In 1994, comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Dennis Miller launched Dennis Miller Live, a talk show built around his uniquely acerbic humor. In each episode, Miller did a monologue that, about halfway through, changed from typical jokes to a stream-of-consciousness tirade. He announced this shift by saying, “Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here . . .” Ranting, of course, is what Dennis Miller did best.
Jerry Schaefer’s WOMEN: DOWN THROUGH THE AGES is a rant worthy of Miller, a soup-to-nuts indictment of every word or act of men from pre-history into the 21st century. Its entire argument can be summarized in this sentence from the first paragraph: “Women got the shaft in the Garden, and it’s been downhill ever since.” School rooms, the Renaissance, witchcraft, hairstyles, beauty products, the workplace, birth control, diet plans, laundry, Barbie, Darwin, dancing–you name it, Schaefer deep-dives into its role in the subjugation of women. That the author of a book criticizing men’s exploitation of women is a man himself shouldn’t matter. Well-written books on worthy topics should be celebrated for their content and their relevance, not the author’s gender. Why gender-based treatment should never be tolerated is Schaefer’s whole point. It seems to miss that point to laud him for being a male writer on a feminist topic instead of just a writer.
Besides, the book is not actually that feminist. In the beginning, according to Schaefer, men and women used to be equals. “They didn’t have a word for equal,” he writes, “so they used ‘sequel.’ And that’s what they did; they followed each other around, taking turns.” A few sentences later, he continues in the same vein: “This was a good time for women even though they had no appliances.” That centuries’ worth of horrific discrimination and abuse are reduced to a Bob Hope gag in chapter one probably won’t earn Schaefer a guest-speaker invite at the National Organization of Women. Still, WOMEN: DOWN THROUGH THE AGES is a reasonably comprehensive and quasi-academic (there is a helpful bibliography at the end) look at a problem that many have addressed but no one has ever solved.
While some of his jokes fall flat, WOMEN: DOWN THROUGH THE AGES–Jerry Schaefer’s look at men’s mistreatment of women–is a reasonably comprehensive addition to feminist literature.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader