Faludi, Susan 1959–
Faludi, Susan 1959–
PERSONAL: Born April 18, 1959, in New York, NY; daughter of Steven (a photographer) and Marilyn Lanning (an editor) Faludi. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1981.
ADDRESSES: Home—San Francisco, CA. Agent—Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, 1155 Camino del Mar, Ste. 515, Del Mar, CA 92014.
CAREER: Journalist. New York Times, New York, NY, copy clerk, 1981–82; Miami Herald, Miami, FL, reporter, 1983; Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, reporter, 1984–85; West magazine, San Jose, CA, staff writer, 1985–89; Mercury News, San Jose, reporter, 1986–88; Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Stanford University, staff member, 1989–91; Wall Street Journal, San Francisco bureau, staff writer, 1990–92; contributing editor to Newsweek.
AWARDS, HONORS: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award citation, 1989; John Hancock Award, 1991; Pulitzer Prize, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1991, for Wall Street Journal article on the leveraged buyout of Safeway supermarkets; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1992, for Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women.
Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.
Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Mother Jones, California Business, and Ms.
ADAPTATIONS: Backlash was adapted as an audio cassette read by the author, Publishing Mills, 1992.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A book about the goals of contemporary American women, for Holt.
SIDELIGHTS: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi gained nationwide attention with her first book, Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, in which the author investigates the attacks she observed on feminism and women's social, economic, and political progress during the 1980s. From advertisements for plastic surgery that term small breasts a "disease" to blue-collar men who harass their few female coworkers, and from right-wing preachers who denounce feminists as "witches" and "whores" to Hollywood films that depict single career women as desper-ate and crazed, Faludi found a "backlash" against women virtually everywhere. The culmination of four years of research, Backlash drew praise and stirred controversy, with some critics maintaining that Faludi essentially claims society conspires to keep women oppressed. "So much of the criticism [of Backlash] seems to be about a book I didn't write," Faludi told a Time magazine contributor. "I'm charged with saying there's a male conspiracy out there to put women down. Anyone who says that can't possibly have read the book…. This is not a book about hating men." Indeed, Faludi tried to show that her arguments apply just as much to men as they do to women when she released her second book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.
Faludi, who served as an editor of both her high school and college newspapers, is no stranger to controversy. In high school she wrote about school meetings of born-again Christian students and teachers, gatherings that, by virtue of being held on public-school grounds, did not maintain the separation of church and state and were therefore unconstitutional. As an undergraduate at Harvard University, she penned a story about ongoing sexual harassment on campus. Though a guilty professor and the dean tried to convince her not to print it, the story appeared in the paper and the university subsequently asked the professor to take a leave of absence.
After graduating from college, Faludi worked as a copy clerk for the New York Times, and while there and at her succeeding positions she gained a reputation as "a superb crusading journalist, attacking injustice with a rare passion," according to Carol Pogash in Working Woman. She wrote about how former president Ronald Reagan's budget cuts affected poor children, how companies in California's Silicon Valley were replacing older employees with younger, more cost-effective workers, and about the human impact of Safeway Stores' leveraged buyout. Faludi received a Pulitzer Prize for the last story, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal. "Then as now," Pogash observed, "her stories were laden with research and punch-in-the-gut images—the writer, part academian, part assassin."
Faludi was inspired to write Backlash by a 1986 marriage study that made national headlines. The study, which was then being conducted by researchers at Harvard and Yale universities, stated that college-educated, thirty-year-old women had only a twenty-percent chance of ever getting married, and by age thirty-five the odds dropped to five percent. After one of the researchers talked to a reporter about the unpublished study's findings, newspapers, popular magazines, and talk shows began running stories about the "marriage crunch" and "man shortage" in America. Women who postponed marriage in favor of educations and careers, the researchers reasoned, would have difficulty finding a husband. "I hadn't been worrying about marriage," Faludi recalled to Kim Hubbard in People magazine, "but suddenly I felt morose and grouchy."
Skeptical of the researchers' statistics, Faludi contacted the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources and learned that the methodology used to generate the marriage study was flawed and that the report's conclusions were suspect. She and other journalists wrote articles about this discovery, but their input was virtually ignored by the national media. "What was remarkable to me," Faludi told Hubbard, "was that there was so little interest in finding out whether the study was true or false. The story simply fit the notion of where women were at that point in history."
