Susan Faludi 1959-
American journalist and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Faludi's career through 2000.
An award-winning journalist and feminist critic, Susan Faludi received much attention with the release of her debut book, Backlash (1991), a massive polemic in which she identifies a wide array of reactionary cultural trends aimed at repressing the gains of the women's movement. Compared to Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique (1963), Backlash rejuvenated feminist discussion in the media and established Faludi as a leading spokesperson for women's issues. In a follow-up book, Stiffed (1999), Faludi seeks to understand the motivations of contemporary American men. She finds that they are understandably alienated and resentful due to their own set of social, economic, and personal betrayals.
Born in New York City, Faludi was the first child and only daughter born to Steven Faludi, a Hungarian Jewish photographer, and his wife, Marilyn, a writer and editor. As a young person Faludi exhibited skills as a dogged investigator—such as when she surveyed her fifth grade classmates on contentious subjects like abortion rights and the Vietnam War; or when, as the editor of her high school newspaper, she wrote articles critical of, and detrimental to, the religious meetings being held at the public school. Faludi attended Harvard University, where she was managing editor of the Harvard Crimson and continued to address controversial topics, including sexual harassment taking place at Harvard. Faludi graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in 1981, with majors in history and literature. She received the Oliver Dabney History Award for her senior thesis. During her years at Harvard, she worked for Staten Island Advance and the Boston Globe. Upon graduation, she worked briefly at the New York Times, then moved on to the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 1985 the Georgia Associated Press awarded Faludi first prize for both news and feature reporting. After moving to California in 1985, she wrote for Mother Jones, Ms., California Business, and was also a staff writer for the Sunday magazine of the San Jose Mercury News. Faludi won additional awards from a variety of professional organizations, including a Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award citation. From 1989 to 1991 she served as an affiliated scholar with the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University. In 1991 she won both the Pulitzer Prize and a John Hancock Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism for “The Reckoning,” an expose about the 1986 leveraged buyout of Safeway Stores, which appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal on May 16, 1990. The next year, Faludi produced Backlash, which quickly became a bestseller and received the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction in 1991. With the success of Backlash, Faludi and Gloria Steinem appeared together on the cover of Time, and Faludi, hailed as a new generation's spokesperson for feminists, appeared on numerous television talk shows. She continues to write for a variety of periodicals and is a contributing editor at Newsweek.
Faludi's Pulitzer Prize-winning article, “The Reckoning,” reported the devastating human cost of a leveraged buyout of Safeway Stores. Based on more than one hundred interviews, the acclaimed piece exposed the contrast between shareholder gain and human loss in the wave of mergers and leveraged buyouts that swept the corporate world in the 1980s. Layoffs, reduced wages, and workplace pressures that resulted from the 1986 takeover of Safeway Stores by Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, and Company led to at least one suicide, numerous stress-related health problems, and attendant family crises in Texas and elsewhere. The inspiration for Backlash, Faludi's first full-length volume, grew out of a sensational 1986 Newsweek cover story about the bleak prospects for single, professional women in America. Backlash maintains that the Newsweek article is just one of many insidious media creations that prey upon the fears and insecurities of liberated women. The extensive documentation and cogent anecdotes of Backlash suggest that the gains toward equality, earned by the women's movement in the 1960s and 1970s, were systematically eroded in the 1980s. Faludi singles out the regressive influence of advertising, the film industry, politicians, academics, the religious right, the men's movement, the news media, and conservative “pro-family” organizations whose resistance to social change has undermined women's independence. Faludi concludes that the gains made by the women's movement are fragile and easily lost; however, through a unified and concerted effort, and armed with a healthy skepticism toward the media, the rights won can be preserved and extended. Stiffed grew directly out of Backlash. Curious about why many men so actively resist equal rights for women, Faludi began conducting interviews among a variety of men, including laid-off longshoremen in Long Beach, down-sized aerospace workers in Los Angeles, Citadel cadets, and gang members. Faludi contends that postwar men have been betrayed on two fronts: first by their fathers, who promised them that they would be in control and that loyalty would be rewarded in both corporate and governmental arenas; and second, by the growth of celebrity culture, which promotes and celebrates excessive consumerism, money, and physical beauty. In her interviews Faludi repeatedly found men longing for absent or remote fathers and affirmative role models, and many men confessed to feeling useless and unimportant to society. Taken together, Backlash and Stiffed examine how both men and women have been negatively affected by the enormous cultural and societal changes of the last half of the twentieth century. In particular, both works criticize the rise of a marketing and consumer state that reduces individuals to market niches and rewards physical appearance and superficial status symbols—a trend that she has termed “ornamental culture”—instead of personal achievement and community service.
