Friday, March 23, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 22

In my latest reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi told some really gut-wrenching stories. She talked about a pregnant woman with a terminal illness, and how a judge ordered for her unborn baby to be saved, even though the operation could harm the mother. The outcome was that both the mother and the baby died. Faludi also referred to a case in which women were forced to choose between sterilization and keeping their jobs, since the women would supposedly be exposed to harmful chemicals. Faludi considers the whole movement to protect women and their unborn children from chemicals in the work-place to be rather phony, a device to keep women from the workplace, for the Reagan Administration did not rigorously try to make workplaces safer, plus the chemicals could harm men as well, and the men were not being told to be sterilized in order to keep their jobs. Rather, they could wear protective equipment.

Faludi's epilogue was powerful. She affirms that women desire to be fulfilled professionally, and she refers to women on the New Right to support that point. Faludi also states that women have the numbers to make a difference, and that polls indicate that most women support feminist causes, and so the 90s could be a positive decade for women. Was it, in her opinion? Well, she wrote an article in 2008 entitled Think the Gender War Is Over? Think Again.

I agree with Faludi's argument that many women feel a need to be fulfilled professionally, for Faludi refers to numerous statistics and examples that confirm this, even among New Right women who are promoting traditional family values. I guess my problem with Faludi was that she acted as if women wanting children was simply the result of them being indoctrinated by the backlash, which was pressuring women to prefer the domestic sphere. Faludi did this particularly in her discussion about the women who were sterilized in order to keep their jobs. But why should we assume that a desire for children is not authentic for many women?

Faludi spent a lot of pages lauding the desire of women to be independent, and so I greatly appreciated the following passage on page 457, in which Faludi promotes a sort of interdependence between men and women:

"As much as men fought the female challenge in the '70s, they also absorbed and incorporated it into their private experience; and when they saw women wouldn't back down, many men started to make accommodations to keep the women they loved in their lives. Even blatant antifeminists like Michael Levin, while vocally decrying the equal rights campaign, were quietly cutting domestic deals with their wives. For what has been largely forgotten in the backlash era----where women are encouraged to please men by their demeanor or appearance rather than persuade them by the force of their argument----is that men don't hold all the emotional cards. Men need women as much as women need men. The bonds between the sexes can chafe, and they can be, and have been, used to constrain women. But they also can promote mutually beneficial growth and change."

I love the part about men making accommodations to keep the women they love in their lives.

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