The Detroit News

Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Author’s defense of men misses mark completely

By Cathy Young
The Detroit News

Susan Faludi, who rose to fame with her 1991 best-seller Backlash — which depicted American women in the 1980s as victims of a societal effort to rob them of their gains — turns to the other sex in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. After seven years of interviewing men, originally with the intention of finding out why they’re so intent on keeping women down, Faludi has discovered that they are not such a bad lot and they are also victims in need of liberation.

Faludi even admits that some of her past assumptions were wrong. Unfortunately, so are most of her current ones.

For one, Faludi vastly exaggerates male misery — which she finds not in social science studies but in conversations with downsized managers, Waco-obsessed “patriots,” Promise Keepers, male porn stars and Sylvester Stallone. In a 650-page tome, there is not one man with a satisfying job and a happy family. Already, some men — presumably all in denial — have written letters to the editor and spoken up on TV and radio shows, protesting they’re not the dazed and confused creatures she portrays.

Does this mean men have no problems? Hardly. But Faludi’s diagnosis is mostly off the mark. She maintains that modern men have been “betrayed” by their fathers because the legacy promised by the World War II generation — useful jobs, prosperity, service to the country — has soured. In the process, she inordinately romanticizes blue-collar labor and disdains work in the information-based economy. Faludi also faults the culture of celebrity, in which doing matters less than being on display. While she makes some good points, I suspect the average Joe (and Jane) is far less influenced by the “ornamental” culture than she suggests.

While Faludi discusses vague cultural forces that victimize men, she never mentions the male-bashing that infects popular culture. In passing, she acknowledges that some feminists have unfairly caricatured men as all-powerful oppressors. Yet she insists that men who are angry at radical feminism just need a scapegoat for frustration with their cultural disempowerment.

At the National Press Club last month, I asked Faludi if feminism bore any responsibility for negative stereotyping of men. Well, she replied, feminists have indeed blamed men for many things, and often deservedly so, but generally the charge of man-hating is just another attempt to demonize feminism. Talk about denial.

Has Faludi, then, really stopped blaming men? When an angry woman in the audience asked if men weren’t the ones responsible for creating the culture that’s hurting them, Faludi quickly agreed. On the other hand, she never recognizes that women bear some responsibility for men’s confusion — for instance, women who want nontraditional roles in the workplace yet scorn a man for failing to live up to the traditional role of the provider.

Stiffed features several anecdotes illustrating this point, but Faludi examines only the men’s misery, not the women’s behavior. Nor is Faludi willing to admit that some men may be victims of biases favoring women. She can extend empathy to batterers in a counseling group (they’re driven to violence by disempowerment), but when one man tells her he was charged with assault even though his wife was the aggressor, she lets it pass without comment.

Finally, the most glaring omission: If you’re writing about men who feel “stiffed,” leaving out divorced fathers is like writing a book about English literature and leaving out William Shakespeare. (Nor does Faludi have anything to say about men’s experience of fatherhood — only about their betrayal by fathers.) But confronting that issue would have meant confronting the hypocrisy of organized feminism, which is pro-equal rights until it’s time to side with men against the perceived interests of women.

Faludi is hardly the first feminist to argue that for feminism to succeed, men’s options must be expanded as well. But her vision is blinkered by a refusal to recognize that sometimes men are victims of real gender-based inequities, not just of a nebulous entity like “the consumer culture” — and that sometimes their options are limited by women’s expectations.

Cathy Young is co-founder and vice-president of the Women’s Freedom Network. Her column is published on Wednesday. Write letters to The Detroit News, Editorial Page, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, Mich. 48226 or fax to (313) 222-6417 or send an e-mail message to letters@detnews.com

Copyright 1999, The Detroit News