Faludi's journalistic skills have earned her a number of awards throughout both her scholastic and professional careers. Most critics acknowledge her superb interviewing abilities and her use of anecdote to illustrate a point or support a thesis. However, despite the evidence she accumulates, even sympathetic reviewers note that her work often lacks balance, failing to give voice to competing views. Critical response to Backlash ranged from praise for its thorough, hard-hitting reportage to charges of superficial and misleading argumentation. The work was criticized for omitting portions of arguments that undermine its premises or that illuminate the negative effect of the women's movement on some women's lives. Stiffed was praised for drawing attention to the negative aspects of celebrity culture, but criticized for treating men as victims without control over their own lives and decisions. In addition, Stiffed confounded many feminists with its empathic portrayal of abusive, misogynistic, and self-serving men. Both works were criticized for focusing on a narrow subset of the population: middle- and upper-class white women in Backlash, and marginalized working-class white men in Stiffed. Faludi's two books are seen by many critics as offshoots from the same argument, one that arises from the feminist movement and Faludi's own sense of grievance over social injustice. Several reviewers noted that Faludi seems to have transposed and adjusted the feminist arguments in Backlash and applied them to men in Stiffed, which is generally regarded as the least persuasive of Faludi's first two books. A large number of readers identified with Backlash, an important critique of gender relations and the state of the women's liberation during the late-1980s.
*“The Reckoning: Safeway LBO Yields Vast Profits but Exacts A Heavy Human Toll” (journalism) 1990
Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women (nonfiction) 1991
Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (nonfiction) 1999
*Published as a feature article in Wall Street Journal, May 16, 1990.
SOURCE: “Bad News, Good News,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. IX, No. 1, October, 1991, pp. 1, 3-4.
[In the following excerpted review essay, Rapping finds shortcomings in Backlash's dogmatic feminist agenda and superficial analysis of complex, and often contradictory, social trends. According to Rapping, Faludi's book is “ill-thought-out, badly argued and way too often simply erroneous or uninformed.”]
Is it the best of times or the worst of times? Have we come a long way, baby, or are we systematically being beaten back to ground zero by the right-wing goon squads? On any given day, depending on the headlines or my phone messages, I’m likely to...
(The entire section is 2045 words.)
SOURCE: “Selling Sugar and Spice,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 20, 1991, pp. 1, 10.
[In the following review, Showalter offers a positive evaluation of Backlash.]
Every successful movement for women’s emancipation has been followed by a virulent backlash threatening women with the loss of love and health as the penalty for freedom. Following the admission of women to Oxford and Cambridge in the 1880s, a professor warned one young woman: “If you compete with us, we won’t marry you.” In the 1920s, after the passage of the suffrage amendment, ex-feminists recanted in the pages of popular magazines, explaining that managing a job and a family was...
(The entire section is 1276 words.)
SOURCE: “Phony War,” in Reason, Vol. 23, No. 6, November, 1991, pp. 56-8.
[In the following review of Backlash, Young finds shortcomings in Faludi's “selective treatment of facts” and distorted conclusions about the current state of women's liberation.]
While watching the recent PBS rerun of I, Claudius, I was struck by the extent to which our notions of history are shaped by the writings of inevitably biased contemporaries. If our civilization were to perish like the Roman Empire, and if Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women were one of the few books to survive from the late 20th century, our descendants...
(The entire section is 1993 words.)
SOURCE: “Have We Come a Long Way, Baby?,” in Washington Post Book World, November 3, 1991, pp. 3-4.
[In the following review of Backlash, Clift commends Faludi's “reportage” but finds weaknesses in her analysis of contemporary feminism and the costs of women's liberation.]
Young women today do not like to be called feminists. For them, the word conjures up images of bra-burning “women’s libbers.” Even Ms. magazine, the bible of the women’s movement, began avoiding the feminist label in its copy after a series of focus groups confirmed women’s negative attitude. The National Organization for Women, once a powerful force in presidential politics,...
(The entire section is 917 words.)
SOURCE: “Myths that Men (and the Media) Live By,” in Columbia Journalism Review, Vol. 30, No. 5, January-February, 1992, pp. 53-5.
[In the following review, Bennetts offers high praise for Backlash.]
I came away from Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women feeling not only that it should be required reading for all Americans, but that every representative of any media organization in the country should be locked in a room until he or she has finished the last page. The unrelenting series of revelations provided by Susan Faludi’s explosive and exhaustively researched new book is galvanizing enough for any citizen, let alone female; but for a...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Backlash, in Christian Century, February 19, 1992, pp. 198-99.
