Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man

( 8 )

Overview

One of the most talked-about books of last year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Backlash now explores the collapse of traditional masculinity that has left men feeling betrayed. With Backlash in 1991, Susan Faludi broke new ground when she put her finger directly on the problem bedeviling women, and the light of recognition dawned on millions of her readers: what's making women miserable isn't something they're doing to themselves in the name of independence. It's something our society is doing to women. ...

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Stiffed: The Betrayal Of The American Man

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Overview

One of the most talked-about books of last year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Backlash now explores the collapse of traditional masculinity that has left men feeling betrayed. With Backlash in 1991, Susan Faludi broke new ground when she put her finger directly on the problem bedeviling women, and the light of recognition dawned on millions of her readers: what's making women miserable isn't something they're doing to themselves in the name of independence. It's something our society is doing to women. The book was nothing less than a landmark. Now in Stiffed, the author turns her attention to the masculinity crisis plaguing our culture at the end of the '90s, an era of massive layoffs, "Angry White Male" politics, and Million Man marches. As much as the culture wants to proclaim that men are made miserable—or brutal or violent or irresponsible—by their inner nature and their hormones, Faludi finds that even in the world they supposedly own and run, men are at the mercy of cultural forces that disfigure their lives and destroy their chance at happiness. As traditional masculinity continues to collapse, the once-valued male attributes of craft, loyalty, and social utility are no longer honored, much less rewarded. Faludi's journey through the modern masculine landscape takes her into the lives of individual men whose accounts reveal the heart of the male dilemma. Stiffed brings us into the world of industrial workers, sports fans, combat veterans, evangelical husbands, militiamen, astronauts, and troubled "bad" boys—whose sense that they've lost their skills, jobs, civic roles, wives, teams, and a secure future is only one symptom of a larger and historic betrayal.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
What's Wrong with Men?

I won't tell you too much about the purpose of Stiffed; the excerpt here that opens the book does an excellent job of laying out the scope of Susan Faludi's research and what motivated her to undertake it. I also will not reveal the evidence Faludi found in her years of research that support her theory that we have evolved a culture and false mythology that damages men and the roles they play in society. Faludi is a meticulous and complete reporter, and any attempt from me to distill into a few short paragraphs the work she packs into 606 pages of prose and 39 more of notes would do a thorough disservice to the book.

I can tell you what I feel about Faludi, however. When I read Backlash: The Undeclared War on American Women back in 1991, I, as a young journalist, recognized it as one of the best pieces of reporting I had ever read. No, Faludi had not risked her life at the front lines of a war, painted a moving portrait of hope in poverty, or performed any of the other tricks the media use to add emotion to the coverage of issues, invariably blurring the discussion. What she had done was much more impressive. Using facts and statistics, reams and reams of them, she painted a shocking and utterly convincing portrait of a culture and an economy at war with 53 percent of the population. She destroyed myths about "the man shortage" as thoroughly as she documented the increasing wage gap between men and women.

Now, and in no small part because of the effect Faludi's own earlier work had on me, I approach Stiffed with some apprehension. Men still run almost all of the nation's largest companies and dominate all of the state and federal legislatures. Men still earn more than women.

But it turns out that these are not really the men Faludi is talking about. Just as, at the time Backlash came out, there were women living lives of success and influence that could be used to refute the general argument, so too are the men who run the country exceptions to the rules Faludi lays out for the lives of the average American male. She looks at the majority of men who have little economic power, little or no public influence, and nothing but falsely constructed images of the successful American man of the past to try to live up to, something they can't do. And once again, Faludi has amazed me with her ability to expose the fault lines of our society.

To detail more would be to try to mirror Faludi's expertise, which I can't. So I'll let her take over. This excerpt is from the opening of the first chapter.

