One of my grand reading "plans" that I always seem to have but rarely goes anywhere is my "Read the Things I Studied in College" plan. (The other is my "Read the Books Mentioned in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.") It's not that I wouldn't have wanted to read these books during college, but we were usually assigned them in excerpted form in an anthology. Classes like Survey of Western Political Theory and History of Feminism were big on this, and both of them have interesting enough books that I've wanted to discover them in their unexpunged version.

Recently, I read one of the History of Feminism books: Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Written by Susan Faludi in the early 1990s, the book's central premise is that after the women's rights successes of the 1970s, various cultural forces congealed to form a "backlash" against women that succeeded in stopping their success, beginning a slow chip away at women's rights and blaming all of women's problems on feminism. I really like the title of the book, and its subtitle, although while reading the book I would sometimes amuse myself by thinking up alternate but still appropriate subtitles, like Backlash: I DON'T Love the '80s or Backlash: You Think Dubya Was Bad? REAGAN, Bitches! Although I don't know if Faludi would approve of my use of the word "Bitches!"

I "enjoyed" reading this book, in as best as you can enjoy books that talk about women being demonized, kept out of white collar jobs, subject to intense discrimination in blue collar ones, killed by beauty products (SRSLY!) and abused by "fetal rights" laws (as in "Oh, you're dying? You need a cesarean that'll speed along the process! You're going to die anyway, so what do you care?"). Okay, by the last chapter I just wanted to be DONE because I was so depressed by it and took to breaking up my reading with looks at Lost Girls, where the women are intact and having sex and happy but I'm losing the plot, here.

Anyway, I liked reading the book, and would say it is essential read for any feminist. That being said, it was not without its problems. For one, it's very much a product of its time, rather than timeless. Faludi has a wealth of statistics and anecdotal evidence about a variety of different subjects that she uses to make her point, but very often I found myself asking, "Well, is that still true? And is that still true? And were these accurate assessments of the period? Do these still exist in ours?" Many of the men she holds up as anti-feminists, and who come across in her book as either hypocrites (two of the anti-feminist men married working, independent women who remained that way after marriage) or total fucking loonbags (Robert Bly screaming at an old lady with cancer) are pretty much unheard of by someone of my generation. I also disagreed with Faludi on some of her assessments of specific media shows. I mean ... Overboard as a "backlash" movie? Sure, it has a "Taming of the Shrew" plot, but the guy has to learn what an asshole he is in the story, too ...

But nevermind. While the book is mired in the specifics of its time, it is very useful for determining trends and effectively smashing anti-feminist arguments. There are a few central and important points I took away from the book that I wish I could impress upon the general world. And so ...

1.) Women's liberation did not suddenly make everything better for women at one point in time and remain that way since then. In one of the best chapters of the book, Faludi outlines the history of feminism in America, and states when feminism makes a step forward (suffrage, the visibility in the workforce during World War II, the reproductive rights and anti-discrimination laws of the 1970s) forces congeal to stop it in its tracks soon after. The tenor of these complaints are remarkably similar across time: feminism hurts women, feminism robs women of their essential femininity, independent women hurt men, blah blah blah.

2.) Single women not being able to get married and being unhappy from their unmarried status is a load of crap mostly created from the media botching up and promoting botched up studies. In fact, men often have more issues from being single and have more problems getting married later than women. LOL.

3.) Affirmative action and women entering the work force has less to do with white men not getting jobs than the economy just sucking in general. It's not so much that women are "taking" men's jobs, but there are just LESS JOBS IN GENERAL due to outsourcing and elimination of blue-collar jobs, and these less jobs now have more than just white men competing for them.

4.) Contrary to their poor reputation, feminists do more for mothers and children than right-wing groups. Mostly because daycare, changed divorce laws and maternity leave benefits = feminist issues. Many of the right-wing groups interviewed/quoted in the book would rather see them destroyed.

