First, let's talk about the writing. Faludi is a brilliant writer. She could write about grass growing and make it a great read. There were times, reading her book, where I just had to stop and digest how well she puts things. A number of times, thoughts that she wrote with the beauty of Rumi came to mind.
Now, to the content of the book. Faludi submits a premise which she characterizes by a concept we learn in basic biology-- "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." And in her book, she calls the beginning narrative of the book Phylogeny.
The German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, suggested, in this theory, the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny means that as over the short time span of nine months, a fetus, in the womb, goes through ontogenetic phases of development, it recapitulates the stages of development we see as we go up the evolutional scale-- phylogenetically, that took billions of years to develop.
So we start, in biology, with single celled, then microscopic organisms, then fish, amphibia, with tails, mammals with tails, until we reach the anthropoid stage.
Faludi suggests that as a nation, we are now recapitulating our early evolutionary stages.
She says, "Haeckel's hypothesis retains a metaphorical power in the realm of cultural history. The ways that we act, say, in response to a crisis can recapitulate in quick time the centuries-long evolution of our character as a society and of the mythologies we live by. September 11 presented just such a crisis..."
In her beginning section, called ONTOGENY, She does a superb job documenting how, after the 9/11 terrorist attack, there were no obvious heroes. No brave surviving rescuers, no brave fighters, no people who bravely dug through the rubble to discover survivors. It happened so fast, all the rescuers who came to the site either died or got there too late.
So the nation, the media-- had to come up with heroes. And they chose pregnant women who lost their mates in the attack. To make this work, the media and right wing groups massively attacked the idea of strong women. Even the fashionistas made frilly the fad.
The fact was that women had played as much a role in rescuing and dying as men. But the strong women who were there, at the WTC site were marginalized and ignored, or even put down and attacked. Their strength didn't fit the STORY that was being told, being etched into stone by the media.
Faludi gives example after example-- in the media, in the fire department, in fashion-- how this attack on women relentlessly took place-- all to serve to make men feel bigger and stronger.
She writes, "What mattered was restoring the illusion of a mythic America where women needed men's protection and men succeeded in providing it. What mattered was vanquishing the myth's dark wrin, the humiliating "terror-dream" that 9/11 forced to the surface of the national consciousness. Beginning with the demotion of independent-minded female commentators, the elevation of "manly men" at ground zero, and the adoration of widowed, pregnant homemakers-- that is, a cast of characters caught up in the September 11 trauma-- the myth quickly rippled out to counsel- and chastise-- the nation at large. Most particularly its women.
Faludi mentions how the "Jersey Girls" strong women who took on president Bush and the congress, demanding a 9/11 inquiry and demanding that Bush and Cheney testify, were attacked as shrill. She reminds us how Rudy Giuliani chided them that they had to "trust our government." And the Wall Street Journal and other media complained of Jersey Girl fatigue. (I had a chance to meet and later correspond with the Jersey girls. They were heroic, in the true sense of the word. )
After solidly describing the "terror dream" and the myth that was created, or, perhaps, more accurately, resurrected, Faludi takes us back, in her Phylogeny section of the book, to show how early on, strong pioneer women were marginalized, how the books and stories about brave women, the statues were re-told and re-"visioned."
Because, back in the early days of the settling of America, when pioneers lived in log cabins, they were attacked by the terrorists of the time-- the American Indians, who would raid a house, burn it, kill the men and kidnap the women. Some women bravely fought back-- successfully. Others adapted, effectively and happily. But those events created stories of weak, ineffective men. That couldn't be.
So writers actually changed the stories, making the women weak and resurrecting the men who had run away, making them the strong heroes. Back in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, American men re-wrote history to create stories of weak, helpless women.
Putting the Salem witch trials into context, she shows that the women who were accused were independent, strong women, often widows who were not dependent upon men. Strong women were treated as insane, evil, possessed..., wrong.
I've been writing in my op-eds, for the past four years, since before the war started, that the right wing in America is engaged in a war against the feminine-- not just women, but also the feminine archetype. Jean Shinoda Bolen has written extensively about the need for women and feminine energies to make a difference (in her super book MESSAGE FROM MOTHER; Gather the Women and Save the World) Faludi brilliantly describes just how the weak, pathetic "Stupid White Men" culture that Michael Moore described in his book, of that name, how the media and the right systematically orchestrated this attack on women as strong and heroic.
She says, near the end of the book, "When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distracting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty on "fifth column" feminists-- in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only measure itself against a mythical female weakness-- we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction. Our reflexive reaction to 9/11-- fantastical, weirdly disconnected from the very real emergency at hand-- exposed a counterfeit belief system. It reprised a bogus security drill that divided men from women and mobilized them to the defense of a myth instead of the defense of a country."
Damn, she nails it. When I had a chance to meet John Kerry, I cryptically said to him, "don't let Bush be Viagra." I've said for years that Bush, his war, his cowboy idiocy, have all been props the boys in this myth, this terror dream have been projecting upon, so they could salvage their masculinity. Faludi dissects the apparition that infected America's soul. Having cast light upon it, there is no doubt it will no longer have the power it has previously enjoyed.
She writes, "To not understand the mythic underpinnings of our response to 9/11 is, in a fundamental way, to not understand ourselves, to be so unknowing about the way we inhabit our cultural roles that we are stunned, insensible, when confronted by a moment that requires our full awareness. To fail to comprehend the historical provenance of our reaction, the phylogeny behind our ontogeny, is to find ourselves thwarted in our ability to express what we have undergone..."
The book is a brilliant exploration of aspects of American culture we don't ordinarily think of. If you like Zinn's People's History of the United States, or if you are willing to see America with new eyes, this book could be for you.