Sunday, August 2, 2009

Susan Faludi's "The Terror Dream"

It's great to read books where the author expresses everything you believe. Pierce's Idiot America was such a book for me. But it's equally great to read an author who offers you a completely new perspective on things. Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream gave me an opportunity to analyze the post-9/11 media and politics from a feminist point of view. Or rather, from the point of view of the damage that the collective trauma of 9/11 did to the feminist movement and its achievements.

The terror attacks of 9/11, Faludi argues, punctured the myth of America's invincibility. The feelings of fear and insecurity that everybody experienced as a result led to the emergence of a series of phenomena aimed at restoring this feeling of invincibility and security. Sadly, this restoration was conducted along the lines of the patriarchal vision of gender: "The myth of American invincibility required the mirage of womanly dependency, the illusion of a helpless family circle in need of protection from a menacing world. Without that show of feminine frailty, the culture could not sustain the other figment vital to the myth, of a nesting America shielded by the virile and vigilant guardians of its frontier. As the pageant of domesticity played out on the lifestyle page, the spectacle of virility unforlded on the political stage." Faludi's book analyzes the ways in which the media attempted to convince us of the validity and the profound relevance of the patriarchal worldview for the post-9/11 world.

Armed with her truly extensive research, Faludi demonstrates that the responses to the trauma of 9/11 represent a coherent whole, fueled by the call for the return to the traditional gender roles: "Taken individually, the various impulses that surfaced after 9/11 - the denigration of capable women, the magnification of manly men, the heightened call for domesticity, the search for and sanctification of helpless girls - might seem random expressions of some profound cultural derangement. But taken together, they form a coherent and inexorable whole, the cumulative elements of a national fantasy in which we are deeply invested, our elaborately constructed myth of invincibility."

Faludi analyzes the reasons behind many events that in the aftermath of the trauma we might have failed to notice and address. The push to present the heroes of 9/11 as exclusively male and its victims as exclusively female (even though this goes against all available evidence). The evisceration of female intellectuals (Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Sontag, Katha Pollitt) for saying the exact same things that their male colleagues were saying with impunity at that very moment. The promulgation of unsupported myths about women deciding to abandon the workplace in massive numbers, women choosing family over careers, and women desperate to get married and have babies as a result of 9/11. The push for the return to traditional gender roles. The fictitious image of "security moms." The treatment of 9/11 widows and the complete marginalization of 9/11 widowers. The story of Jessica Lynch that was based on an incredible number of lies and distorions.

Faludi delves into the depths of American history in order to disinter its foundational myths and discover why the collective trauma of 9/11 provoked such an unequivocally gendered response. Well-written, brilliantly argued, beautifully researched, Faludi's book is definitely worth reading.

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