—Greg Sewell

Judith Shulevitz
No one will ever put this book down for lack of vivid scene setting or compassionate observation...
NY Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While it offers nothing like the eloquent argument she made in Backlash, Faludi's examination of what she dubs the "masculinity crisis" does present a series of thoughtful interviews and fly-on-the wall journalistic excursions into the company of men. Faludi finds that American men are looking for metaphorical Viagra to cure an impotence beyond the literal kind. And sometimes, she argues, they are looking in the wrong places, becoming the proverbial "angry white males." Laid-off aerospace and naval shipyard workers, magazine editors and football fans, patriots and Promise Keepers are struggling to define manhood. Faludi aims wide in targeting the sources of the masculine malaise, citing everything from "the remote-control methods of a military-industrial economy" to "the feminization of an onrushing celebrity culture." Boomers and postboomers, deprived of the heroic status of their WWII veteran dads and having had their sense of virtue eroded by the chastisements of feminism, are trying to find "a route to manhood through the looking glass." As Faludi exhaustively documents the struggles of incredible shrinking men with the "post-cold-war restructuring of the economy," she suggests that the core of the problem is that men have lost "a useful role in public life, a way of earning a decent and reliable living, appreciation in the home, respectful treatment in the culture." Faludi concludes by exhorting men to stop thinking of masculinity as a quality detached from their humanity: "their task is not, in the end, to figure out how to be masculine--rather, their masculinity lies in figuring out how to be human." This admonition--be a mensch!--is a sensible way to close a book that proceeds less by well-shaped argument than by the accumulation of anecdotes and Faludi's intelligent, interpretive forays into the lives of men. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In her much-anticipated second book, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Faludi follows her remarkable study of the cultural response to the women's movement in Backlash with a good hard look at American men. Long cast as perpetrators of patriarchy, men, Faludi argues, are actually suffering under the thumb of a cultural oppression similar to the one that inspired feminism's second wave. Victims of our "ornamental culture" that values (and rewards) style over substance, men are increasingly disaffected, emasculated, and frustrated. Through a number of compassionate, objective portraits of men--from displaced workers in a shipyard to disappointed Promise Keepers to porn stars who struggle to get hard-ons, and more--Faludi traces the American male's fall from potent contributor to insecure narcissist. These portraits unite to present a frank picture of just how difficult it can be to be a man in America today. At the "bitter heart" of this crisis, she finds an overwhelming sense of paternal abandonment. Although her conclusion that men and women have an opportunity to move beyond an adversarial relationship to create change together won't surprise anyone who has considered the limits of the gender wars, it cannot be stressed enough. This important book is sure to spark dialog, and all libraries should have it on hand.--Rebecca Miller, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Smith
In Stiffed, Susan Faludi listens carefully to men's stories and tells them back to us with a distinctive combination of empathy and clarity. She shines full light on her subjects, and at the same time she lets them speak and works hard to understand their points of view...massive and important.
Tikkun
Lillian S. Robinson
Stiffed is an exploration of the individual and collective behaviors—from spouse-battering to militias—that, to Faludi, show American men of the nineties being manipulated and controlled by an entire culture whose trajectory they resent but do not comprehend. From this perspective, the most troubled men are those who best fit Faludi's paradigm of unfulfilled expectations, which is to say, those who had the furthest to fall...Faludi consistently confuses cultural representation, particularly in the mass media, with actual experience, and routinely substitutes a psychological analysis for a political one—both habits of a mediated, middle-class mentality.
The Women's Review of Books:
Richard Goldstein
There are richly poignant stories here of working stiffs and superstars, media movers and porno studs. Faludi weaves these tales together in a style that's threaded with empathy.
Ms.
Kirkus Reviews
In this pathbreaking study of the contemporary "male crisis," award-winning journalist and author Faludi solidifies her reputation first gained in Backlash (1991) as one of our most astute analysts of gender relations. Something is wrong with men. They are unhappy, angry, bewildered, and all too often violent. Conventional wisdom—which Faludi always delights in skewering—suggests that either men must change their individual natures to overcome this crisis or that men are victims of the undeserving: "scheming feminists, affirmative-action proponents, job-grabbing illegal aliens." Faludi comes to a different conclusion. In the course of spending time with men—laid-off industrial workers, bewildered Vietnam vets, young male sexual predators, evangelical truth seekers, and many others—chronicling their thoughts, aspirations, explanations, and exasperations, she finds that men are not to blame for their current predicament, nor on the whole is some sinister other. Rather, American men of the post-WWII world have been betrayed by culture and society. Taught by fathers to assume inheritance of a world they would firmly control, it turns out they don't control it at all. Meaningful work that both established and existed within a broader social purpose is gone for all but a few. The virtues of trust and loyalty are now laughable anachronisms. All that is left of masculinity is an ornamental facade of what Faludi terms individual male "superdominance." This pose of control without a reality behind it is surely a recipe for crisis. Yet it is this very pose of control that prevents men from seeing their dilemma as a human crisis of powerlessness in modern society (one womenrecognized long ago) and collectively acting to change their situation. Instead, they howl at the moon to recapture their masculinity or lash out at supposed enemies. In the end, the more they struggle the more tightly they are bound. This is brilliant stuff, cutting through nonsense, letting men speak for themselves and taking from their words original and compassionate insights. Bravo. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380720453
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 1,440,354
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Faludi

Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which won the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. A contributing editor for Newsweek and a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has written for many magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Esquire, Double Take, and The Nation. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Read an Excerpt

The Son,
the Moon, and
the Stars

The Promise of Postwar Manhood



When I listen to the sons born after World War II, born to the fathers who won that war, I sometimes find myself in a reverie, conjured out of my own recollections and theirs. The more men I talk to, the more detailed this imagined story becomes. It is the story of a boy in bed pretending to sleep, waiting for his father. Tonight, the father has promised to reveal to the son a miraculous inheritance: the transit of an artificial star.

The door opens, and the hail light streams in, casting a cutout shadow man across the bedroom floor. For a moment, from the boy's vantage point, his father seems almost unreal, a flattened spectral image. Then the shadow moves forward into the room, hustling the boy into a jacket over his cowboy pajamas, arming him with a big chrome flashlight, digging out his Keds from under a heap of clothes in the closet. The boy pulls the coat around him and, even though it is August, feels wrapped in a delicious and unexpected comfort, enveloped in his father's hushed exuberance.

Earlier that evening, while his mother was busy scraping dishes in the kitchen, the boy and his father had hunched conspiratorially over the latest issue of Life magazine, the father pointing out features of the fantastical orb they were to observe, just the two of them, at an hour later than the boy had ever been allowed to be awake: Ten stories high! Seven times as bright as the North Star! His father said the satellite was really more of a balloon, a "satelloon," and told him how it had been clamped down with huge clothespins and folded into anegg-shaped magnesium sphere for the launch; how the shell had hatched open, right on time, when it reached its orbit, a mighty man-made explosion giving birth to a big, shiny beach ball called Echo. His father had said Echo's skin was half the thickness of the cellophane wrap on his cigarette pack; a meteorite could puncture it, even the sun's rays might disturb its course. It could collapse at any moment! And it was this that would linger in the boy's mind: that something so powerful could be so fragile.

The boy, clutching his flashlight and his Davy Crockett cap, races after his father along the shadowy upper hallway past the bedroom where his mother lies sleeping, then down the stairs and through the living room where the blank eye of the new Philco TV gazes coolly upon their passage. On a sticky July evening a month ago, he had sat in front of the Philco with his parents and watched a young presidential nominee on a confetti-strewn proscenium turn his face ceremonially to the west and call on the "young men" of a "new generation" to join "a race for the mastery of the sky." It was up to boys like him, the man had said, to save not just the Earth but the "far side of space" from a Communism that had already "penetrated into Asia."

He follows his father through the kitchen, the Frigidaire thrumming in the darkness, out the screen door and down the steps, where the aluminum patio furniture and the shiny globe of the barbecue grill phosphoresce like flying saucers come in for a landing. They are on the black-green quarter acre of clipped lawn now. His father bends, spreading his old navy peacoat like a blanket on the buzz-cut grass. The man and the boy in his raccoon cap kneel on the scratchy wool, two pioneers of the crabgrass prairie, and then the father snaps off the boy's flashlight. All the familiar moorings drop away and they are swept up, a father and a son, into the bright sky. The father touches the boy's shoulder and directs his vision to a faraway glimmer. The boy looks up, knowing that his father is pointing out more than just an object; it is a beacon of pride and secret knowledge, a paternal gift rocketing him into a future his father has helped to launch. At first, all he sees is the blanket of stars spreading out cold and vast between the trees. But then, there it is at last, a pinpoint of light crawling across the firmament, infinitesimally tiny, impossibly bright.

I knew this boy. Like everyone else who grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I knew dozens of him. He was Bobby on the corner, who roamed the neighborhood with his cap gun and holster, terrorizing girls and household pets. He was Ronnie, who wore his Superman suit way past Halloween and, sure he could fly, leaped from his living-room stairs one day and cracked his head open on the foyer linoleum. He was Frankie, who blew off part of his pinkie while trying to ignite a miniature rocket in the schoolyard. Even if he wasn't brought out into the backyard and shown an American satellite glinting in the sky, he was introduced to the same promise and the same vision, and by such a father. The fathers of that era often seemed remote, as unreal as those perfect dads on television, though not intentionally so. They were just fathers in the era after the war, living in brand-new suburbs with wives and children they barely knew, working at brand-new jobs on brand-new corporate "campuses," miles from their brand-new aluminum-sided houses. Which is to say that the life of the postwar father was altogether too newly out of the box for him to understand it, much less explain it to his son.

