The Betrayal of the American Man
by Susan Faludi
William Morrow & Co., 1999 662 pp. $27.50
Are American men in crisis, entrapped in a consumer culture without the opportunity to pursue meaningful work, and in psychic despair, searching for the emotional and material support of their fathers? In more than six hundred pages documenting numerous case studies, Susan Faludi suggests that they are, and that they fear not only downward mobility but the loss of adequate “fathering” provided to the generation that preceded them. A further “cause” of their plight, she writes, is the emphasis on celebrity in American culture.
Faludi, a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, is best known for Backlash, a book that documented the blame heaped on feminism (even by some prominent feminists) for everything from women’s bad divorce settlements to poor child care. She now explores the anger and discontent of the baby-boom generation of white and black men whose attempts to achieve the “promise of America” have ended in disappointment and often in despair. Through this book she hopes to make men conscious of their condition and to encourage them to mobilize in ways approximating the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This is a commendable task, but it is doubtful whether men will either accept its premises or identify with the individuals Faludi refers to in making her case.
Scores of men, their wives and partners, friends and kin, and the sharks that have exploited them come alive through Faludi’s keen reporting. The men she writes about are presented as prototypes of the generation of baby-boomer men who have experienced layoffs, broken promises of upward mobility, the Vietnam War, meaningless work, and new definitions of “what it means to be a man” in contemporary America. The narratives in Faludi’s book are woven through with themes of loss and the substitution of superficial values for the “real” values of meaningful work.
But her choice of stories is an example of the very problem Faludi derides—the focus on celebrity and media attention. Almost every individual and group in the book has been on the front pages of newspapers throughout the country and on prime-time television. Although many of their troubles have been widely experienced, their situations are unique. A number of the men are heroes or “stars,” and many live on the fringe of acceptable society. Some sought fame and some were caught up in it, but all were damaged by the manipulations of a bloodthirsty communications industry, which itself “stiffed” men today.
Faludi asserts that many men today feel “shipwrecked” in a service economy, but that this is only the start of their troubles. Victims of downsizing and de-skilling, they no longer play breadwinner roles in their families and develop difficulties in their marriages. In some cases wives they once supported now supp...
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