Faludi points out in Backlash that many accepted ideas about women's status in the 1980s were also myths. In addition to the nationally trumpeted marriage study, the author discredits other media-trend stories in her book, including accounts of professional women abandoning the work force in large numbers to care for their homes and children, and reports of single and career women suffering from depression, nervous breakdowns, and burnout in epidemic proportions. Upon examining these claims, Faludi discovered that they had no empirical basis. A number of studies comparing working and non-working women, for example, concluded that women who work are actually mentally and physically healthier than their non-working counterparts. According to Faludi, myths about single and working women are "the chisels of a society-wide backlash. They are part of a relentless whittling-down process—much of it amounting to outright propaganda—that has served to stir women's private anxieties and break their political wills."
Though conventional wisdom suggests that the women's movement had achieved its aims by the late twentieth century, Faludi notes in Backlash that women still receive mixed messages about equality. She explains that the media and politicians often present women's liberation as the source of women's problems. Feminists, for instance, are often portrayed as women who are unable to attract men, working women are depicted as poor mothers, and independent single women are shown to be desperate to marry and bear children. The moral of these stories, Faludi maintains, is that "it must be all that equality that's causing all that pain. Women are unhappy precisely because they are free."
Faludi challenges this conclusion in her book by detailing how the backlash against women's rights continued to be perpetuated by newspapers, magazines, television programs, movies, the fashion and beauty industry, popular psychology, anti-abortion activists, and national politics. She also cites an array of statistics that give a different and, she argues, more accurate picture of women's progress. According to Faludi, women still struggle for equality in politics, the workplace, and at school and home, and this is truly the cause of the unhappiness they express. The author observes in Backlash, for instance, that by 1990 the average female college graduate earned less than the average man with a high school diploma, and that American women "face the worst gender-based pay gap in the developed world." The lack of child care and family leave policies, Faludi asserts, also undermines women's equality in the workplace. At home, women "still shoulder seventy percent of the household duties…. Furthermore, in thirty states, it is still generally legal for husbands to rape their wives; and only ten states have laws mandating arrest for domestic violence—even though battering was the leading cause of injury of women in the late '80s."
In what some critics consider Backlash's most effective section, Faludi profiles a number of notable antifeminists, including George Gilder, a speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan and author of Wealth and Poverty; Allen Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, a book that decries feminism's influence in higher education; Robert Bly, a founder of the men's movement and author of Iron John; and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of A Lesser Life: The Myth of Women's Liberation in America. She also interviews philosophy professor Michael Levin, who wrote Feminism and Freedom, a book denouncing feminism as an "antidemocratic, if not totalitarian, ideology," Faludi notes. Levin also claims that men are naturally better at math and that women prefer to take on household duties such as cooking. During her interview with Levin, Faludi learned that Levin's wife, Margarita, is a professor of the philosophy of mathematics, that the Levins split child care and household tasks equally, and that cooking is the favorite activity of one of their young sons. Gayle Greene remarked in a Nation review that "Faludi must be a crackerjack interviewer, letting subjects babble on until they blurt out marvelously self-incriminating revelations, offering up the real reasons they hate and fear feminists—motives that are self-serving, silly, often sinister—which Faludi simply, deadpan, recounts."
Published in 1991, Backlash quickly became a bestseller. Though the response from critics was generally favorable, some reviewers found the book to be overlong or disagreed that a backlash against women's progress existed. Business Week writer Walecia Konrad commented that, "even for committed feminists, Faludi's analysis is an eye-opener. But her relentless presentation of facts, figures, anecdotes, polls, and interviews is so dense that at times the book is hard to read." In Commentary Charlotte Allen opined that Backlash has "none of the sustained theorizing or distanced observation that we might expect from a work of cultural criticism." In contrast, however, Newsweek contributor Laura Shapiro compared Faludi's book to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and described Backlash as "less visionary than theirs but just as gripping. She's not a theorist, she's simply a reporter."
Backlash was described by other admirers, Hubbard reported, as "feminism's new manifesto." Greene noted that the "book offers a rich compendium of fascinating information and an indictment of a system losing its grip and reeling from changes it does not begin to understand." Konrad called Backlash "a thinking person's book. Instead of spoon-feeding answers, Faludi offers compelling and disturbing evidence that some of the toughest battles for women are still to come." And Shapiro reported that "once you've read this hair-raising but meticulously documented analysis, you may never read a magazine or see a movie or walk through a department store the same way again."
Backlash's success soon made Faludi a sought-after guest on talk shows and the subject of a Time magazine cover story with noted feminist Gloria Steinem. But despite the attention she received, she remained reluctant to promote herself as feminism's new spokeswoman. "It's strange, since in my book I'm fairly critical of instant experts," Faludi told Hubbard. "I don't want to set myself up as a sort of seer." The author remarked to Pogash in Working Woman: "To the extent that Backlash arms women with information and a good dose of cynicism, I think it will have served its purpose." She added, "It's also very large, so it can be thrown at misogynists."
