Books

Gender armistice

A leading feminist argues that men are victims, too

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 1 1999
Books

Gender armistice

A leading feminist argues that men are victims, too

Anthony Wilson-Smith November 1 1999

Gender armistice

A leading feminist argues that men are victims, too

Books

Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man

By Susan Faludi

HarperCollins, 608pages, $39.95

Susan Faludi likes men. Her affection extends to a willingness to try to understand and explain their opinions, even when they seem offensive. That is not remarkable, except that Faludi is the author of the 1992 feminist best-seller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. In it, she argued the need to revive the flagging feminist movement because, she wrote, a combination of male-dominated government, media and conservatives were conducting a “powerful counter-assault on womens rights.” The book won critical raves—except from conservatives whose views she excoriated.

Now, the 40-year-old Faludi is back with Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man—a book that may annoy some feminist fans of her first book, but one that is ultimately consistent with her previous work. Just as she did in Backlash, Faludi reports on the frustration faced by members of one sex in coping with the maelstrom of societal changes around them. This time the subject is men, and Faludi sums up her intent early in the book with a rhetorical question: “What if we put aside the assumption of male dominance, put away our feminist rap sheet of men’s crimes and misdemeanours, or our anti-feminist indictment of women’s heist of male authority—and just looked at what men have experienced in the past generation?”

Extensive, exhaustive and sometimes exhausting at more than 600 pages, Stiffed offers a vision of men on the outskirts of everyday life, wondering how they lost their place at the centre. Today’s males have come of age in an era that includes the end of the image of dad as the sole breadwinner, a push for

guys to display greater sensitivity and employment-equity laws in some places that push white males to the back of the employment line.

The product of six years of research, Faludi’s book offers examples of male losers at all levels. They include embittered, die-hard Cleveland football fans

who watch their team leave town, teenage gang members who accord each other points each time they have sex with a girl, and laid-off aerospace workers who go almost overnight from middle-class comfort to mid-life poverty.

In Stiffed, Faludi offers a nuanced picture of a multilayered society in which it is easy to pinpoint victims, and harder to find clear-cut villains. She begins with visits to meetings of a domesticviolence group, which reflects her belief

at the time that “the male crisis in America was caused by something men were doing.” But as she continues her research, she decides the key issue is what has been done to men: their value system has been blown out from under, and they have yet to find a replacement.

Their reaction manifests itself in sometimes disturbing ways. Faludi visits The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., in 1994, at a time when cadets are about to chase out the first female student, Shannon Faulkner, by brutal hazing. Long after Faulkner has gone, Faludi lingers, and her reporting gives a shocking picture of young men in an environment that is both homoerotic and archly homophobic.

On the other hand, Faludi concludes that the millions of men who join the Promise Keepers religious movement—which stresses the primacy of the husband and father—are not trying to suppress women, despite the demonstrable misogyny of the group’s leader. Rather, the members she speaks to seem “more concerned about impressing their wives than oppressing them.”

If anything, Faludi can be too sympathetic: her willingness to excuse brutal, racist actions by Citadel cadets as a product of their environment implies they should not be held responsible. And the endless catalogue of victimhood is wearying: millions of men deal daily with women without the need to be either victor or vanquished.

Wisely, Faludi offers no concrete solutions. She concludes men should not worry about “how to be masculine— rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human.” With Stiffed, the feminist Faludi is declaring that it’s time for men and women to move towards that goal together.

Anthony Wilson-Smith