As if men hadn’t suffered enough indignities of late (loss of breadwinner status, declining sperm counts, advertisements targeting erectile dysfunction and hair loss), along comes Susan Faludi, offering soothing words and a lump of sugar. Like a horse whisperer, she feels men’s pain and wants to coax them out of the barn, one hoof ahead of the other. She isn’t being deliberately patronising-which makes her tender concern all the more shaming. Men are now officially pathetic.
Having stirred up the henhouse with her best-selling tract Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, a warning cry about the secret plot to reverse feminist gains by brainwashing women with stick-figure fashion images and false idols such as Camille Paglia, Faludi has concluded six years of research with Stiffed: The Betrayal of the Modern Man, which declares that men are not guilty of being the enemy. No, they are victims, too: dazed captives in a jar.
Like women, Faludi argues, men are judged today on their cosmetic appearance and their market value rather than their inner worth-forced to parade down the catwalk of consumerism and to compete in the swimsuit competition. As men lose to women in the looks department, they blame women for their second-class showing. They shouldn’t. “Just because men have wound up in a beauty-contest world doesn’t mean women have put them there. The gaze that plagues them does not actually spring from a feminine eye.” It is, Faludi says, the Cyclops eye of “ornamental culture,” a Hollywood/Madison Avenue/glossy-magazine creation that saps everyone’s vital essences like a ray of Kryptonite. Only by smashing this prison searchlight can the sexes join forces and confront their overseers. Runway models of the world, unite!
Others have called for a truce between the sexes, but Faludi plays peacemaker on an epic scale. Despite its irate title and a cover picture of a hardworking American Joe, Stiffed is a gentler book than Backlash. In a story for Newsweek, Faludi was photographed sitting on the floor, holding her toes and looking disarmingly girly, as if to say, “Me, a scary feminist? How silly!”
Like Edmund Morris with his biographical “memoir” of Ronald Reagan, Faludi couches her book as a personal odyssey. (There are no impersonal ones any more.) “This is the story of a feminist’s travels through a postwar male realm… It is also a reflection of my own mental journey as I struggled to understand…