In Susan Faludi’s Terror Dream, she notes that after the 9/11 attacks, which were, ironically, aimed against our country because it was liberal and Westernized, the men in our country went berserk and used the attack as an excuse to force women back into the protected victim role and to turn our male leaders into cartoonized chest banging cowboy heroes.
Stories of women’s heroism in and out of the attacks were ignored and strong women, especially those who made trouble for the government, like the Jersey Girls who questioned the official story of 9/11, were marginalized and branded as outcasts, troublemakers, witches.
Here are some select comments from the Amazon.com listing of the book:
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.”
“First things first, I commend Faludi, as always, for her writing style. Faludi’s journalism background has made her books very readable and her latest is no exception. Those who fear a long-winded book full of academic jargon need not be afraid. This is vintage Faludi.
Second, a previous reviewer has dismissed the argument of this book that it’s just human nature the way people respond to such crises. Faludi goes to show us the opposite: human nature includes a survival instinct within us all, male or female but too often, other forces and the need to create heroes brings up a divide between men and women, casting the former as heroes and the latter as the victimized in need of saving. Perhaps this isn’t a new argument, but Faludi brings it new life by comparing the post-9/11 climate to earlier periods in the history of the United States. I had heard of many of the male archetypes referred to here, the Daniel Boones, the Natty Bumppos but I have never read many captivity narratives and to me, this was new ground.
I could have used a bit more in the beginning when Faludi discusses Susan Sontag and Barbara Kingsolver. What those writers said after 9/11 is never quoted in full; I admit feeling a little angry at their comments in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, not because I was bloodthirsty but because they seemed the words of apologists and ill-timed. Then again, that was my emotional response to a day that still haunts me and I’ll never be able to think rationally about it, but it would also cause me to miss Faludi’s point: it’s not so much what they said as the reaction to the women who spoke out as opposed to male commentators who said similar things yet were ignored by the press.
I recommend this book, whether you agree with it or not. As interesting as the first section of the book is, it’s the second that held my interest best. This book will undoubtedly anger some, but it’s worth reading and discussing, adding to an increasing lists of polemics about the current state of the union.”
“The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America, by Susan Faludi, is unsettling.
Let me start with her ending:
“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 distrusting 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 in ‘fifth column’ feminists – in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female weakness – we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction” (p. 295).
What? And Susan Faludi can make a case for this? As it turns out, however complex this is, Faludi makes a very strong case. There is a smell somewhere in the house, and Faludi attempts to track it down.
Here is the book, in outline form.
1. There was an event we call 9/11.
2. Society at all levels responded to this event.
3. In an extraordinary reversal of the “Rosie the Riveter” phenomenon that redefined the potential for women to hold up this nation, at all levels of society and in all quarters, the post 9/11 phenomena of “manly men” and “perfect virgins” is being forced upon us in entertainment, politics, media coverage, the blogiverse, and unfortunately, journalism.
4. This will have further impacts on society.
Faludi, with the writing and analysis skills I appreciated in her book, Backlash, tackles this topic head-on. My first reaction? Guilt. I was oblivious to the broader issues here. Yet now, I wonder how I could have missed it.
The late Jerry Falwell’s rant against “pagans, abortionists, and feminists” for lifting God’s “veil of protection” from the US apparently had a much wider and receptive audience than I would have guessed.
Here’s what Faludi says:
“In some murky fashion, women’s independence had become implicated in our nation’s failure to protect itself” (p. 21).
The sedition? Women’s liberation “feminized” men. And feminists have emasculated our military’s ability to defend our nation.
I knew it was my fault.
Women writers and speakers seeking to find meaning and lessons in the 9/11 attacks were raked over the coals. Women-authored opinion pieces practically disappeared from view. Author Barbara Kingsolver, crucified in the national press for a quote she never even said, lamented “The response was not the response you would expect toward a child. It was more like we were witches” (p. 32).
And you know how we treat witches.
There was the return of the “supermen” (aka Rumsfeld and Cheney). The women on Flight 93 were forgotten. Tributes to women firefighters were rare. Male victims in the Twin Towers were overshadowed by the wives of these victims [I certainly believe there were many, many victims].
“If women were ineligible for hero status, for what would they be celebrated” (p. 80)? Faludi argues that the role of women in the post-9/11 world was as “perfect virgins of grief.”
The second half of the book is Faludi’s analysis of how American society got to this point. She discusses the historical factors “predisposing” society to a world as defined by the Rush Limbaugh types.
Wait till Limbaugh gets a summary of this book.
The most surprising thing, for me, was that I needed Faludi to sharpen my eyesight. There were things going on around me that perhaps I wasn’t seeing. She gives me glasses that I can use to see for myself whether a post 9/11 world is as “culture bending” as she claims.
What was missing from this book is any kind of response from those who would disagree with her premise.
So, Susan Faludi, thank you for opening my eyes. You will make many people angry. You will make some contemplative. And you will make others active.”
I suggest we take a good look at the true underlying forces at work both when our country is under attack AND when it’s not, so we can perhaps move past this silly culture in which women are supposed to be ignored victims and men the heroes.
We should take this day to remember the FEMALE heroes and commentators, the mothers who fight for the truth about the attacks and about our government’s handling of the attacks and of foreign problems, and of course, the innocent women and children who are killed every day in the Middle East, both by our troops and by their own bloodthirsty men. For all we talk about Osama and how he had his wives, there are hundreds of women being beaten every day by their husbands here in the west.
For 9/11 and the resulting era did not constitute any “new” kind of war, but the same old war we’ve all been forced to endure: men’s war against women.