Many of these fathers were veterans of World War II or Korea, but their bloody paths to virility were not ones they sought to pass on, or usually even discuss. Because the fathers offered few particulars about their "baptisms" at Normandy or Midway or Heartbreak Ridge, war was a remote romance that each boy had had to embellish with details culled from Sergeant Rock and his combat adventures in DC comics, or Sergeant Bilko and an endless procession of television war series (Crusade in Europe, Crusade in the Pacific, Victory at Sea, The Big Picture) , or later, GI Joe and his miniature arsenal. Not that paternal knowledge of the war, even if shared, could have helped those sons, whose male proving grounds were to be on peaceful terrain. This was to be the era of manhood after victory, when the pilgrimage to masculinity would be guided not by the god of war Mars, but by the dream of a pioneering trip to the planet Mars. The satellite: here was a visible patrimony. And so Echo, with its reflective shell floating one thousand miles above the earth, became a remote point of triangulation connecting one generation of men to the next, and a visual marker of vaulting technological power and progress to be claimed in the future by every baby-boom boy. The men of the fathers' generation had "won" the world and now they were giving it to their sons. Their nation had come into its own, powerful, wealthy, dominant, in control of the greatest destructive force ever imagined. The fathers had made their sons masters of the universe and it felt, as in the time of Alexander, that what they had created would last forever.

Copyright © 1999 by Susan Faludi

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 Departures
1 The Son, the Moon, and the Stars: The Promise of Postwar Manhood 3
Pt. 2 Utility Men
2 Nothing but Big Work: From Shipyards to Space, the Closing of the American Job 51
3 Girls have all the Power: What's Troubling Troubled Boys 102
4 A Good Dawg will Always Remain Loyal: The Cleveland Browns Skip Town 153
5 Where Am I in the Kingdom? A Christian Quest for Manhood 224
Pt. 3 Evil Empires
6 Gone to Soldiers, Every One: The Vietnam War That No One Dodged 291
7 The Creature in the Mirror: The Fantasy Cavalry to the Rescue 359
8 Burning Down the House: The Fire Last Time in Waco, Texas 407
Pt. 4 Hood Ornaments
9 Man in a Can: Moon Walkers, Ghetto Stars, and Cross-Dressers in a Gilded Age 451
10 Waiting for Wood: A Death on the New Frontier 530
Pt. 5 Destinations
11 Parting Shots: The Fighter Still Remains 577
12 Rebels in the Kingdom 594
Acknowledgments 609
Notes 611
Index 651
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First Chapter

The Son, the Moon, and the Stars
The Promise of Postwar Manhood

When I listen to the sons born after World War II, born to the fathers who had won that war, I sometimes find myself in a reverie. It is a reverie fashioned half of my own recollections and half out of the memories of others. The more men I talk to, the more detailed this imagined story becomes. It is a story of a boy. He is in bed, pretending to sleep. He is waiting for his father. Tonight, the father has promised, he will reveal to the son his miraculous inheritance: the transit of an artificial star.

The father appears in the doorway, hall light streaming over his shoulders and falling in a solid and luminous rectangle across the bedroom floor, like the dusty beam from a movie projector. For a moment, from the boy's vantage, his father seems almost unreal, a flattened spectral image. And then the image moves forward into the room, hustling the boy into a jacket over his cowboy pajamas, arming him with a big chrome flashlight, digging out his Keds from under a heap of clothes in the closet. And the boy pulls the coat around himself and, even though it is August and not cold, feels wrapped in a delicious and unexpected comfort, enveloped in his father's hushed exuberance, in the thrilling novelty of a father-son collusion.

