Friday, March 2, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 1

I read the introduction to Susan Faludi's 1991 book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. I'll use as my starting-point something that Faludi says on page xx:

"As the backlash has gathered force, it has cut off the few from the many----and the few women who have advanced seek to prove, as a social survival tactic, that they aren't interested in advancement after all. Some of them parade their defection from the women's movement, while their working-class peers founder and cling to the splintered remains of the feminist cause. While a very few affluent and celebrity women who are showcased in news articles boast about having 'found my niche as Mrs. Andy Mill' and going home to 'bake bread,' the many working-class women appeal for their economic rights----flocking to unions in record numbers, striking on their own for pay equity and establishing their own fledgling groups for working women's rights. In 1986, while 41 percent of upper-income women were claiming in the Gallup poll that they were not feminists, only 26 percent of low-income women were making the same claim."

Susan Faludi is responding to a backlash against feminism that was occurring when she was writing----not only by the right, but also by the left, the mainstream media, and even a founder of the modern feminist movement (Betty Friedan). According to Faludi, backlashes arise when women are making advancements, and part of the problem (as she sees it) is that men are "grappling with real threats to their economic and social well-being" (page xix), and thus they have issues with the advancement of women. But Faludi does not think that feminism should be obsolete, for there are still prevalent problems that women face, such as the glass ceiling, income inequality, poverty, and domestic violence. Faludi also laments certain trends that she has observed, such as reduced government funding for child care centers and battered women's shelters.

In the passage with which I opened this post, Faludi essentially argues that many of the women who rebel against feminism are upper-income, and so they are insulated from the problems that lower-income women have to face (though, at the same time, Faludi does affirm that these upper-income critics of feminism are trying to survive socially, showing that they're not totally insulated from sexism). Lower-income women are held back by sexism----with tangible, noticeable results----and so they want such things as (say) equal pay for equal work.

In my opinion, Faludi makes an excellent point. And, if my memory serves me correctly, she'll make the same point throughout her book, particularly when she discusses prominent conservative figures. But what intrigues me is that even some of the conservative figures she criticizes themselves use the anti-elitism card, only they maintain that the left does not fully understand the struggles or situation of lower-income people.

I'll give some examples. In my post a while back, Phyllis Schlafly's Positive Woman 8, I referred to statements that Schlafly makes in The Power of the Positive Woman and in Meddlesome Mandate: Rethinking Family Leave. Schlafly states that feminists who want to get rid of state laws protecting women workers (i.e., providing women with chairs) do not know what it's like to be at a job where one is standing all day, for they themselves sit at comfortable desks. Regarding family leave, Schlafly notes that not all working mothers can afford to take time off without pay, and so other ways should be pursued to allow women to work and yet take care of family emergencies or children. Phyllis Schlafly edited a 1989 book on child care policy, entitled Who Will Rock the Cradle? In it, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation argues that it is primarily yuppie women who want day care centers, since many of them live away from their families, whereas lower-income mothers often can find a friend or a family-member to watch their children when they are at work. And conservative Connie Marshner (along with Nina Owcharenko), in a critique of S-CHIP (a government health insurance program for children) states the following (see here):

"In many cases, SCHIP gives children health coverage totally separate from their parents' health coverage. In practice, that translates to different office locations, different office hours, different doctors, different paperwork--all of which make life more difficult, especially for lower-income families who are likely to have scheduling and transportation problems. The goal should be to help unite families' coverage under one private plan, not spread their coverage throughout a hodgepodge that increases dependency on the government."

I'm not going to comment here about who truly understands or does not understand the plight of the lower-income----the right or the left. I'll just say that it's best to listen to people's stories, to correct programs when they are deficient, and to think of ways for them to work better.

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