrators of violence, males, frequently find gay sex to be repugnant but oftentimes do not see lesbian sex that way. Sexism, then, is not the obvious cause of this asymmetry in hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation.
Oh, and here is a little gem from the book. pg. 154: "It cannot be the case that women are discriminated against when they are underrepresented in good jobs, but men are not discriminated against when overrepresented in undesirable or dangerous jobs."
That is just a patently false assertion.
Oh yeah, the book is littered with typos as well, indicating that this is not really a finished product. Oddly, the conclusion of the book is not a conclusion, but is instead more or less an argument against feminism, as opposed to, say, an grand finale on the state of male discrimination. I actually think it was one of the books strong points, along with the penultimate chapter on why women should not receive affirmative action, but this has all been said before and far more eloquently, such as in "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. In fact I felt like the end of the book was completely ripped from Pinker's brilliant tome.
Why, if this is book is so bad, am I giving it 2 stars?
1. I assume there are books that are worse that it would simply be unfair to equate this with.
2. Benatar actually does provide a few interesting insights that I had not considered before. For instance, I found his argument persuasive that the common view that circumcision is permissible without anesthesia to correctly demonstrate a double standard when few in liberal democracies would permit anything analogous for females.
If you are interested in contemporary sexism that causes untold suffering, I recommend you read "Half the Sky" by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (or Dunn-Wu... as Benatar calls her). "Half the Sky" is a brilliant book that is empirically driven yet infused with emotionally powerful anecdotes. If you read that book before or after reading this one, the comparison would likely make you laugh, cry, or both.