Susan Faludi,
Stiffed: The Betrayal
of the American Man

(William Morrow Co., 1999)

In this ground-breaking sudy of the contemporary "male crisis," award-winning journalist and author Susan Faludi cements her reputation first gained in Backlash (1991), as a most astute analyst of gender relations. Her goal is to find out why men in today's USA are unhappy, angry, bewildered and all too often violent. The author skewers conventional wisdom that suggests that either men must change their individual natures to overcome this crisis or that men are the victims of the undeserving, scheming feminists, affirmative action proponents and job-grabbing illegal aliens.

Faludi arrives at a different conclusion by dint of spending time with men -- laid-off industrial workers, bewildered Vietnam vets, sports fans, media executives, Promise Keepers, porn stars, ex-cons, movie stars and others -- chronicling their thoughts, aspirations, explanations and exasperations, finding that men are not to blame for their current predicament, nor on the whole is some sinister other. Rather, culture and society has betrayed American men of the post-World War II world, this being documented in meticulous detail with extensive notes and bibliography.

Faludi shows how men were taught by their fathers to assume inheritance of a world they would firmly control -- it turns out they don't control it at all and there is an overwhelming sense of parental abandonment. Meaningful work that both established and existed within a wider social purpose is gone for all but a few. The virtues of trust and loyalty are now laughable anachronisms, all that is left of masculinity being an ornamental facade of what Faludi terms individual male "superdominance."

The author depicts how we have changed fundamentally from a society that produced a culture to a culture rooted in no real society at all, global corporatism sweeping away institutions on which men felt some sense of belonging and replacing them with visual spectacles that they can only watch while constantly being bombarded by advertisements to buy consumer goods to fill the void. Loss of economic authority, devaluation of loyalty, their fathers' silence and the elevation of the ornamental as the standard of personal worth lie at the heart of men's discontent and men have not rebelled because no simple enemy is responsible.

But that, for Faludi, offers hope in a conclusion that men and women have an opportunity to move beyond an adversarial relationship to create change together, to create a new paradigm for human progress that will open doors for both sexes as they fight the dilemma of mutually being powerless in a modern, corporate-dominated society.

Stiffed is a major reassessment of what it is to be a man in modern America. Lucidly and compassionately written, this is brilliant stuff, cutting through nonsense, allowing men to speak for themselves and taking from their words original and sympathetic insights. Provocative, sure to stimulate important dialogues, Stiffed is, despite its monumental size, enthralling to read, brimming with edifying content -- essential reading for people of both sexes.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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