Friday, November 2, 2007

Terror Treat: It's 2007 And There Are Still Assholes Who Will Derisively Call You "Baby!"

We all have our Terror Dreams. Al Gore's involves an oil company executive playing Grand Theft Auto with Tipper, while spooning her on a freshly skinned polar bear fur. Judd Apatow's has something to do with losing a rap battle to Tina Fey. My recurring night terror is going to an abortion clinic where my uncle is the doctor, and having him nonchalantly exclaim "Oh Laurlies, it looks like you have the one kind of uterus that abortions don't work on...guess you'll have to stick with it!" as his secretary sends me off with an inspirational office placard depicting an idyllic mountain range overprinted with a bold Reagan quote about Fortitude.

Susan Faludi's nightmare--the scariest of the bunch-- is the idea that an attack like 9-11 would revert our country back to the comfort food that American patriotism has traditionally subsisted on: Doris Day femininity and John Wayne machismo.

Faludi saw the potential for this coming. In her 1991 feminist manifesto, Backlash, she documents how the mass media began to make large, celebratory declarations in the late '80s that women's equality had arrived and the feminist movement was (or would soon be) over, while also simultaneously puking forth a barrage of "findings" on how women are unhappier, and more stressed and sick than ever before. There was tons of press dedicated to women's lib/ television hero Murphy Brown's single mom victory over the patriarchy and the potatoe, but at the same time media outlets graciously pointed out that unwed women much like Murphy were, according to Newsweek, "hysterical" and victims of a "profound crisis of confidence." In other words, the media was giving women a big, fat, patronizing "You brought this on yourself, baby!" pat on the back.

Murphy Brown, from the Season 10 episode "Murphy gets impregnated by ghost sperm and starts drinking again." What? No, shut up! It is her

What's worse, this wasn't just coming from a concentrated politically conservative sector-- hyperbolic accusations about the terrible effects of the second-wave feminist movement were continually lobbed by the right, the left, and even inane media outlets that smart and dumb people alike watch. My favorite anecdote in Backlash is when Faludi mentions a guest on The Today Show who correlates the popularity of slasher movies with social acceptance of abortion because, get this: abortion makes violence "more acceptable".

An Extra Special Halloween Abortion Horror Movie! "Unborn Sins"-- the spirit of an aborted "child" comes to life to kill everyone with the fury that only a bag of cells ejected from the womb can possess!

Of course most accusing women's newfound equality of reaping disastrous effects were ignoring a simple fact that highlights the illogicality the argument: Women simply had not achieved equality. As Faludi notes, at the time women represented "two-thirds of all poor adults". The average female high school graduate earned less than a male high school drop-out. There were two female executives among the Fortune 500. As it turned out these fear-mongering reports on how women couldn't possibly be happy in an equal world weren't so much social science, but rather a manifestation of the male-dominated culture's fear of such a world really coming to fruition.

In The Terror Dream, Faludi puts together a scathing analysis of post-9-11 gender relations and works it into a larger, mythological narrative on the history of American gender roles. She saves the myth examination for the end, thankfully, because her arguments on the current state of gender affairs are much more pressing, evidenced, and interesting. Backlash works well with The Terror Dream, some might say it does what milk does for Oreos, or what lube does for a tired cooter: the situation that Backlash draws out greases the pan that The Terror Dream cooks in (I promise that is the last analogy). There was no perfect feminist America on September 10th, 2001--women still faced challenges and had less opportunities solely because of their gender, reproductive rights were constantly being challenged as was the concept of the working woman. Faludi is not arguing, as some reviews have accused her of doing, that 9-11 took us from a great place back to the proverbial stone-age. The setting for this kind of regression was there, detailed in Backlash, and Faludi argues that the feelings of insecurity and fear that 9-11 conjured just made it easier to openly respond with a regressive cultural reaction. That reaction was 1.) Feminists need to shut up 2.) We can't be perceived as weak and 3.) We will hail the type of brawny man who acts before he thinks and eats an Angus Third Pounder every day for Fourth Meal.

OMG, num.

Faludi dedicates an entire chapter to how prominent feminists like Sontang, Klein, and Kingsolver were all vilified for making what amount to rather intelligent statements about re-examining our foreign policy, while the men who made similar statements (or worse: Bill Maher said that the 9-11 attacks were brilliant. I mean, yes, duh, but c'mon) were let off the hook, or promoted...(Maher got an HBO show). The women were called "bitches", "witches", "idiots", and "delusional". Feminism as a whole was also outrightly attacked. Paglia made the nonsensical argument that workplace equality made men more girly, thus making our country weak. Martin van Creveld wrote in Newsday that " one of the principal losers [of 9-11] is likely to be feminism, which is partly based on the fake assumption that the average woman is able to defend herself as well as the average man." John Tierney (falsely) accused the feminist movement of putting boys more in touch with their feelings than their guns. The media insisted that what we needed in this terrible post-911 world were cowboys with guns and for their semi-intelligent wives who may have had a vocal pro-choice past to stand silent and supportive behind their husbands:

The evidence Faludi presents is so literal and so plentiful (I don't think I'm consumed another non-fiction book with as much documentation), it's hard for me to fathom how reviewers can get away with dismissing it as "anecdotal" stuff that already in the "blogosphere" as Michiko Kakutani does in the New York Times review. (I don't understand the logic behind the blogosphere comment either-- is that supposed to somehow make it less true?) Kakutani also makes the drop-in-the-ocean counter-example argument: But what about Hillary Clinton? What about Katie Couric? Feminist values can't be under attack because those two exist!

Well, what Kakutani ignores, and Faludi points out in the book is that despite Couric's much-touted promotion to CBS evening news anchor, the number of women's voices in media as a whole dropped significantly and rapidly post-911. Faludi writes that in comparison to the previous month, the month after September 11th saw the percentage of female bylines in the New York Times alone plummet from 22 percent to 9 percent. The Washington Post published 107 editorials in the three weeks following 9-11; seven were by women. "For the first six months of 2002, more than 75 percent of the Sunday talk shows in CBS, Fox, and NBC featured no female guests (Fox was free 83 percent of the time)" she writes.

It's also ridiculous to pretend that Couric's promotion wasn't littered with gender issues-- a simple Google search of her name brings up hundreds of op-eds first questioning her ability to host a serious, evening show after being such a "lovable" and "adorable" morning hostess (like this Wa-Po one), and then once her evening anchor position was solidified she was praised for her "reassuring presence" (um, can you say Mommy figure?) and of course they had to photoshop pounds off of her. Clinton has suffered much of the same "Damned if she does, damned if she don't" criticism, recently being attacked for being too man-ish, all while facing a continual press campaign of "But can a woman really be president?"

My only thought when reading the negative reviews of The Terror Dream was, "Did these dudes really read this? Or are they just bullshitting a bad review because they had like 10 other things due the next day?" Seriously, Faludi's logic is impeccable. And I am the arbitrator of the logically sound because 1.) this is my blog, and 2.) I was the captain of my high school debate team.

I also was tempted to leave the MC Paul Barman lyric "Going to Backlash your booty, like Susan Faludi" in the comment section of every neg review. And if second round fact-checking work doesn't come in soon, I think I will.


alissa said...

You are my hero!

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