Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, 1991
Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, 1999
The journalist and author Susan Faludi (fuh-LEWD-ee) was born to Steven Faludi, a Hungarian-born Jewish photographer, and Marilyn Faludi, who became a writer and editor after her divorce in 1976. Susan and her younger brother, Rob, grew up in an Irish and Italian neighborhood in Yorktown Heights, New York. Their parents’ politically liberal convictions were an important early influence.
Already as a child Faludi was interested in politics, as when she polled classmates in fifth grade on such debated issues as the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights, and the Vietnam War. In high school, she edited the student paper and delivered a socially conscious valedictorian speech. Her history and literature studies at Harvard University were financed by an Elks scholarship, and in 1981 she graduated summa cum laude and received an Oliver Dabney History Award for her senior thesis. During her college years, Faludi gained practical experience as managing editor at the Harvard Crimson, as intern reporter for the daily Staten Island Advance, and as a stringer for The Boston Globe.
After graduation Faludi held positions at a number of American newspapers and also freelanced. From 1981 to 1982 she worked as a news and copy editor for The New York Times, in 1983 she joined the Miami Herald’s suburban bureau, and in 1984 she accepted a general-reporting position at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. After being awarded first prize for news reporting and feature reporting from the Georgia Associated Press in 1985, Faludi spent the next four years on the West Coast, where she received many honors for her pieces in Mother Jones, Ms., California Business, and West, the Sunday magazine for the San Jose Mercury News. Among those honors were awards and citations from Women in Communication, the Columbia Journalism Review, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and the Associated Press of California and Nevada, along with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award.
From 1990 to 1992 Faludi served as a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal’s San Francisco bureau, winning a John Hancock Award for Excellence in Business and Financial Journalism in 1991. In the same year she was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her investigative piece “The Reckoning,” which appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal on May 16, 1990. In her report Faludi exposed the price in human life and health paid by the employees of the Safeway Stores, Inc., in the $5.65 billion leveraged buyout by Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, and Company in 1986. Faludi’s exposé was based on more than one hundred interviews and revealed that while investors benefited greatly from the deal employees were subjected to layoffs, lower wages, and increased productivity pressure; as a result many employees suffered serious health problems, including heart attacks, and one committed suicide. The story drew some criticism from Peter A. Magowan, the chairman and chief executive officer of Safeway, as well as from Accuracy in Media, but in general Faludi was commended as a thorough and penetrating reporter.
Her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women appeared in 1991. Faludi had spent four years researching and writing the book after reading a 1986 Newsweek cover story, based on an unpublished Harvard and Yale study, that women over forty faced better odds of being the victims of terrorists than of getting married. Faludi found flawed research and misuse of statistics and set out to examine the circumstances that had led both to the original study and subsequent article and to the cultural climate that facilitated Americans’ ready belief in the reputed finding. During this time she also held an appointment as an affiliated scholar with Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender. In Backlash she presents her analysis of the cultural and political messages aimed at women in America, arguing that in the 1980’s there was a systemic backlash against women and against the gains of the feminist movement of the 1970’s. She examines evidence related to reproductive choice, films and television, news reporting, fashion and beauty products, politics, and the workplace. In the process Faludi debunks media myths such as the “man shortage,” the “infertility epidemic,” and women’s desertion of the workplace for the so-called mommy track.
Backlash not only became a best-seller but also was acclaimed “feminism’s new manifesto” by Eleanor Smeal, the former president of the National Organization for Women, and it was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction.
Faludi’s next book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, is a cultural critique of the modern definitions of masculinity and the inadequate legacy of fathers toward sons in the post-World War II period. She views men not as the enemy but rather as victims of cultural demands. She argues that everyone, regardless of gender, should strive for an ethic of human caring and social responsibility.