In a recent book review of Susan Faludi’s new book The Terror Dream (I like her book Backlash a lot, polemical and wrong as it may be in parts)Michiko Kakutani points out its many many logical flaws, starting with
To begin with, the reader wants to ask: What disappearance of female voices? What “bugle call” to “return to Betty Crocker domesticity?” Since 9/11, Hillary Rodham Clinton has become the leading Democratic contender in the race for the White House, with a good chance of becoming the first female president in history; Katie Couric was named anchor of the CBS Evening News; and women like Lara Logan of CBS and Martha Raddatz of ABC have been reporting from the frontlines of the war in Iraq. Ms. Faludi asserts that the 9/11 widows “the media liked best” were the fragile, dependent ones, “who accepted that their ‘job’ now was to devote themselves to their families and the memory of their dead husbands.” But even she has to acknowledge that the so-called “Jersey Girls” (Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, Patty Casazza, and Lorie van Auken) played “an essential role in forcing the creation of the independent 9/11 Commission,” and helped strong-arm “top White House officials into testifying before the commission.”
Kakutani does say that Faludi explains that these women were the exception to the rule but it doesn’t seem to bother her. Nor the fact that Faludi points out that in places central to the frontier myth, women have been underrepresented or excluded, as the stewardesses who boiled water on Flight 93 to throw it on the terrorists (nice nugget, there, as a fighting action it’s in conflict with the myth but broken down in its component parts, it’s actually pretty similar to women who in frintier times prepared the means with which men fought. Curious conflict there)
She writes that post-9/11 marketing efforts “had succeeded in darkening the image of the sexually liberated single woman,” even though “Sex and the City” remained a hit TV show in the years before and after the attacks.
It would have been nice of Ms. Kakutani to have recalled Backlash a little bit better and the part of it, which was itself at the time not new, but it was for the first time presented in a nationwide nonfiction bestseller (we all would love for Irgigaray and Butler to sell big but that’s not going to happen, is it), which discusses the so-called ‘emptiness’ of the career woman. Much of what Ms. Faludi has written about that is admirably compatible with Sex and the City (I’ve written some remarks about that show in this short essay of mine as well)however, that show, for whatever reasons, did run out in the years when the infamous War on Terror began (does Kakutani presume that this process is exact? The second the myth begins everything is being adjusted? Those things take time), which could provide material for a neat discussion of the closeness of the show to the myth and the reason for its incopmpatibility with the similar problematic surrounding the stewardesses on Flight 93.
The most striking part of Kakutani’s criticism of Faludi’s book, as well as the most telling, is this one:
And she writes that television and other pop culture manufacturers dispensed “the consolations of a domestic idyll where men wore all the badges, and women wielded all the roasting pans,” even though high-profile shows like “Scrubs,” “CSI: Miami” and “The Osbournes,” which had their debuts in the year or so after 9/11, hardly illustrate this theory, and television has more recently seen the emergence of shows (like “Damages,” “Saving Grace” and “The Closer”) featuring feisty middle-aged heroines as tough-talking lawyers and cops.
Granted, I don’t remember enough of Backlash [and I don't find my copy. Anybody who's willing to buy me a new one is welcome! ] to retrieve from memory to what extent Faludi has understood the gender/sex divide, but what’s interesting about these new shows, as well as about Scrubs is that these shows work with a strong sense of what “masculine”/”feminine” is and of how masculine/feminine a man/woman should be to be normal, which makes shows like these hasten to show that, looking at The Closer, for instance, despite being a “tough cop”, Chief Brenda Johnson is still very feminine, she may fulfill the gender role of a man, down to her behaviour at home, but ‘deep down’ she’s still a woman, an insidious argument if I ever saw one. If that show wasn’t so enjoyable… Point is that although Faludi’s arguments abour rebuilt attitudes should not be taken too literally, these arguments are indeed forceful and they describe a troubling development.
However, Kakutani may be right about one thing.
Ms. Faludi’s overarching thesis in this book rings false too. In fact, her suggestion that the 9/11 attacks catalyzed the same fears and narrative impulses as those unleashed by our frontier ancestors’ “original war on terror,” leading to a muffling of feminist voices and a veneration of “the virtues of nesting,” runs smack up against her own “Backlash,” which suggested that similar assaults on women’s independence were being unleashed in the 1980s — a time not of war or threat but a decade that witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the coming end of the cold war.
It might, after all, not be due to the horrible specter of 9/11. How people behaved in the face of 9/11 might have been due to what they were thinking all the time. Maybe it’s just that with faminism it’s as with civil rights, people no longer look too closely at what’s happening if they are so afraid some muslim Terrorists might destroy their homes and their ‘freedom’ that they don’t notice the infringement of said freedom by their own elected government and nonelected media.