Associated Press Writer

In her new book, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asks whether men are necessary.

It's a fair question. Unfortunately, Dowd doesn't bother to answer it.

Instead, "Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide" should have been called "What Has Happened to Women?"

This wide-ranging, overreaching and ultimately shallow book attempts to describe how feminism has faltered in its quest for female liberation, leading many of today's women to covet homemaking over lawmaking and Playboy Bunny T-shirts to Ms. magazine.

Dowd examines -- well, that's too strong a word, but whatever -- the influence of women's publications, Hillary Clinton's political prospects, the degeneration of the Y chromosome and high-powered men's lust for the secretaries who orbit them, among other subjects.

She wonders whether career women destroy their chances of finding men who will marry them. She questions why feminists were willing to attack Clarence Thomas but not Bill Clinton over sexual impropriety.

She tries way, way too hard, to touch on too, too many questions, leading to a faint spell of dizziness and yet no definitive conclusions. Granted, Dowd acknowledges that her book is not a systematic inquiry and that she's not out to offer solutions, but then the question is why did she bother to write it?

The book probably could have benefited from more rigorous research. On the subject of cosmetic surgery, for example, you put down the book with the feeling that the entire female population of the United States is sliding under the scalpel. Sure, more women may be turning to plastic surgery, but is it a pandemic?

Far too often, Dowd's generalizations rely on the word of one person, such as a young reporter at The New York Times, a magazine editor whose work is clearly to caricature societal trends, or some other person in the circles in which she thrives. (A personal favorite: "As a guy I know says..." Really? A guy you know?)

Many things are said at East Coast cocktail parties; not all of them are wise.

Furthermore, it's simply too easy to go elsewhere and find a contradictory opinion. Even when Dowd turns to social science studies to prove a point, it's a weak attempt because it is so clearly selective.

Dowd overindulges in her penchant for witty zingers such as this one: "In the '50s, women vacuumed. Now women are vacuumed." It is cute in small doses, just as in her columns. But a book overflowing with such attempts at pithiness ultimately feels hollow.

Many women believe that the greatest triumph of feminism was in giving them more choices in the first place. It is having the choice to pursue a partnership at a law firm, the choice to stay at home with your children and the choice to embrace or eschew plastic surgery, that has made at least this country a better place for women.

Luckily, people also have a choice not to buy "Are Men Necessary?"

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