After dinner earlier that evening, while his mother was busy scraping dishes in the kitchen, the boy and his father hunched conspiratorially over the latest Life magazine, the father pointing out the features of this fantastical orb they were to observe, just the two of them alone, at an hour later than the boy had ever been allowed to be awake: ten stories high! Seven times as bright as the North Star! His father said the satellite was really more of a balloon, a "satelloon," and told him how it had been pinned down with huge clothespins and folded into an egg-shaped magnesium sphere for the launch, and how the shell had hatched open, right on time, when it reached its orbit, a mighty man-made explosion giving birth to a shiny big beach ball called Echo. His father said Echo's skin was half the thickness of the cellophane wrap on his cigarette pack; a meteorite could puncture it: even the sun's rays would disturb its course. It could collapse at any moment! His father said. And it was this that would linger in the boy's mind: that something so powerful could be so fragile.

The boy, clutching his flashlight and his Davy Crockett cap, races after his father, along the shadowy upper hallway past the other bedroom where the boy's mother lies sleeping, then down the stairs and through the living room where the blank eye of their new black-and-white Philco gazes cooly upon their passage. On a sticky July evening a month ago, the boy had sat with his parents before the Philco and watched a young presidential nominee on a confetti-strewn podium turn his face ceremonially to the west and call on the young men" of the "new generation" to join "a race for the mastery of the sky." It was up to boys like him, the man on the TV set had said, to save not just Earth but the "far side of space" from a communism that had already "penetrated Asia," a phrase which made the boy picture a many-tentacled alien insinuating itself into the crevices of garrisoned borders -- a monster more likely, the boy imagined, to come from outer space than to invade it.

He follows his father through the glinting kitchen, the Frigidaire thrumming in darkness, through the back screen door and down the steps, where the aluminum patio furniture and the shiny globe of the barbecue grill phosphoresce like so many flying saucers come in for a landing. Then they are out on the black-green quarter-acre stamp of clipped lawn. His father bends, spreading his old navy peacoat like a blanket on the buzz-cut grass. The man and then the boy in his racoon cap kneel on the scratchy wool, two pioneers of the crabgrass prairie, and then the father reaches over and snaps off the boy's flashlight. All the familiar moorings drop away and they are swept up, a father and son on a magic carpet, into the bright sky. The father touches the boy's shoulders, and directs his vision to a faraway glimmer. The boy knows that what his father is pointing out is more than just an object; it is a beacon of pride and secret knowledge, a paternal gift, rocketing him into a future that his father helped to launch. At first all he sees is the blanket of stars, spreading out cold and vast between the trees. But then, there it is at last, a pinpoint of animated light crawling across the firmament, infinitesmally tiny, impossibly bright.

I KNEW THIS BOY OR, AS ANYONE WHO GREW UP AS I DID IN the late '50s and early '60s, I knew dozens of them. He was Bobby on the corner, who roamed the neighborhood with his cap gun and holster, terrorizing girls and household pets. He was Ronnie, who wore his Superman suit way past Halloween and, sure he could fly, leaped from his living room stairs one day and cracked his head open on the foyer linoleum. He was Frankie, who blew off part of his pinkie while trying to set off a miniature rocket in the schoolyard. Even if he wasn't one of the boys brought out into the backyard and shown an American satellite glinting in the sky, he was introduced to the same promises and the same vision, and by such a father. The fathers often seemed remote, as unreachable and unreal as the TV-show dads, though not intentionally so. They were just fathers in the era after the war, living in brand new suburbs with wives and children they barely knew, working at brand new jobs in brand new corporate "campuses," miles from their brand new aluminum-sided houses. Which is to say that the life of the postwar fathers was altogether too newly out of the box for them to understand it, much less explain it to their sons.

So many of the fathers were veterans of World War II and Korea, but their bloody path to virility was not one they sought to pass on or much discuss. Because the fathers offered few particulars of their baptisms at Midway and Heartbreak Ridge, the war was a remote romance that each boy had had to embellish with details culled from Saturday afternoon movie dialogues and, later, from the minibiographies printed on the side of his CI Joe's coffin-shaped cardboard box. Not that their father's knowledge of the war, if they had shared it, could have helped the boys, whose male proving ground was to be on peaceful ground. This was to be the era of manhood after victory, when the pilgrimage to masculinity could not be guided by Mars.

But the satellite: Here was a visible patrimony. And so Echo, with its Mylar-like reflective shell floating a thousand miles above the earth, became a remote point of triangulation compassing one generation of men to the next, and a visual marker, an I.O.U., of vaulting technological power and progress to be reaped in the future of every American baby boom boy. The men of the fathers' generation had "won" the world, and now they were giving it to their sons. Their nation had come into its own, powerful, dominant, controlling the greatest destructive force. The fathers had made their sons masters of the universe and it felt, as in the time of Alexander, that what they had created would last forever.