[In the following review, Rebeck offers a positive assessment of Backlash.]
A recent article in the “Style” section of the Chicago Tribune exemplified the power of the backlash. The article reminded readers that “a couple of years ago … newspapers claimed a single woman had more chances of being kidnapped by a terrorist than getting married.” Now, the article went on, the statistics have turned around.
Not exactly, Susan Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal, would say. In fact, the statistics never...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
SOURCE: “Exit, Stage Back,” in National Review, March 30, 1992, pp. 41-2.
[In the following negative review of Backlash, Gallagher attacks Faludi's feminist perspective, particularly her support for divorce and her unwillingness to admit the importance of children and family for many women.]
Pity poor Susan Faludi. Just when she thought she had everything—a high-status job as a Wall Street Journal reporter, the joys of single life, power breakfasts, the right to an abortion, even a Pulitzer Prize—suddenly, sometime in the Eighties, she began to feel unloved. Legions of women, instead of following—or at least envying—women like her, began to do...
(The entire section is 1057 words.)
SOURCE: “The New Avengers,” in New Statesman and Society, April 3, 1992, pp. 44-5.
[In the following excerpted review-essay, Wheelwright commends Faludi's effort to put feminism back in the media spotlight, but finds shortcomings in her monolithic portrayal of feminism in Backlash.]
To university students across North America, Marilyn French’s novel The Women’s Room was the feminist bible for the 1970s. French’s portrait of a housewife who trades a claustrophobic marriage for graduate school was confirmation that our mothers were suffering from a similar malaise. The mad/angry wife, the tortured female intellectual stuck with “shit and string...
(The entire section is 735 words.)
SOURCE: “Women Beware Men,” in London Review of Books, July 23, 1992, pp. 3-8.
[In the following excerpted review essay, Doody offers a positive assessment of Backlash and further confirms Faludi's assertions about the insidious cultural and economic assault on women's liberation.]
The appearance of these two books [Faludi's Backlash and Marilyn French's The War Against Women] marks a new epoch in our social history. Although first published in the United States, both books deal with England and other countries. Susan Faludi extensively revised her 1991 American edition for the 1992 British edition. This version, with a Preface by Joan Smith,...
(The entire section is 5052 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Backlash, in Humanist, September-October, 1992, pp. 47-8.
[In the following review, Shore offers a favorable assessment of Backlash.]
Women’s issues occupy a strange position in the collective consciousness of America. Even 20 years after the ground-breaking work of Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, and others, women’s studies remain ghettoized in small university departments and are dealt with only in limited ways by the mass media. The perception persists that women’s experience can somehow be reduced to a limited body of knowledge, of interest and importance only to a committed minority identifying itself as...
(The entire section is 946 words.)
SOURCE: “Wake Up, Little Susie,” in The American Spectator, Vol. 25, No. 10, October, 1992, pp. 30-6.
[In the following review of Backlash, Eberstadt provides an extended negative critique in which she cites a series of contradictions and weaknesses in Faludi's assertions.]
If feminists of the 1960s could have looked ahead to the present, what they spied would in some ways have resembled the promised land. More women, including more mothers of young children, are working outside the home than ever before. With this change in the market have come others that once seemed feminist fantasies. Both private corporations and government have devised benefits aimed...
(The entire section is 5537 words.)
SOURCE: “A New Attack on Feminism,” in Dissent, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 1993, pp. 123-24.
[In the following excerpted review essay, Epstein offers a positive assessment of Backlash.]
America’s ambivalence about the roles of women today was played out most ironically in the past presidential campaign. The Republican National Convention gave the private, family-centered woman Barbara Bush a very public and political role as a highlighted speaker, while the Democrats pressed Hillary Clinton, the assertive attorney and advocate for children’s rights, to retreat to the role of supportive wife and mother.
The right’s attempt to equate the...
(The entire section is 1107 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Backlash, in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 99, No. 3, November, 1993, pp. 824-25.
[In the following review, Fink offers a positive summary of Backlash.]
Susan Faludi’s account of the backlash movement [in Backlash] is thorough indeed. Although the war against American women may be undeclared, it is difficult to deny the pervasiveness of its battles. Faludi enumerates many efforts to limit women’s roles by those who would silence women’s newfound voice in modern American society. The protagonists described by Faludi want to revert women back into the silent ideal, seen but not heard.
Faludi points, first,...
(The entire section is 771 words.)
