The feminist artillery

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By MARIA RITA KEHL*

Considerations on the book by Susan Faludi

Who is largely responsible for the retreat of American feminism from the 1980s onwards – husbands and fathers resentful of women's power? Reagan-era New Right politicians? The fashion industry? The conservative media? The cosmetics industry? The repentant feminist leaders of the 1970s?

If the reader has thought of any of these answers, he will be agreeing with the arguments of Susan Faludi, author of Backlash: The Counterattack in the Undeclared War on Women. The book, an extensive report on the anti-feminist reaction in the United States, was published in 1991 and has become an important reference on the subject. Faludi describes the advances and setbacks of fashion and advertising, medicine, Hollywood cinema and especially the press, as a broad and well-orchestrated battlefront against the feminist ideals and achievements of the 1960s and 1970s, a front that she qualifies as a war against women in general.

The data and dramatic stories chosen by the author to illustrate her point are compelling. From 1980 onwards, when feminist militancy seemed to have lost some of its initial momentum, some academics and journalists gained sudden notoriety by disseminating research in which feminism appeared to be largely responsible for the unhappiness of independent women, described as stressed, unhealthy and poorly managed executives. beloved. Ambitious women who postponed marriage or motherhood to invest in their career would be realizing their mistake too late, when men supposedly no longer wanted them, and the chances of getting pregnant decreased every year.

Birth shortage theorists have appealed to xenophobia, militarism and bigotry, accusing feminism of having corrupted women's vocation to motherhood, thereby weakening the American nation. If white, enlightened, middle-class women didn't breed enough, the country would be overwhelmingly populated by poor, black, and Chicanos. An attorney general for the government's Commission on Pornography blamed women who worked and studied for the rise in rape: by exposing themselves on the streets, they created more opportunities to be molested.

The list of absurdities uttered and committed against the emancipation of women, including by other women, is endless. Even the most basic rights, such as child care for children of working women, are contested by conservative public opinion; unlike all industrialized countries in the world, the United States does not have a government plan for day care and child care. Workers victimized by the 1980s recession, who on average had been earning 25% less than in the 1970s, accused women who worked to supplement the family income of usurping their place as breadwinners for the family, even though women's wages had declined. always kept below that of men.

After the first hundred pages of denunciations and accusations, Susan Faludi's theses start to sound a little too convincing. In the end, the reader already resents the excess of evidence accumulated by the author. Something is missing here, where evidence abounds in favor of the victimization of women. Backlash intends to be an analysis of the antifeminist movement in the United States, but it is nothing more than a heavy piece of artillery in this supposed war in which the antagonists seem as well defined as in a second-rate film. No criticism of feminism is taken into account by the author.

In order to remain unshakable in her convictions, Faludi ignores the social and family crisis triggered by the displacement of women from their traditional positions, a crisis that probably motivated anti-feminist resentment in North American society and that, throughout the Western world, women and men still are trying to resolve. Faced with the new problems faced by women in modern times, the conservative appeal for a retreat to positions that have already become impossible in practice gains strength.

But if Susan Faludi's reportage is insufficient to help us understand the complex relationship between women, men, masculinity and femininity (not necessarily in that order) – a relationship entirely mediated by the phallus and its symbols –, it is still a work illuminating about the fate of ideas and social conflicts in mass society. The book is, in itself, a denunciation of mass culture and a symptom of its worst, as the author reveals herself incapable of going beyond the terms in which the problems of post-feminism are presented by the press, advertising and the media. television, reduced to the vectors that lend themselves to the statistical analysis of market research.

Feminism is a good in relation to which ideal consumers are called upon to take a stand. Emotional comfort, well-being and self-confidence are the parameters, typical of an individualistic culture, used to assess the degree of success of women's life choices, whether political, affective, ethical or style. “Media repercussions” are the barometer and yardstick for evaluating the success of all endeavors.

If an idea “made the media”, it has fulfilled its destiny, regardless of its consistency, its effects, its honesty. Backlash it is full of cases of doctors, academics and stylists who, in search of impact in the media, invent magical methods of rejuvenation, bombastic revelations about the key to happiness for women or detect nostalgic trends of return to the Victorian style in women's fashion.

However, as several passages of Backlash demonstrate, the great wave of feminist expansion may also have been a media and publicity phenomenon. The fashion and cosmetics industries, pointed out by the author as major enemies of feminist ideals, also got rich selling practical suits for emancipated women, comfortable lingerie for unsubmissive wives who refused to seduce their husbands with lace and frills.

Even a perfume, (“Charlie”, by Revlon) launched in 1973, had its stock sold out in a few weeks for presenting itself as the fragrance of the powerful “new woman”. But the need for permanent renewal of the cultural industry made feminism as obsolete as all other market trends and replaced the fashion of the emancipated woman with that of the neo-Victorians, the sale of Gadgets to make life easier for the self-employed by selling products to the next generation's matchmaking girls.

Susan Faludi does not realize that American feminism may have been captured by this logic of the media, fashion and advertising, transforming itself into yet another mass phenomenon in a mass society, as outdated and inconsistent as all the others. others.

If the feminism of the 1960s and 1970s was projected as a media phenomenon, “leveraged” by the powerful American publishing and cinematographic industry, pampered by the fashion industry, it is not surprising that in the following decade feminist leaders fearful of falling into obscurity tried to project itself again by releasing revisionist books, like the legendary Betty Friedan with The Second Stage (1981); or that a former pacifist like the poet Robert Bly reemerges ten years after his first moment of public prominence, urging men, in grand lectures at $55 a head, to ignore pressure from women and return to their wild, warrior ways. , animalistic – the essence of true masculinity.

More than a counterattack in the war against women, Backlash can be read as a symptomatic reaction of American society against the alienation of mass culture, which casts everyone, men and women, into the worst version of the female condition. Not because the western world is under the power of women. Not because there are no longer machos like those of yesteryear. But because mass culture appropriates the lines that challenge it and robs subjects of their status as political, social, aesthetic agents. Like the voiceless and voteless women of the most backward cultures, in mass society we are all transformed into objects of the Other's discourse.

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of Displacements of the feminine: the freudian woman in the passage to modernity (boitempo).

 

Reference


Susan Faludi Backlash. Backlash: The Counterattack in the Undeclared War on Women. Translated by Mario Fondelli. Rio de Janeiro, Rocco, 460 pages.

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul [https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/fsp/mais/fs0601200210.htm], on January 06, 2002.

 

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