The American period of soaring expectations that followed the close of World War II is conventionally known as the "baby boom" era, as if its defining trait was the nesting and diapering habits of young mothers. But truly it was the era of the boy. It was the culture of My Three Sons and Leave it to Beaver episodes, of Pop Warner rituals and Westinghouse science scholarships, of BB guns and rocket clubs, of football practice and lettered jackets, of magazine ads where "Dad" seemed always to be beaming down at his scampish cowboy-suited son or proudly handing the boy's older brother the keys to a brand-new tailfinned convertible. It was a father-son Eden showcased in Life magazine with such headlines as "In New England, Busy Day with Dad" and "Pointers for Playful Fathers," and with pictorials like the one where Dad shows Bill, nine, and Rob, eleven, "how to remove an old stoker motor from the furnace in the cellar." It was a world where, regardless of the truth that lay behind each garden gate, the popular culture led us to believe fathers were spending every leisure moment in rounds of roughhouse play and model-airplane construction and backyard catch with their beloved boys.

In the aspiring middle-class suburb where I came of age, there was no mistaking the belief in the boy's preeminence; it was evident in the solicitous attentions of the parents and the schoolteachers, in the centrality of coaches and Cub Scouts and Little League, in the community life that revolved around boys' contests and boys' championships and boys' scores -- as if these outposts of tract-home America had each been built as exhibition rings for male achievement, which perhaps they had. It was evident in the periodic rampages of suburban boys that always seemed to go unchecked, the way they tore up the lawns with their minibikes and hurled rocks at newcomers with impunity and tormented the girls at the public swimming pool; inherent in their behavior was the-assumption that this was their birthright -- to be imperial bullies over their miniature dominions. To grow up as a girl in this era was to look on with envy and to perceive the boy as being automatically entitled and powerful. Surely when we were grown, he would have the control. He would dispense the gifts. The boy believed that, too.

Theirs was to be a frontier that encompassed the galaxies, an enemy that loomed massive over the oceans and stained much of the globe red, a brotherly institution that would swallow up billions of federal dollars and employ record numbers of men, and a domestic front in which feminine dependency was elevated to a near religion by the media and Madison Avenue.

In this common campaign, men had a clear purpose: to promote and expand their nation's dominance. And if this was a greater burden than their fathers had shouldered, well weren't the sons better equipped to execute it? They were Cold Warriors representing the most powerful country in the world. They had the strongest economic pulse recorded in national history. Wouldn't a boy in this world have every right to believe in his father's patrimony, his father's promise? Wasn't be in charge of his destiny -- and his nation's?

AS THE NATION PROGRESSED TOWARD THE MILLENNIUM, all the nation's pulse takers seemed to agree that a domestic apocalypse was underway: American manhood was under siege. Newspaper editors, TV pundits, fundamentalist preachers, marketers, legislators, no matter where they perched on the political spectrum, had a contribution to make to the chronicles of the "masculinity crisis." Right-wing talk radio hosts and left-wing men's movement spokesmen found themselves uncomfortably on common ground. Periodicals of every political stripe bannered the crisis. "Men on Trial," the headlines cried. "The Trouble with Boys," "Are Men Necesssary?" "Maybe Manhood Can Recover." Newspaper and broadcast journalists raced to report on one toxic young male hot spot after another: the Citadel, the Spur Posse, Tailhook, South Central gangsters, militiamen blowing up federal buildings and abortion clinics, and Arkansas and Mississippi and Kentucky and Oregon schoolyard shooters. The media's softer lifestyle outlets happily turned their attentions to male crisis lite. the boom in male cosmetic surgery, the hair-growth and impotence drug bonanza, the resurgence of "gentlemen's" cigar clubs and lap-dancing emporiums. Social scientists from right, left, and center pontificated on "endangered" young black men in the inner cities, Ritalin-addicted white "bad boys" in the suburbs, "deadbeat dads" everywhere, and, very occasionally, the distress of downsized male workers. Social psychologists issued reports on a male-only rise in pathologies: mental illness, suicides, certain criminal behaviors. And political pundits by century's end seemed incapable of discussing anything but the president's supposedly dysfunc-tional masculinity; they contemplated Bill Clinton's testosterone level and manly credentials (Too much or not enough? Office lech or military virgin?) as if they were the nation's greatest blight.

