Susan Faludi: Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male

Susan Faludi: Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male

In the weeks since its release, Susan Faludi's Stiffed—an indirect follow-up to Backlash, her lengthy chronicle of anti-feminist trends—has been frequently misread (or at least misrepresented) as strictly documenting a growing dissatisfaction among disempowered American men. Faludi, for instance, was widely tapped to comment publicly on the much-hyped and fortuitously timed Fight Club, a film ostensibly about the very situation her book describes. But the fact that Fight Club fizzled implies that a male crisis may not be quite as big an issue as the media have made it out to be. Faludi's ambitious 600-page book, however, isn't so much social criticism from a feminist vantage as it is an anecdotal history of how the status of American men and the rules of labor have changed in the years following WWII. Where once American men could depend upon a system of entitlement and exclusivity (i.e. white male privilege), the rise of the Civil Rights movement ushered in an era of mandatory inclusiveness, which demanded the integration of the workplace (by women and minorities) and thereby changed its dynamics. In many ways, the conclusions Faludi reaches are foregone. Contemporary American society is constantly seeking an idealistic state of fair equilibrium, so any shift in the balance of power inevitably sends things into flux. Faludi's book reveals these conflicts of tradition, entitlement, and renewal as ideological battles: Interview subjects range from shipyard workers to celebrities to porn stars, but her book constantly finds corollaries with warfare, both overtly (Vietnam, militias, the Citadel controversy) and tangentially (the success of the Rambo films, widely mobilized men's groups like The Promise Keepers, the struggle between workers and callous CEOs). The decline of a sense of proud masculine duty, as exemplified by military service, serves as a good synopsis of the problems Faludi addresses: After the Vietnam War, the armed forces—the once-guaranteed bastion of masculine exclusivity—lost the appeal that empowered the generation that fought in WWII. As the wheels of privilege turned to other groups, Faludi writes that some men were sent into moral crisis, desperate for a sense of purpose in a new society that sees them as optional. Faludi does a nice job of illustrating how changing perceptions of masculinity can also change men themselves, but the book feels incomplete: She spends so much time studying such prominent personalities as the vile Spur Posse, Sylvester Stallone, and other high-profile media figures that her conclusions may be somewhat distorted. The lack of alternate perspectives or control subjects (happy and successful men, women, non-Americans) weakens the strength of her tenuously unscientific study. Stiffed cries out for a companion piece to fill the gaps.

Filed Under: Books

More Book Review