I don't think I'll bother finishing it ...
In this book Susan Faludi does not stray far from her feminist roots, or her Backlash thesis. It delivers a subtle message, not that men are stiffed, but that men whine about being stiffed, because they are unwilling to give up control. One of the themes in the book is whether white middle-class men are willing to share the podium. To many men, it seems like there is no place for them on the podium.
While she talks about men wanting to work together to make a positive contribution, as they did in World War II, her thesis is that that is a bygone era, a "broken promise," and the focus has shifted to men wanting glory and control.
To many men, their lives seem "out of control" because they're not able to make a positive contribution to the world around them, or that their positive contributions aren't honored. Faludi focuses only on those men who seek the glory of a superstar. But not that many men want to be superstars and to dominate others. Most men outgrow that. Men are not the adolescents she portrays.
What brought this issue home for me was Chapter 3, "Girls Have All the Power," about young men's views today. It opens by raising issues about a girl automatically being believed if she engages in sex and later says it was rape, or if she hits a guy and accuses him of assault, or if she says a guy is stalking or harassing him. Real issues in young men's lives.
The examples of "typical" young men that she uses to illustrate her point? The infamous Spur Posse and the cadets resisting the breaking down the all-male walls of The Citadel.
In her talk about the Spur Posse, the young men who "scored points" for every girl he had sex with, she emphasizes how much they reveled in the glory, the media exposure. At several points she points out that some were arrested for other crimes, and expresses dismay that none were charged with sexual assault or rape (except where one willing participant looked older but turned out to be 10 years old). She dismisses as whining the boys' statement that they never forced themselves on a girl -- they were all willing participants.
There's an irony in her extensive coverage of The Citadel, in view of the fact that the Federal tax dollars continue to help support colleges that bar admission solely by reason of sex. Institutions like Wellesley, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Barnard (affiliated with Columbia) and Mills.
The conduct of the Spur Posse and the cadets at The Citadel was deplorable -- but not typical.
The second chapter is about displaced workers. She uses two examples, the closed-down Long Beach Naval Shipyard and the downsized McDonnell Douglas plant nearby. She speaks glowingly of the multicultural diversity at the shipyard and how it turned into a profitable government operation before it was closed down. She stresses the mentoring of younger workers, the teamwork, and the pride they took in their last big job, knowing the shipyard was to close. But she doesn't talk about the turmoil these men went through when out of work, or how many were injured on the job.
When she shifts up the road to the McDonnell Douglas plants she shifts to the "white-collars," the mostly white middle-aged middle managers -- after making the point that the plant had record-breaking productivity in World War II when it was 90% women, before returning soldiers took over the jobs. There, she goes into great detail about the post-layoff problems of loss of status and loss of being part of a winning -- conquering -- team, mentioning only that the men felt "out of control" when their wives left them for men with incomes. She talks about men resisting giving up manufacturing jobs, building things, for service jobs that draw more on traits we call feminine. The subtle implication is that men resist doing "women's work." The missed point is that these manufacturing jobs were high-paying, stable (even if physically demanding or dangerous). So now we have two people slaving away for the same amount of money as one used to make. Who is the winner in this?
There's also the usual feminist "advocacy-based research" interpretation of data. When she talks about pride the men at the Long Beach shipyard took in their last job, she speculates "I wondered where such men fit into an era in which the best-known downsizing tales were of former post-office employees shooting their supervisors. (Homicide had, in fact, become the leading cause of workplace deaths in many cities hit by downsizing in the eighties, and the second largest cause of workplace fatalities nationwide by the nineties. That was particularly the case for women, 42 percent of whose deaths on the job were the result of murder, compared with 12 percent of men's.) Dangerous downsized men "going postal," and women bearing the brunt.
What are the facts? In 1998 5,548 men and 442 women were killed in workplace deaths. Over the years, men have accounted for 92% of workplace fatalities. There have been just under 1,000 workplace homicides a year and 75-80% of these are to men.1 Some 80-85% of them are from robberies. Homicides by co-workers (including people "going postal") account for 7-8%.2 In 1996 (last figures available) co-workers killed 75 workers, and angry customers killed 54. Ex-intimates killed 31. These numbers haven't varied much since the peak in workplace homicides (1,080) in 1994.
There are glaring omissions, if the book purports to describe what is going on with men today.
Faludi presents the Spur Posse and Citadel cadets as illustrative of what's going on for young men, but what about guys concerned that fewer young men than young women go to college or graduate school, and more young men drop out? There's no room for their concerns in this massive 662-page tome. To find out what'd going on with young men in America today, you're better off reading Aaron Kipnis' Angry Young Men or Michael Gurian's The Good Son.
As Cathy Young succinctly put it in her review, writing a book about men without talking about divorced men is like teaching English Lit and leaving out Shakespeare.
Faludi analogizes the situation of men today to that of women in the 50s, before feminism arose, and speculates on why men have not been able to mobilize to change things. "The very paradigm of modern masculinity -- that it is all about being the master of your universe -- prevents men from thinking their way out of their dilemma, from taking positive political steps to resolve their crisis." How did women do it? "Women were able to take action, paradoxically, by understanding how they were acted upon. 'Women have been largely man-made,' Fe Figures wrote in 1970 in Patriarchal attitudes. What had been made by others women could themselves unmake. Once their problems could be traced to external forces generated by a male society and culture, they could see them more clearly and so challenge them."
It is people, men and women, who make up a culture. But while women reacted to a "male culture," she hastens to add that men should not do the converse, or say that feminism has shaped this larger culture over the last decade or two. "Today it is men who cling more tightly to their illusions. They would rather see themselves as battered by feminism than shaped by the larger culture."
In short, she takes great pains to point out that it's "men being men" that accounts for where they are today, and that feminism has nothing to do with it. Men's complaints about excesses of feminism that lead to an unbalanced society and special privileges for women rather than equality is simply a backlash. Which is what we might expect the author of Backlash to say.
Someday I may finish this massive tome. But for now, if I want to find out what's happening with men today there are a lot of other books that are more to the point. I'd recommend Warren Farrell's new book Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say and Aaron Kipnis' Angry Young Men.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for 1992-1998
2. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics (26th Ed., 10/99)