In a succinct 354 pages (shockingly brief for the normally prolix [Susan] Faludi), she argues that in the months and years following the 9/11 attacks, the rhetoric surrounding various notions of national security (some of it appropriate, much of it overly simplistic and reactive) enabled the media to more or less announce that the whole nation was returning to traditional values and gender roles.
Citing changes such as the sudden and precipitous drop in the presence of female print journalists and news anchors right after 9/11, or what she saw as a marked upsurge in trend pieces about educated women choosing motherhood over careers, Faludi laments that we have responded “to real threats to our nation by distracting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life” and have “base[d] our security on a mythical male strength that can only measure itself against a mythical female weakness.”
One of the few things I’ll defend more vigorously than the rights of women is the right of social critics to make sweeping, dangerously elastic connections between ideas that may have as much to do with one another as pegged jeans and North Korea. So I’ll admit that I was cheering Faludi on from Page 1. Despite the dissertation-like qualities of her Big Idea — that the ultra-masculine mythos of the American frontier has long belied a deep shame about not being able to fend off attacks from Indians — her writing is so deft that the work of many of her ostensible peers (Kate O’Beirne, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Danielle Crittenden) reads, by comparison, like transcripts from “The View.”
That said, I’m not sure that much or even most of what Faludi is putting forth has any basis in reality. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about why increasing numbers of American women seem to have whittled their ambitions down to the size of engagement rings and baby booties (or inflated them into silicon breasts or collagen-filled lips), I’m about as rapt an audience as Faludi could hope for. But her assertion that the return of domestic goddesshood is not only a result of post-9/11 psychological vulnerability but actually a media creation didn’t fascinate me as much as it made me wish things were that simple.