After completing Backlash, Faludi felt that her first work did not answer the question of why men were resisting the feminist movement in the first place. She therefore spent six years interviewing men in all sorts of occupations to get at the heart of the matter. But while the original question for her was why men seemed to be so disturbed by the prospects of female empowerment, her research led her to an entirely different question: Why are men allowing themselves to be subju-gated by a shallow, materialistic, appearance-obsessed society, and why are they not doing anything to fight against it? The result of her studies became the book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Here she examines the lives of men living a wide variety of lifestyles, including cadets at the Citadel, laid-off blue-collar workers, Christian Promise Keepers, astronauts, porn stars, and street gang members, rounding out her survey with a thirty-page examination of actor Sylvester Stallone, who serves as a model of ideal manhood. She found that the men of the 1990s, especially those of the Baby Boomer generation, felt disconnected and disempowered because they grew up with emotionally distant fathers and because they found themselves locked in an "ornamentalist" culture that demands good looks over substance, for men just as much as for women.
Faludi blames rampant capitalism, which has laid off so many working-class people in favor of beefing up stock prices, for leaving many men feeling emasculated because they cannot earn enough to support their families or fulfill a sense of purpose in their lives. "Interestingly," observed Cathy Young in Reason, "unlike many feminists, Faludi does not equate traditional masculinity with abusive, egotistical dominance. Rather, she notes that cultural concepts of manhood have always been based on care-taking, social responsibility, and productivity." The author further discovered that the ability of men to be productive was not necessarily tied to a strong economy. "I found that as the economy improved," she told Sue Halpern in Mother Jones, "the men I was talking to were still stricken with a sense that they had been betrayed, and that the betrayal went much deeper than a paycheck. It had to do with loyalty and a social pact that they had been led to believe was bedrock and part of being a man."
The solution to modern American men's dilemma, however, remains elusive, according to Faludi. As New Republic contributor James Wolcott explained in his review of Stiffed, all the author can offer is "the prospect of men joining like-minded women to create 'a new paradigm of human progress.'" As she commented in a Newsweek interview, however, Faludi is somewhat optimistic that the post-Baby Boom generation will fare better than their fathers: "The one bright light in this otherwise pretty bleak story is that the younger generation are more open, caring fathers. That's largely the result of the women's movement—that men need to have a full life by having a meaningful domestic life."
A number of reviewers of Faludi's Stiffed argued with her portrayal of men facing a "bleak" world. For one thing, several critics pointed out that the author's sampling of men avoids including those who are content and successful in their lives. "The polls tell us that there are many men in America who are generally satisfied with their lot," commented Midge Decter in the National Review. Writing in Progressive, Laura Flanders also noted that Faludi's sampling of men is misleading as supporting evidence for her conclusions. "Faludi's study of gender gets mixed up with class because she focuses almost exclusively on men who fit the stereotypical image of masculinity—brawny laborers and evangelical/militaristic macho types (and Sylvester Stallone)…. If she'd interviewed some affluent traders making pots of money in the market or business executives or Silicon Valley nerds, she could have filled a crucial gap. And plenty of men are doing just fine, thank you, with the traditional model."
Adding that "the author's failure to choose a representative sample of men is not her book's most serious shortcoming," Decter said that in trying to find out what is troubling men Faludi "has finally achieved little more than to raise the volume on that most tiresome and least enlightening form of human expression. I am referring to the Whine." The critic went on to write that "what men need above all is the simple recognition of their full and necessary value in the lives of women. Such a recognition would go a very long way toward the healing understanding that this book and its author claim to seek"; yet in failing to address this, Faludi's "researches will have virtually nothing to teach us." Rebecca Abrams, writing in the New Statesman, similarly felt that Faludi is not exactly saying anything new in Stiffed. "The disappointing aspect of this book," according to Abrams, "is that although Faludi appears to be breaking new ground, in a sense all she actually does is graft accepted feminist 'truths' on to male experience. After all, feminism pioneered mother-blame decades ago. Compared to the battle that daughters were waging—consciously or unconsciously—on the dire influence of their mothers, patriarchy was always something of a picnic."
