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Susan Faludi

Winona.edu

On June 2, 1986, Newsweek magazine reported that college-educated women over 40 were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married. America was facing a “man shortage,” the article said, citing new research by two Yale University sociologists and a Harvard economist.

The results of the study, which were received with a flood of attention, perplexed Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and feminist Susan C. Faludi ‘81. It was then-in response to the cover of Newsweek, rather than the glossy pages of a fashion rag-that the investigation that eventually produced Faludi’s best-selling book, “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women,” was born.

FIGHTING BACK

“Backlash” argued that feminism was being wrongly blamed for a host of social problems. Society’s discomfort with feminism, Faludi wrote, was behind false fears of an “infertility crisis” and mistaken beliefs that single women were unfulfilled. Faludi claimed that women needed more of feminism’s influence, not less.

The book won a National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction in 1992 after becoming a bestseller, and was followed in 1999 by “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man.”

In “Stiffed,” Faludi wrote that men’s hostile response to feminism was part of a larger problem within a “consumer-driven, celebrity-saturated culture,” which fails to value community involvement.

“The response I got often was ‘No, no, I want to hear Backlash 2....I want to hear more bad things about men, aren’t they assholes, aren’t we great,’” Faludi says. “I think a lot of it had to do with not wanting to give up the nice, neat black-and-white enemy.”

‘MIDWIFED BY THE MEDIA’

While a journalist herself, Faludi has been critical of the media’s influence.

“I think a lot of journalism these days is not about challenging power, it is about confirming it and being part of it, being in the know, being on the inside,” Faludi says.

“So much of what we are concerned about in this culture-like who has the biggest market share-has been midwifed by the media,” Faludi said in a 1999 interview with “Mother Jones.”

Faludi received a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for her Wall Street Journal coverage of leveraged buyouts of Safeway supermarkets. She has also written for The New York Times and Newsweek.

Her interest in journalism began early and ran deep.

In fifth grade, she inadvertently made waves when she conducted a poll of fellow students’ opinions on abortion and the Vietnam War.

“Not being the loudest person on the block, not being one who regularly interrupted in class or caused a scene, I discovered that through writing I could make my views heard,” Faludi told Brian Lamb in a 1992 “Booknotes” interview.

At Harvard, Faludi concentrated in history and literature, and worked as managing editor of The Crimson.

She reported on the official reprimand of a government professor for improper advances toward a freshman student in 1979, one year after Harvard instituted its first sexual harassment policy.

The student was being “stonewalled” by the administration before the story was written, Faludi says, and the dean of the College personally requested that the story not run.

“I realized at that point that you could wed journalism with feminism and actually make some social change, which was enlightening for an undergraduate who didn’t feel very empowered.”

Faludi enrolled at Harvard in 1977, just two years after the College abolished its quota on the number of women.

“It was still pretty much a male-dominated universe,” Faludi says. “Professors would make comments that would make your jaw drop now.”

“Sexual harassment at that point was a fairly new issue to be dealt with on campuses, and she wrote a lot about that,” fellow Crimson editor Susan K. Brown ’81 says.

“I came from a middle-class, public school background, and Harvard was still a pretty preppy place,” Faludi says. “Then when I stumbled into The Crimson, I [met] Gay Seidman, who was the first woman to be president, and she was irreverent and sort of outrageous and radical, and it seemed to me that I had found a place where I could belong.”

Brown remembers Faludi as a “very hardworking, very driven” reporter and a kind colleague who took the time to visit Brown in the hospital after she suddenly fell ill with a bout of pneumonia.

“She was highly focused and she always was willing to write an honest opinion even if that was not a popular opinion,” fellow Crimson executive Steven J. Rosston’81 says.

FAMILY MATTERS

Faludi grew up in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. where her father, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, worked as a photographer while her mother, a former journalist, became a housewife. The two eventually divorced. Faludi’s mother has since become an editor.

“[Feminism] is always highly personal and in my case, I had a mother who really wanted...to go back to work and was told that she couldn’t,” Faludi says.

“Just looking around my neighborhood, it was a very familiar tale of women sitting around the suburbs wondering where their life had gone, a page right out of Betty Friedan’s ‘Feminine Mystique,’” she says.

Faludi remembers widespread support for feminism during her time at Harvard among female undergraduates.

“There weren’t those discussions of ‘Well, maybe I’m not a feminist,’” she says. “Even though we had probably less confidence and less of a sense that the academy was ours than young women there today, we were by-and-large pretty sure of our feminist identity.”

Faludi participated in Radcliffe’s Feminisms Then and Now lecture series in 2005 and will receive Radcliffe’s Alumnae award on June 9.

—Staff writer Allison A. Frost can be reached at afrost@fas.harvard.edu.
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