IT'S AN UNFORTUNATE FACT that the least convincing advocates for the male gripes of the past 20 years have been men themselves. Across the social and political spectrum, from the drum-beating liberalism of Robert "Iron John" Bly to the finger-pointing histrionics of Rush Limbaugh, men speaking about male issues have come across as self-obsessed, angry, irrational, and just plain whiny. The favorite nemesis of most men when they attempt to explain what's got them so angry is feminism and feminists, who they claim have stolen their jobs, wrecked their homes, and terminally damaged their ancestral right to self-confidence. Stiffed
by Susan Faludi (William Morrow, $27.50) Which makes it all the more remarkable that author Susan Faludi, the feminist writer best known for Backlash, the Pulitzer Prize-winning study of how the media has attacked feminism, has stepped into the fray on the side of her apparent enemy. Her new book Stiffed is not only a model of closely reasoned arguments for the betrayal of the American male in this century, but a work of astonishing compassion. She neatly avoids the common feminist argument that men are the problem, instead asking the question: Why are men today so angry and lost in their lives? The answers she receives from a vast spectrum of men are unexpected yet unnervingly similar, and reveal that despite all accepted wisdom, it's men, not women, who are undergoing the greater crisis of identity in our society. In the seven years she took to research and write this imposing work, Faludi interviewed workers at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard and the nearby McDonnell Douglas aircraft plant; teen members of the notorious Spurs Posse (who collected "points" based on numbers of sexual conquests); rabid fans of the Cleveland Browns, who were trying to stop their team from leaving town; Promise Keepers watching their movement collapse underneath them; repentant draft-dodgers and shattered Vietnam Vets; militiamen holding vigils in Waco, Texas; former astronauts out on book tours; drag queens who'd led the Stonewall Riots; cadets at the Citadel; and male porn stars paid a fraction of their female counterparts. It's a bewildering array of personalities and professions, positively Dickensian in its scope and diversity, and Faludi is painstaking in her attempts to reveal the particulars of each of the men that she meets. THE AMERICAN MALE is revealed as a figure who has been cheated out of meaningful work and a prominent social role by economic forces beyond his control, and often beyond his understanding. The fathers who fought World War II failed to pass on the proper lessons to their own sons—that the freedoms won were not an affirmation of mindless materialism and the consumer culture. For all of their attacks on feminism and women's societywide shift in status, Faludi shows that men chronically lack what women gained 30 years ago: a consciousness of their situation. Some critics have contested that Stiffed is not just lengthy but too long. With all due respect to those reviewers, I suspect their gripes come more from trying to tear through this difficult text in a few days to hit a deadline than any sort of thoughtful analysis of its content. What separates Faludi's work from so many similar critiques of popular culture is precisely the length and breadth of her analysis. She's unwilling, unlike the vast majority of pop-culture critics, to give a phenomenon a cursory analysis and then wax excessively about it, guided by nothing more than uninformed opinion. (This ain't Camille Paglia or MTV, folks.) Any interviewer, let alone a respected feminist thinker, who can wrest some insights from Sly Stallone about his relationships with his art and his estranged father is worthy of more respect than a nonchalant page-count. Stiffed is a challenging book, not just because of its length and depth, but because it issues a dare for both men and women who've long been dunned into passivity to do something significant to change their lives, to reject the values of a society that would prefer for them to seek easy answers in consumerism and a cult of superficial appearances. Ultimately, Faludi has provided both men and women with something that is more than an analysis of what's up with men. For all of the brevity of her closing chapters, she's made what just might be the first sketches for a blueprint of a revolution for both sexes to share.