SOURCE: “Reproducing Culture through Language: Sex, Gender, and Conversational Style,” in Women's Studies in Communication, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 1995, pp. 93-103.
[In the following excerpted essay, Crawford discusses the cultural construction of negative female stereotypes and Faludi's critique of such constructions in Backlash.]
Popular press books are often used to supplement textbooks in the classroom. The trade books reviewed in this essay were selected because they are relatively recent, fairly well-known, concerned with gender/power issues, and written primarily by women. These criteria ground two purposes: the first explores ways that gender is construed...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)
SOURCE: “Opening the Male: A Leading Feminist Turns Her Sympathies to the Betrayed American Man,” in Christian Science Monitor, September 23, 1999, pp. 17-8.
[In the following review, Chinni offers unfavorable assessment of Stiffed.]
If 1990s America offers one overarching lesson, it is that the cultural labels we once used to define our societal tribes are increasingly worthless. In a world with 500 cable channels, niche marketing, and the Internet, it has become nearly impossible to place large groups of people into neat little boxes.
Lines are blurring. Subcultures are merging across the old boundaries of race and gender. At the close of the...
(The entire section is 829 words.)
SOURCE: “The Betrayed Generation,” in Wall Street Journal, September 24, 1999, pp. W11-12.
[In the following review, Fukuyama pans the book Stiffed for its lack of logical analysis and coherence, and states that Faludi is a better journalist than social thinker.]
Journalist Susan Faludi rose to prominence in 1991 for her book Backlash, which sought to exonerate feminism of any blame for society's contemporary discontents, pointing the finger instead at feminism's enemies who, however improbably, were said to dominate the media and popular culture. Following her bestsellerdom, she spent time trying, as she explains at the beginning of her new book,...
(The entire section is 1355 words.)
SOURCE: “The People Behind the Books We Read,” in Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1999, pp. 1-3.
[In the following essay, Lacher provides an overview of Faludi's career and the media attention surrounding Backlash and Stiffed, including Faludi's own comments on her life and work.]
If you ran into famous feminist Susan Faludi in a dark alley, do you think you’d recognize her?
Probably not, and with good reason. The controversial author of the 1992 bestseller Backlash hasn’t been around, at least not where cameras are concerned. She’s been turning down talking-head media opportunities for years. She’s been too busy...
(The entire section is 1524 words.)
SOURCE: “The Trouble with Guys,” in Washington Post Book World, October 10, 1999, pp. 3-5.
[In the following review, Fussell summarizes Faludi's observations in Stiffed about the contemporary American man.]
“Welcome to Testosterone Country!” says a Promise Keeper to Susan Faludi at the all-male convocation at Anaheim, Calif. Overhead, a plane trailing a banner buzzes the packed stadium; the banner reads “PROMISE KEEPERS, LOSERS AND WEEPERS,” and is paid for by feminists.
With Stiffed, Faludi, herself a feminist, dives straight into the belly of the beast, Manhood. Her testosterone tome has been six years in the making. It’s...
(The entire section is 1667 words.)
SOURCE: “Guy Talk,” in National Review, October 25, 1999, pp. 58, 61-2.
[In the following negative review of Stiffed, Decter derides Faludi's presentation of American men as victims of postwar consumer culture.]
Six years ago, as she tells us in her new book, Susan Faludi was moved to explore the question of why “our male brethren so often and so vociferously resist women’s struggles toward independence and a fuller life.” In seeking an answer, she set off on a truly strenuous round of travels, meeting with and interviewing and re-interviewing a wide variety of men. And since only one year before undertaking this mission she had published a much...
(The entire section is 1943 words.)
SOURCE: “Fired, Fed-up, Discarded, and Scared,” in The Progressive, Vol. 63, No. 11, November, 1999, pp. 41-3.
[In the following positive review of Stiffed, Flanders commends Faludi's journalism, though finds shortcomings in her focus on working-class men and the importance of male stereotypes. Flanders notes that some of the problems Faludi attributes to gender may actually have an economic basis.]
I had the luck this summer to spend a weekend with my relatives Doug and Lori Chambers, and I thought of them as I read Susan Faludi’s latest book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. Doug Chambers is perhaps five feet five inches and 130 pounds:...
(The entire section is 1628 words.)
SOURCE: “Pity the Boys,” in New Statesman, November 1, 1999, p. 56.
[In the following review of Stiffed, Abrams praises Faludi's social observations and journalistic portraiture. However, she notes that Faludi makes victims out of men by simply transposing old feminist principles to the lives of men, with dubious results.]
