By Susan Faludi
I first wrote about this book on July 19, 2008 on Goodreads. A subsequent edition of the book has been released in since then, with a new subtitle: “Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America.” I have not read that newer edition.
As always, I really enjoy reading a Susan Faludi book. It’s a marvel to behold the breadth and diversity of sources that she finds to support her assertions. It’s always a scholarly rather than an outraged approach to the topic at hand (although still biased–but I can handle biased), and however relentlessly the author pushes examples into your face she never tells you what to think about the situation. You come to your own conclusions.
1. I thought the first half was excellent, from the representations of male and female roles in the popular and serious press, immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center in NYC. I thought the bit about the female firefighters was TEH BEST EVR until I read the chapter on Jessica Lynch, a female soldier who had been injured and then brought to an Iraqi hospital, and then taken out of it in an organized rescue event. If what Jessica Lynch as reported by Susan Faludi is saying is true, then I can’t even imagine how the spin and lies got as far as they did. If you read only one chapter from the book, read that one. It’s even better than the one that discusses the hunter and mountain man imagery that shrouded the presidential race of 2004.
2. I thought the second part of the book was even more interesting, although I am still not convinced that it exactly fits. It tackled the subject of the captivity narrative, a literary genre that originated in the United States way back when, starting with tales from women who had been abducted by native Americans and returned to tell the tale (or, in many cases, had to be dragged back kicking and screaming). Faludi presents this tradition as the foundation for the current portrayals of women needing rescuing and men being judged on their failure to and success for protecting and saving them. It really is interesting to see how culture affects politics, even across the course of centuries. Or how politics struggle to find legitimacy in cultural representations, even if reality does not reflect the stories a nation tells about its people.
(This is an aside, but the Salem Witch Trials were also presented against the background of the captivity narrative. The author refers to a book (?) by Carol Karlsen called “The Devil in the Shape of a Woman,” which examines the role gender played. Perhaps obvious now [20 years after Karlsen wrote] is that the bulk of the accused and the executed were successful, important, or independent women who lived outside strict social control. What I didn’t realize was that the bulk of the accusers were young girls who had been orphaned and traumatized during Indian raids, forced to witness dreadful things perpetrated against people they knew and loved.)
3. I’m not sure how the two parts hold together, at least not beneath the title “The Terror Dream.” The title comes from the 18th and 19th century examples of capture and rescue, specifically of a male from a novel–The Searcher? I can’t remember–waking up from the terror dream that has numbed him throughout his life so that he can act to save a girl. You can see how Faludi tried to insert this phrase into other parts of the books, but it is awkward at the beginning and only really makes sense when you see it in context almost at the end. I don’t disagree that the events following 9/11 are absolutely pertinent to the captivity/rescue tradition established in the second part of the book, but they don’t connect well as presented. I have a feeling she set out to write a book about Post-9/11 America (note the subtitle) and it morphed, but after her proposal had been accepted by the publisher and she had cashed the advance check.
So the two parts of the book are individually cohesive and very interesting, and they do relate significantly to each other, but my complaint is that they seem like they were forced to fit a title. That is my complaint about the book.
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