Despite these criticisms, however, a number of reviewers found Stiffed to be, as Abrams put it, "a rewarding read. Faludi is a meticulous and sensitive interviewer, and her compendium of American men … grows into a gallery of compelling and detailed portraits." Other critics also found that Faludi's reporting, compared to her concluding arguments, is the strong point of the book. "Her reporting is stellar," asserted Flanders, "as it was in Backlash." An Economist writer found the author's retelling of men's personal accounts of their disappointments in life to be "often fascinating. Stiffeddisplays Ms. Faludi's formidable research skills and her keen journalistic nose"; and the reviewer added that "in her explorations of different male subcultures, Ms. Faludi is always alert and almost never dull." Although Library Journal contributor Rebecca Miller felt that Faludi's conclusions "won't surprise anyone," the critic concluded that "this important book is sure to spark dialog."
In the end, as Faludi told Halpern, her point is that men and women should overcome the dictates of American culture and work together so as not to "be judged according to superficial and ephemeral and impossible-to-attain objectives." Although she feels the solution to creating this kind of change is "not obvious … we need to start at square one and figure out what the forces are and respond to them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Faludi, Susan, Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.
American Enterprise, June, 2000, Evan Gahr, review of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, p. 59.
Atlantic, December, 1991, pp. 123-126.
Business Week, November 4, 1991, Walecia Konrad, review of Backlash, pp. 12, 17.
Christian Century, December 1, 1999, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, review of Stiffed, p. 1166.
Commentary, February, 1992, Charlotte Allen, review of Backlash, pp. 62-64.
Economist, November 13, 1999, "American Men: What Do They Really Want?," p. 5.
Entertainment Weekly, October 15, 1999, Lisa Schwarzbaum, "Men Overboard: In Her Provocative New Book, Stiffed, Susan Faludi Makes a Strong Case That Macho America Ain't What It Used to Be," p. 72.
Forbes, March 16, 1992, Gretchen Morgenson, "A Whiner's Bible," p. 152; November 29, 1999, Virginia Postrel, "Who's in Charge? You Are," p. 112.
Fortune, November 22, 1999, Albert Mobilio, "Angry White Knuckleheads," p. 86.
Insight on the News, June 5, 1995, Suzanne Fields, "Invasion of the Neoclassical Feminist Body-Snatchers," p. 40; November 15, 1999, Suzanne Fields, "Betrayal of the American Woman," p. 48.
Library Journal, October 15, 1999, Rebecca Miller, review of Stiffed, p. 90.
Maclean's, November 1, 1999, Anthony Wilson-Smith, "Gender Armistice: A Leading Feminist Argues That Men Are Victims, Too," p. 70.
Mother Jones, September-October, 1999, Sue Halpern, "Susan Faludi: The Mother Jones Interview."
Nation, February 10, 1992, Gayle Greene, review of Backlash, pp. 166-170.
National Review, March 30, 1992, Maggie Gallagher, review of Backlash, p. 41; October 25, 1999, Midge Decter, "Guy Talk," p. 58.
New Republic, March 16, 1992, pp. 30-34; November 15, 1999, James Wolcott, "The Male Eunuch," p. 36.
New Statesman, November 1, 1999, Rebecca Abrams, "Pity the Boys," p. 56.
New Statesman and Society, April 3, 1992, pp. 44-45.
Newsweek, October 21, 1991, Laura Shapiro, review of Backlash, pp. 41-44; September 13, 1999, "This Time, a Backlash for Guys: What's a Nice Feminist Like Susan Faludi Doing Writing a Book about Men?," p. 59.
New Yorker, December 23, 1991, p. 108.
New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1991, pp. 1, 36.
People, November 11, 1991, pp. 138-140; October 25, 1999, "Male-ady: Feminist Author Susan Faludi Says American Men Must Be Liberated from Superficial Values That Have Long Bedeviled Women," p. 143.
Progressive, June, 1993, Ruth Conniff, "Susan Faludi," p. 35; November, 1999, Laura Flanders, review of Stiffed, p. 41.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1992, Gayle Feldman, "Faludi's New Book on Men Goes to Morrow/Avon," p. 18; July 6, 1992, review of Backlash (sound recording), p. 23; September 13, 1999, review of Stiffed, p. 69.
Reason, December, 1999, Virginia Postrel, "Reactionary Running Mates," p. 4; March, 2000, Cathy Young, "The Man Question," p. 64.
Tikkun, March, 2000, Janna Malamud Smith, "Where Have All the Fathers Gone?," p. 73.
Time, March 9, 1992, pp. 56-57; October 4, 1999, Elizabeth Gleick, "Men on the Edge: Feminist Susan Faludi Comes to the Defense of the American Male," p. 100; October 25, 1999, Joel Stein, "The Emasculation Proclamation," p. 46.
Times (London, England), March 26, 1992.
Working Woman, April, 1992, pp. 64-67, 104.