Monday, March 5, 2012

Susan Faludi, Backlash 4

In my reading of Susan Faludi's 1991 book, Backlash, Faludi disputes conservative arguments against day-care, as well as discusses the historical backlash against the advancement of women whenever they have made progress.

Regarding day-care, she states that research demonstrates that day-care makes children "slightly more gregarious and independent" and helps them to profit because they meet a wider range of adults, plus day-care children are more broad-minded about gender roles (page 43). She disputes the notion that there is an epidemic of abuse in day-care centers, noting that, statistically-speaking, there are much higher numbers of abuse at home. She also refers to a 1982 National Academy of Sciences panel that concluded that "children suffer no ill effects in academic, social, or emotional development when mothers work" (her summary), and she states that research "offers scant evidence of diminished bonds between mother and child" (page 43). Against the conservative argument that kids are more exposed to illnesses at day-care institutions, Faludi says that "the actual studies on child care and illness indicate that while children in day care are initially prone to more illnesses, they soon build up immunities and actually get sick less often than kids at home" (page 43).

Faludi notes that, while the media gives a lot of exposure to arguments attacking day-care, it does not highlight the studies that refute those arguments. For Faludi, that is the case for a number of anti-feminist myths that are supported by studies (or supposedly supported, since Faludi argues that those studies are flawed), such as the myth that women need to get married right away rather than focusing on their career since their marriage prospects and their fertility decline with age. According to Faludi, this is part of the backlash.

Faludi looks at backlashes in the mid-1800s, the early 1900s, the early 1940s, and the early 1970s. In these cases, we see a pattern: Women are making advancements in terms of work or political rights, and those advancements are followed by a backlash----an attempt by men and even a lot of women to reverse or clamp down on those advancements. This has taken the form of laws that limit women's opportunities in the work place, or opposition to laws that can help them to advance; criticism of feminism, even by one-time leaders of the feminist movement; efforts to restrict women's reproductive independence; a view that women have already made great strides when their advancement has actually been meager; and the list goes on. While Faludi focuses on the time-periods that I listed, she notices a pattern of backlash even before that----for example, there was a "rise of restrictive property laws and penalties for unwed and childless women of ancient Rome" (page 47).

Why have there been backlashes? Faludi states that the backlashes are often perpetuated by elites----such as businessmen, politicians, the media, etc. In my reading so far, she has not yet clued us in as to their motivation. But she believes that the backlash is accepted by men in lower economic rungs, who feel economically insecure and blame the influx of women into the work-force for their predicament. Faludi notes that the times of the backlashes are often times of economic insecurity. And, for her, the stagnation of wages and the replacement of good manufacturing jobs with lower-paying service jobs in the 1980s have not helped matters. While men blame women, Faludi contends that the blame is mis-placed, for women are actually taking a number of lower-paying jobs that men do not even want. Faludi also states that men feel insecure and unhappy about women working because men root their self-worth in being providers for their family.

Faludi cites a lot of research. Sometimes, I wonder how certain facts can co-exist. For example, Faludi notes a trend of men becoming more conservative and women becoming more liberal. She refers to a poll in which men applauded the Reagan 80s and feared that its economic gains would be reversed. How could men applaud the Reagan 80s, when that is a time of economic insecurity? Is the backlash so strong that they would see the Reagan 80s as a time of prosperity, even when they themselves are not prospering, and then blame women for their lack of prosperity?

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