Sunday, March 18, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 17

There were a couple of interesting items in my latest reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

First of all, Faludi talks about how Betty Friedan, a mother of the modern feminist movement, has retreated from feminist principles. She says that Friedan was jealous that Gloria Steinem was getting more attention than she was and blamed radical feminists for that, when the blame rests with the media, which of course will prefer the young blonde. Faludi says that, whereas the Feminine Mystique was based on solid research that Friedan conducted in the New York Public Library, Friedan's later book The Second Stage, which retracted some feminist stances (or, more accurately, appeared to retract them, since Faludi says that The Second Stage is unclear and muddled), hardly contained any research. Faludi also tells a story about how Friedan told off an admiring fan in the lady's room, reflecting Friedan's bitterness and personal insecurity.

Second, in her critique of Carol Gilligan, Faludi refers to a study that Gilligan did that focused on two eleven-year-olds, a boy and a girl. The kids were presented with a situational ethics case study: Should a man steal a drug to save his sick wife? The boy says yes, but the girl says that the man can get a loan. Gilligan concludes from this that the boy's ethics are individualistic and focus on the conflict of values between property and life, whereas the girl had a vision of "a world comprised of relationships rather than people standing alone, a world that coheres through human connection rather than systems of rules" (Gilligan's words on page 329), and, according to Faludi, Gilligan goes on to stereotype men and women.

Faludi disagrees with Gilligan's stereotyping. Faludi does not think that Gilligan's studies drew on a truly representative sample of people, and Faludi also notes that men can be altruistic when they're placed in ethical situations. But I still find Gilligan's study interesting, and I wouldn't be surprised if even many feminists agreed with Gilligan's stereotypes, since I have read feminists who prefer what they consider to be women's ways of doing things (cooperation, relationships) over men's (competition). Of course, there are exceptions to such stereotypes: Betty Friedan resented Gloria Steinem. And there are many women who compete with each other. Are there enough exceptions to nullify the stereotype altogether?

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