Susan Faludi's terrible dream.

Examining culture and the arts.
Nov. 19 2007 7:25 AM

Crying Wolf

Susan Faludi's terrible dream.

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But evidence that this traditionalism took hold in any enduring sense is, at best, flimsy. The post-9/11 call for a "return to a Betty Crocker domesticity" hasfallen as flat as bad soufflé. The marriage rate has not skyrocketed. The "opt-out" phenomenon of mothers leaving the workforce is wildly overinflated (as Faludi herself points out). And with Hillary's presidential bid, Condi as secretary of state, and an updated ass-kicking Bionic Woman on the air waves, one cannot say we are experiencing a "silencing of women's voices."

In fact, the irony is that Faludi herself has emerged as arguably the most influential cultural transmitter of the victim myth. With Backlash, she endowed a word with indelible gender associations, and has been associated ever since with a doomsday story line of post-feminist women under attack—though in Stiffed she turned her attention to men, and there, too, discerned a "crisis." In The Terror Dream, she is so bent on snuffling out victims in the cultural forest that she herself is guilty of effectively silencing the many women who don't fit into her tidy narrative. She fails to grapple seriously with figures like the real-life Karen Hughes or the fictional Laura Roslin, or to give due to younger feminist writers like Jessica Valenti, as Rebecca Traister observed. There ought to be a term for the Faludi method, which offers up the post-feminist woman as a meta-victim: a victim of others victimizing her. Get into the habit of viewing the world this way, and you'll see the horror everywhere—even when the larger picture might look brighter than the parts within it.

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In the end, Faludi's books demand that we look beyond them for the more complicated reality of women's situations, just as she urges us to do with the myths of old. With Hillary Clinton running for president, articles about the return of girly girls and manly men now seem anomalous—or, at worst, glib trend-seeking on the part of newspaper editors scrambling to assign feature stories about 9/11. And while gender is a key issue in Clinton's campaign, parsing the implications is not so simple. For one thing, polls suggest that many Americans do not think it takes a man to protect our nation. In fact, a recent poll asked Democratic respondents to say which candidate they most associated with the word tough; a majority named Hillary. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice, however you feel about her, is a key player in the Bush administration—out there trying to cope with dangerous borders (Pakistan, the Middle East), not cowering inside the fort.

Six years after 9/11, the new domesticity heralded in October of 2001 simply hasn't come to pass. The '00s do not look like the 1950s, when marriage was peddled as a patriotic Cold War virtue and J. Edgar Hoover suggested, as Faludi reminds us, that women should marry young and procreate to fight against "the twin enemies of freedom—crime and communism." That doesn't mean bias has been eradicated. It hasn't been. But Faludi tells us that the sky is falling when the debris coming down, in some cases, is just another glass ceiling being cracked open.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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