Friday, July 5, 2013

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women

1991, undated later edition, from Crown Publishers, Inc.
Susan Faludi
Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
Original price $25.00, purchase price $15.07
Good condition hardcover, with worn dustjacket

Yes, this still holds up, both in Faludi's reasoning and as a capsule of the '80s (with a bit from the early '90s of course).  It was published right before the Clarence Thomas hearings, so that gave an extra zip to the section on the EEOC.  Reading it now, I kept wanting to look up more current stats.  (Speaking of Sex is slightly more recent, coming up in 1997.)  In any case, what's best about the book is also I suppose its main flaw.  She's very good at letting people (from Joe Sixpack to Presidents) hang themselves with their own words.  Hypocrisy and a very '80s dollar-chasing run rife, particularly in the trend-mongers.  (Faith Popcorn remains a classic self-chosen name.)  The problem is, while it is in a way fair to point out that, for instance, New Right Thinkers often had nontraditional households with childcare and housework sharing that would gladden the heart of Caroline Bird (the author of Born Female, not the young poet), Faludi can come across as spitefully personal.

On the other hand, as her long heart-breaking chapter on the female Cyanamid employees shows, the backlash itself was not only spitefully personal (including about good ol' Margaret Sanger), but it was often a threat to women's financial, emotional, and physical health.  Naomi Wolf's Beauty Myth, coming up later in '91, focuses more specifically on the physical side, but Faludi certainly can't ignore, for instance, the dangers of liposuction.

Another valid criticism is with the subtitle.  As Faludi herself admits, there was no unified cabal orchestrating the backlash, no centralized war against women.  There were various organizations trying to fight feminism, and there were others who jumped on the bandwagon, but I don't believe it was as all pervading as, say, 1950s "anti-communism."  (I'm using quotation marks because that was never just about communism.)  Still, there's no denying that there was a zeitgeist that made it harder for women to reach their full potential, through the imposition of guilt at least.

I finally saw Fatal Attraction recently, and I found it hilariously bad.  I probably wouldn't have laughed if I'd seen it in the theater at the time, with people yelling things like, "Kill that bitch!"  Faludi observed that the women watched in silence, which is interesting because Maio's audience had women yelling for the evil single woman to be punished.  She drew different conclusions than Faludi does.  I don't agree with every interpretation Faludi makes, especially about television.  (You can criticize Who's the Boss? for a lot of reasons, but Angela was presented as a devoted, caring mother, who spent time with her young son despite her high-powered career and live-in male housekeeper.)

Overall though, I bought Faludi's premise and enjoyed her sassy but sensible style.  We've got her 1999 book, Stiffed, and 2007's The Terror Dream down the road.

Note:  I'm using the film and television criticism tags, since she devotes a chapter to each, but I didn't feel like she was criticizing books as literature (there's not much about fiction), so I'm omitting that tag.  And music is only mentioned in passing.

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