Backlash by Susan Faludi – Some Thoughts, and Takeaways


I deliver book synopsis presentations for business books. And I do the same for books on social justice and poverty issues.

Backlash_Susan_FaludiToday, I will present my synopsis of an older book for the Urban Engagement Book Club. The book is Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi. It was first published in 1991, and the Fifteenth Anniversary edition, which included a new preface, was published in 2006,

Short version – women have been seeking progress toward equality for a very long time. And, every time they do, there is a “backlash” against such efforts. And… progress is slow, “reversed,” and not enough… not ever…

Here are a few excerpts, to help us understand the issue:

As Rebecca West wrote sardonically in 1913, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” 

“Before everything else I’m a human being.”     

Feminism asks the world to recognize at long last that women aren’t decorative ornaments, worthy vessels, members of a “special-interest group.” They are half (in fact, now more than half) of the national population, and just as deserving of rights and opportunities, just as capable of participating in the world’s events, as the other half. Feminism’s agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to “choose” between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women be free to define themselves—instead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men.

I cannot understand, at any personal level, what this book describes. But as I read it, I felt a sense of sadness. I think we’re in a period of “stepping back.”

As I write this, the concern about race issues is dominating the news (Ferguson, Michael Brown; New York, Eric Garner).

And, internationally, we know plenty about the horrible state of girls and women (kidnappings; murders – of large numbers of girls in Mexico, and in parts of Africa).

And, there are growing elements of a culture of sexual harassment, and abuse, and even rape throughout some businesses and academic institutions in our own country. (The latest accusations are against top management at Zillow. And, of course, there are the shocking accusations against Bill Cosby – alleged actions, against multiple victims, over a long period of time).

And, as Sheryl Sandberg (and many others) recently chronicled, women are still so very under-represented in actual positions of power and influence.

But, if a person claims there is “a war on women,” it is denied, ignored… ridiculed.

I make this simple suggestion – if you think women are not facing a seriously uphill battle, read this book.

Here are my takeaways from the book. You might find them worth pondering.

#1 – Beware of “trend journalism” – look for facts! (“Good luck” finding facts).
#2 – The forces to protect white male privilege are, it appears, up to the task, time and time again.
#3 – Every tool that can be used will be used to reverse feminism’s progress – including seeming gains/progress for women (and the women who claim “victory,” or at least “greater progress” with such gains)…
#4 – This too is fact – it will take sustained, keep-at-it political activism, over the long haul, to make any actual lasting changes.
#5 – And, any progress can be reversed in a very short time… will be reversed in a very short time… “expect it.”
#6 — In other words, the fight must be continued against each new round of backlash – and the backlash will come, each and every time…

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