Feminist Look At American Men

This week, CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard reviews Susan FaludiÂ's newest book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.

Until last week, Susan FaludiÂ's new book on American men was embargoed. That is, even those critics who had an advance copy were honor-bound not to discuss it till after Newsweek published an exclusive excerpt.

Naturally, this didnÂ't prevent magazines like Esquire from guessing that she would bash about the locker room, nor from telling her to "just shut up."

After all, Faludi was a feminist and proud of it. Backlash, her 1991 bestseller, tracked down the facts behind every media myth about the womenÂ's movement. Surely a new book, called Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, would wound us in our testosterone and self-esteem.

John Leonard
The mystery was why so many hundreds of men were willing to talk to her about themselves and even their fathers. On the other hand, now that we have the Newsweek excerpt, maybe it isnÂ't so mysterious.

She doesnÂ't exactly look like Kali, the bloodthirsty goddess of the Indian subcontinent, with a girdle of fingers and a necklace of skulls. YouÂ'd want to talk to her, too.

To be sure, seeking insight into a male rage that seems to hate the very idea of female free agency, she begins at a domestic-violence therapy group, where men, after battering their wives, go for counseling instead of jail.

Maybe violence is hardwired - a warrior program, a Samson complex. But what she hears arenÂ't fantasies of a will to power. These men - like Navy workers whose shipyard has been closed, like laid-off engineers at McDonnell Douglas - are out of control and at a loss.

Behind Rage, Abundant Losscolor>

Once upon a time, men were homesteaders and caretakers, builders of community, mentors to the young. Somewhere along the line they bought instead into a pulp fiction of imaginary Alamos, of raccoon hats, Green Berets, high noon and Super Bowls.

And now, frontierless, downsized, benched, theyÂ're losers - of jobs, homes, wives and cars. What if American manhood is as much a culturally constructed set of expectations as American womanhood?

WouldnÂ't men be just as victims of social mythmaking as the women they blame for their impotence?

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
And so the splendid reporter Faludi set off to explore the poles and tropics of this modern manhood - to Lakewood, Calif., where a Pop Warner team of Spur Posse punks competed to score the biggest number of high-school girls.

To South Central, where gang-bangers went from Rodney King to prison and talk shows. To Hollywood, where Sylvester Stallone, hating his father, turned an antiwar novel into Rambo. To Denver, where the Promise Keepers hope to save your marriage if not your job.

To Waco, where the Branch Davidians may or may not have been fire bombed but a Texas militia is ready to avenge them.

To Charleston, where drag queens at a local gay bar all date Citadel cadets. To New York, where magazines like Details celebrate an ornamental culture in which men, like women, are marketed according to looks, style and celebrity, as sex objects.

Everywhere Faludi finds men who feel cheated of heroic roles, meaningful work, job security, wifely adoration as well as a big score. None of this is HillaryÂ's fault.

Blames Postwar Societycolor>

Faludi blames instead, first of all, a postwar national security state that gave us corporate cubicles and Beanies till the cost-plus contracts got canceled, after which the dumpster.

Then a media culture that honors actors, athletes and rock stars more than skilled labor, company loyalty, civic duty or steadfast parenting.

And finally most of all our own fathers, about whom her subjects canÂ't stop talking: Those men who came back silent from World War II, with no history or craft, no secret tips to pass on their turn, duly begat bad seed Spur Posses.

Stiffed is a brilliant book, by a woman who likes us in spite of ourselves.

Written by John Leonard