5.) Many anti-feminist women live the feminist life (a.k.a. no, Sarah Palin probably would not have made things better for women just because she makes more money than her husband). Backlash features many prominent profiles of anti-feminist women, women who argue that women's place is solely in the home taking care of the children, who have high-powered careers and rely on a combination of their husbands/daycare/nannies to take care of their children: Connaught "Connie" Marsher, Beverly LaHaye, Phyllis Schafly, etc. Most of the women, when confronted on this, will make an argument that qualifies it (like Beverly LaHaye's "I'm being strong for JESUS") or say that they're the exception to the rule (Marsher).

6.) Women actually DO make the entertainment business money. The big men in white suits at the resent making stuff for us. (Are we listening, comics feminists?) Faludi makes this argument most persuasively in her analyses of television shows. Cagney and Lacey, which featured two women - one single and one married - as cops, faced resistance from the network every step of the way, and faced cancellation until female fans started a huge letter-writing campaign to bring it back (which succeeded!). OTOH, shows that promoted a very traditional view of women and demonized single women and feminists were given praises even though their numbers were kind of crappy, like thirtysomething.

7.) No, the fashion industry has no idea how real women dress and they don't care. The book talks a lot about how the "Dress for Success" movement led to many women buying suits -- which they didn't have to buy too many of -- to go to work. The fashion industry, which made more money from women wearing a variety of dresses, tried to respond by making unpractical, babyish clothes and deriding suits, but women largely hated them because they were infantile and uncomfortable. Also, the part of the book where Faludi describes women in Victoria's Secret buying panties from the cheap rack while men buy the complicated lingerie for their girlfriends is SO TRUE IT HURTS. And I'm someone who likes lingerie as costume wear.

8.) The beauty industry hates us and probably wants us to die. Dunno if this is still true, but the book says plastic surgeons get most of their money from correcting other surgeons' mistakes. Also, people have died from breast implants. (Although seriously my friends: "Put PLASTIC in your body. No, no, nothing will happen!" I mean, really?) Also, anti-aging products are a load of bullshit. DON'T MAKE THEM FEEL BAD FOR WHO YOU ARE.

9.) It is very, very, very, very common for anti-feminist arguments to be couched in the language of feminism. You can "choose" life. You can "choose" to stay home with your children. Women "choose" to take jobs that are less demanding and aren't kept out of them by sex discrimination at ALL. (AAARGH! HATE THIS ONE HATE HATE HATE!) Women "choose" to have breast implants that can kill them. Women can "choose" to be feminine. Women can "choose" to be submissive. Etc. Etc. Etc. Now let us limit the options so you can MAKE YOUR CHOICE MORE EASILY YES?

This book is, however, perhaps very weak on intersectionality, although Faludi is sympathetic to the plight of poor black women and the conflicting messages they receive (Specifically the "White woman who works is selfish and doesn't care about her children/Black woman who doesn't work is lazy and doesn't care about her children" chestnut.), and their lack of options in the workforce. So the scope of this book is mostly limited to straight white women in America. Not so good and something the feminist movement needs to move beyond, but nevertheless it works very well within its limited sphere.

Also, I don't know if its section on reproductive rights quite encompasses the whole of the anti-abortion movement and seems to dwell on its worse parts. The "We can do better in the 1990s!" afterward also rings bitter in the late 2000s era where it doesn't feel like a whole lot has changed. (Although the anti-women battles with the Religious Right of the 1980s are EXTREMELY similar to the anti-gay battles with the Religious Right of the 2000s. I don't know if it means they needed to find a new scapegoat or scapegoating homosexuals is easier.)

Still, I wish more women would read this book, particularly young women. I think it would help them combat the anti-feminist bullshit messages out there a lot better than Jessica Valenti's bland platitudes. Although its length (460 pages without notes and index, 552 with) and some of the statistic citing may be prohibitive. Nevertheless, I think the book, though imperfect, should be necessary for any feminist's bookshelf. And if you haven't read it, now is the time to do it.
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