Eight years ago, Susan Faludi became a big name on the feminist circuit with the publication of her first book, Backlash, in which she argued persuasively that women’s progress towards equality was being blocked by a wave of scare stories, misleading reports and misinformation campaigns. In her new book she turns away from...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
SOURCE: “Gender Armistice,” in Maclean's, November 1, 1999, p. 70.
[In the following review, Wilson-Smith offers a positive assessment of Stiffed, though notes that Faludi's sympathy for brutal men is occasionally too generous.]
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...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
SOURCE: “Betrayal of the American Women,” in Insight on the News, Vol. 15, No. 42, November 15, 1999, pp. 48-9.
[In the following review, Fields offers a negative evaluation of Stiffed.]
Stiffed is the brave new word to describe the betrayal of the American man. Poor babies. The pressure of postmodern masculinity is too much for them. The American male suffers from premature emasculation.
This is an idea that only could be written by a woman who dismisses personal responsibility as a guide to action. Susan Faludi, in her best-selling book Stiffed, seeks to put the blame everywhere but at the center of a man’s character. She accuses both...
(The entire section is 910 words.)
SOURCE: “The Male Eunuch,” in New Republic, November 15, 1999, pp. 36-41.
[In the following extended review, Wolcott offers a negative evaluation of Stiffed. “Faludi's tome,” writes Wolcott, “is an almost self-parodying product of crisis-mongering newsmagazine journalese.”]
As if men hadn’t suffered enough indignities of late (loss of breadwinner status, declining sperm counts, TV ads 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...
(The entire section is 5588 words.)
SOURCE: “Why Men Get Anxious,” in Christian Century, December 1, 1999, pp. 1166-168.
[In the following review of Stiffed, Van Leeuwen finds shortcomings in Faludi's overly long presentation and narrow selection of case examples, mainly marginalized middle-class, white men.]
My father, born at the turn of the century, was too young to see active duty in the First World War and too old to serve in the Second. But as a high school athletics teacher in a small Canadian city he maintained his masculine credentials in other ways. When his school was emptied of younger teachers during World War II, he coached all the boys’ athletic teams and directed the high...
(The entire section is 1967 words.)
SOURCE: “How Now, Iron Johns?,” in Nation, December 13, 1999, pp. 18, 20-2.
[In the following unfavorable review of Stiffed, Willis objects to Faludi's nostalgic stereotypes of masculinity and her thesis that male anxiety stems from manipulative mass culture and paternal abandonment, rather than the erosion of their historical supremacy.]
In Growing Up Absurd, his classic polemic on shortchanged youth, Paul Goodman remarks, parenthetically, that “the problems I want to discuss in this book belong primarily, in our society, to the boys: how to be useful and make something of oneself. A girl does not have to, she is not expected to, ‘make...
(The entire section is 3517 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Stiffed, in Ms., Vol. 10, No. 2, February-March, 2000, p. 83.
[In the following review of Stiffed, Goldstein commends Faludi's effort to define the crisis of male identity as a product of consumerism rather than feminism, though complains of the book's excessive length and her tendency to treat men as “hapless victims.”]
There are few more flaccid cultural barometers than the New Republic, so it was a shock to see its recent cover proclaiming that “Men Don’t Need Susan Faludi to Pump Them Up.” Inside was James Wolcott’s predictably canine attack on Faludi’s new book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American...
(The entire section is 869 words.)
SOURCE: “Men are Miserable Too,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 17, 2000, pp. 9-10.
[In the following negative review of Stiffed, Kimball finds Faludi's description of a generalized “male crisis” unconvincing and contends that Faludi has merely applied the feminist argument of Backlash to men in Stiffed.]
In Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, Susan Faludi spent 550 pages telling her readers how unhappy and powerless American women are:
The truth is that the last decade has seen a powerful counterassault on women’s rights, a backlash, an attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won...
(The entire section is 1780 words.)
SOURCE: “Where Have All the Fathers Gone?,” in Tikkun, Vol. 15, No. 2, March-April, 2000, pp. 73-5.
[In the following review, Smith offers a positive evaluation of Stiffed.]
Around the beginning of the nineteenth century in the United States a remarkable shift occurred. Advice guides on parenting, almost always in earlier times addressed to fathers, changed audience and targeted mothers. They did not merely expand the table of contents; they virtually wrote fathers out of the text. Reading through the “parenting advice” literature, I was so struck by this sudden switch that I eventually emailed a historian of my acquaintance and queried him. Was my observation...
(The entire section is 2298 words.)