With an unwitting assist from sympathetic Times Arts editor Patricia Cohen, feminist author Susan Faludi showed herself apparently incapable of connecting to the 9-11 tragedy in human terms in Thursday's Arts section front-page story"Towers Fell, and Attitudes Were Rebuilt," casting the post 9-11 heroics as somehow an anti-woman lurch back to "prefeminist thinking."
"The terrifying and wrenching photographs from September 2001 on display at the New-York Historical Society are suspended from clips in neat rows like laundry hanging on a line. Among them is a black-and-white picture of a life-size cardboard cutout of John Wayne in his prime, with a placard hanging from his neck that reads: 'This is no time for cowboys.'
"'That could be the cover of my book,' Susan Faludi said. She was visiting the Historical Society's exhibition of photographs and artifacts from the World Trade Center attacks and talking about her work 'The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America,' out next week from Metropolitan Books.
The radical feminist bugaboo John Wayne (shouldn't the movement have updated its textbook cliches by now?) has a strange hold on Faludi.
"Ms. Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of two previous books, was perplexed by the cultural fallout from that day. What she found, she says, was a powerful resurgence in traditional sex roles and a glorification of he-man virility as embodied by Wayne, the ur-savior of virtuous but helpless damsels in distress. The prefeminist thinking was everywhere, Ms. Faludi said: in the media, where female commentators were suddenly scarce after 9/11 and specious trend reports appeared about women nesting and baking; in depictions of that day's heroes as male and victims as female; and in movies like the 2005 'War of the Worlds,' Ms. Faludi said, with Tom Cruise as a 'deadbeat divorced dad emasculated by his wife, reclaiming his manhood by saving their little girl.'
"At the end of that movie, Mr. Cruise's character cradles his daughter in his arms, an echo of the final scene in John Ford's classic 1956 film 'The Searchers,' when John Wayne carries home his young niece, who was captured by Indians years before. 'It's some bizarre, weirdly out-of-proportion fixation,' Ms. Faludi said, 'an exaltation of American masculinity in an intergalactic crisis.'
"Those who did not conform to this story line, she added - like female rescuers on 9/11 and widows who refused to remain piously grief-stricken or who scrutinized intelligence failures - were treated with contempt."
This is the epitome of self-absorbed liberal feminism, without even getting into Faludi's complete lack of evidence or even anecdotes to back up her deluded musings. (Faludi published a similarly themed essay in the Times on September 7.)
While it's hard to make out where Faludi stops and Cohen begins, Cohen certainly served as dutiful handmaiden to Faludi's bizarre abstractions, herattempts to intellectually transform the actual heroics performed after 9-11 into a vast anti-woman conspiracy. Cohen mustered only one brief weak challenge, quoting a Yale historian who found Faludi "a powerful thinker" who was nevertheless "dubious of the whole notion of a national psyche."
"Ms. Faludi stopped by a fragment of landing gear from one of the planes. 'We have pieces but no story,' she said. 'It's like a lawyer's exhibits without the brief.' In this, the display mirrors the situation immediately after 9/11, she said. But then the Bush administration, aided by the media and others, cranked out a ready-made narrative that squeezed out people's experiences, she argued. Language was also co-opted, she added, mentioning how survivors and workers called the site 'the pile,' while the media used military lingo to rename it 'ground zero.'
"'Personal emotional responses get channeled and harnessed into a mythological construction,' she said, and people are told, 'This is what you're supposed to feel.'
Faludi sounded like a soft-"Truther" conspiracy theorist on the subject of 9-11:
"For Ms. Faludi the official story, that prefabricated narrative, is crumbling with revelations of governmental failures and waning support for the Iraq war. She wants to provide an alternate commentary."
And Cohen swallowed it all without blinking.