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Sunday, September 26, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Once On The Now Board, Warren Farrell Is No Longer The `Liberated Man'

Knight-Ridder Newspapers

The last time we saw Warren Farrell, he was a fixture on the board of the National Organization for Women, a major proponent of feminist doctrine.

The women loved him. His talks drew huge crowds and avid approval.

Of course, he would. He was the epitome of the "sensitive man." In a world where men "just didn't get it," according to the feminists, Farrell did.

His book in 1975, "The Liberated Man," was a paean to enlightenment, as that word is used by the women's movement. It exalted "the independent woman" and her cause.

At that time, Farrell was married to one of the exalted, an independent woman, as he called her, an executive with IBM.

The Warren Farrell I met at a San Mateo cafe last week has undergone a metamorphosis, though he prefers to call it just another chapter in the enlightenment text. Speaking up for men

Now Farrell, at 50, is divorced, disturbed and, at times, even distraught. After "years of listening to the women's point of view," not to mention years of espousing and promoting it, Farrell has joined the men's movement.

Actually, he laments that there is no men's movement. He hopes his new book, "The Myth of Male Power" (Simon & Schuster; $23) might get one started.

"Women have spoken for 25 years," he said with an earnestness that attests to the battle fatigue he apparently is feeling. "Now it is time for men to speak."

Well, at least it is time for Farrell to speak. Men appear to be

tongue-tied, or diverted.

Farrell mourns that he used to draw 600-700 people to hear him speak on women's issues. He said that a man such as himself could make from $500,000 to $1 million doing that.

Now the crowds have dwindled dramatically. Getting 100 out for a Learning Annex talk is tough.

"Feminists who say that I switched sides because I am an opportunist should know that exactly the opposite is true," he said. "It's cost me a lot of money. I've gone from being well-to-do to being $70,000 in debt. I have done something self-destructive financially. I could only do it because I don't have to support a wife and child.

"Those who call me an opportunist are following the old rule: If you can't attack the data, attack the person."

The data that Farrell has laid out in his book is extensive. Men may earn more than women, but have a lower net worth. "The key to wealth is not what we earn," he writes. "It is in what is spent on us."

And rather than being victims, women have latched on to the victimization issue as a guise to preferential treatment.

"For blacks in our society, victimization may be a true issue," Farrell said. "But it isn't a true issue for women. Neither men nor women are victimized. The true issue, that I try to point out, is that both sexes suffer restricted roles." Women were drawn to him

Farrell, who lives in San Diego, appears mild-mannered, giving just a hint of stuffiness. He doesn't make jokes, at least not at this moment where he faces mostly female interviewers who, he says, appear to accept the feminist line that he is a deserter in the war between the sexes.

For many years, Farrell was a man without a cause, at least one for which he could man the barricades. He says he opposed the Vietnam War before that became fashionable. He supported civil rights "in a conservative environment" (affluent New Jersey suburbs).

When he heard of the women's movement in the late '60s, "I was drawn to it within minutes," he said.

At the same time, feminists were instantly drawn to this nice, self-effacing young man who came to New York NOW meetings and said such things as "Male and female roles are harmful to each other."

Of the very few men who came to NOW meetings, most came to preach to women. Farrell came to listen and agree.

He wrote his doctoral dissertation at New York University on "The Political Potential of the Women's Movement as Predicted by Its Ability to Affect a Change in Men's Attitudes and Behavior."

At NOW meetings, where the tall, good-looking Farrell was a fixture, the women were mostly adoring. Some NOW leaders - he mentions Jacqui Ceballos - wanted more men members.

But some others - he said he particularly had a problem with the lesbian subgroups - grumbled that having Farrell around all the time kept the women from speaking intimately.

Farrell tried to bring other men to meetings but they didn't fit in.

"Men are problem-solvers," Farrell said.

"They try to be instructive, which wasn't what the women wanted. And some men came to meet women. They said they liked independent women." Suddenly, a different view

Three times Farrell was elected to the NOW board. He became the darling of the talk-show circuit. Phil Donahue, especially, seemed to see him as a kindred spirit.

"I was getting standing ovations wherever I went," Farrell remembers.

"One year as a graduate student I made over $36,000. That's like $100,000 now."

"The Liberated Man" cemented Farrell's fame among the feminists. It was, perhaps, his high point.

Then his wife left him for another IBM executive. And Farrell, looking at all the feminist meetings he was attending, had a flash: "I wondered why the audience was almost all women. Was I the only sensitive man in the world?"

That's when Farrell began to think, he said, "that I was listening to women better than I was listening to men. (I realized) when women criticized men, it was called independence. When men criticized women, it was called sexism." Criticism from feminists

Thinking like that did not enamor Farrell to his old mates. Feminist writer Kate Millet ("Sexual Politics") criticized Farrell for making money off the women's movement. Susan Faludi ("Backlash") charged that Farrell was in the women's movement only when it was high-profile.

Farrell charges Faludi with being "a boldface (sic) liar. The biggest price I ever paid in life was in deviating from the feminist party line. I lost 90 percent of my income. And Faludi's book is fundamentally flawed in terms of her thesis. There has been no backlash against women. Instead, there is a bandwagon. The media hopped on. The top TV talk shows are all dominated by feminists.

"All university gender programs are funded for women's studies. There is no funding for men's studies.

"I have tried to retain some perspective. I want both sides to be free of sex roles. But the feminists have become like the communists of old. The moment someone speaks against them, it is called a backlash. It is their way of preventing people from hearing what I am saying."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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