Pollsters investigated the electoral habits of a new voting bloc they called "the Angry White Male," and researched the shopping choices of an emerging men-in-crisis demographic that they dubbed the "Contenders" or, less charitably, the "Change Resisters." Marketers hastened to turn the crisis into entertainment and profits -- from TV programs such as Men Behaving Badly to sporting-goods sales of T-shirts that proclaimed "Destroy All Girls" and "Wife Beater" (a phenomenon described accurately enough in a front-page newspaper headline as "Cashing In on the Bad Boy Image") to advertising campaigns meant to salve the crisis-ridden male's wounds, like Brut's new aftershave slogan for the '90s, "Men Are Back!" And by the hundreds of thousands men without portfolio confirmed the male-crisis diagnosis, attending mass gatherings of both the black Nation-of-Islam-led Million Man March in 1995 and, two years later, the largely white evangelical-led Promise Keepers rally entitled, hopefully, "Stand in the Gap."

If so many concurred on the existence of the male crisis, the consensus collapsed as soon as anyone asked the underlying question: Why? Not that there was a shortage of responses. Everyone proposed a favorite whipping boy -- or, more often, whipping girl -- and blame-seekers on all sides went after their select culprits with a righteous and bitter relish.

As a feminist writer, I had my own whipping boy, but over the years as I came to know the stories of men who had faced the betrayal of the patrimony, my opinion would come to change, and a new idea would suggest itself.

Underlying all the disagreement over what is causing men's confusion and crisis runs a constant Line of thinking that blinds all of us -- whatever our political beliefs -- from understanding the nature of men's predicament. Ask feminists to diagnose men's problem and you will get a very clear explanation: Men are in crisis because women are properly challenging male dominance. Ask anti-feminists, and you will get a diagnosis that, in one way, agrees with that of their political opponents. Men are troubled, conservative pundits say, because women have gone far beyond their demands for equal treatment and now are trying to take power and control away from men. Both the feminist and anti-feminist views are rooted in the peculiarly modern American perception that to be a man means to be at the controls and to at all times feel yourself to be in control. That popular cliche of the feminist saying men that are to blame for everything is just the flip side of the "family-values" reactionary expecting men to be in charge of everything. The problem with this perception is that it bears no correspondence to how the average man actually feels and what his actual position is in the world. It doesn't recognize that "control" can be a last-ditch substitute, a stand-in for other needs -- to build, provide, be of use to a public world.

If men are the masters of their fate, what do they do about the unspoken sense that they are being mastered, in the marketplace and at home, by global, cultural, and commercial forces that seem to be sweeping away the soil beneath their feet? If men are mythologized as the ones who make things happen, then how can they begin to analyze what is happening to them? The very paradigm of modern American masculinity -- that it is all about being master of your universe -- prevents men from thinking their way out of their dilemma, from taking active political steps to resolve their crisis. That they are seen only as acting upon the world stops them from acting on their own behalf. How would men's problems be perceived if we were to consider men as the subjects of their world, not just its authors? What if we put aside for a time the assumption of male dominance, put away our feminist rap sheet of men's crimes and misdemeanors, or our antifeminist indictment of women's heist of male authority -- and just looked at what men have experienced in the past generation? God is the only being who has no history. Even the most "powerful" man has had at least as much happen to him as he has made happen.

What did happen to that generation of boys I grew up with, to the men of postwar America?

Copyright © 1999 by Susan Faludi

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Reading Group Guide

Synopsis
In this landmark book, Susan Faludi, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Backlash, explores the masculinity crisis plaguing our culture at the end of the millennium. As much as the culture proclaims that men are made miserable or brutal or useless by their own inner nature and design, Faludi finds that even in the world they supposedly own and control -- men are at the mercy of cultural forces. In a culture driven by entertainment, technology, and consumerism, in an era of massive downsizing, fractured militia groups, and Promise Keepers, American men have watched as the culture has stripped their lives of power and identity.

Faludi's journey into the modern male landscape takes her into the lives of men whose accounts reveal the heart of the male crisis. Bringing us into the world of Vietnam veterans, astronauts, porn stars, sports fans, industrial workers, gang members, and transvestites, Susan Faludi exposes the loss of something more fundamental even than men's skills or wives or teams or ability to provide: they have been robbed of their sense of themselves as men.

Discussion Points
  • Faludi writes that she began her research with the assumption that the "male crisis in America was caused by something men were doing unrelated to something being done to them" (p. 7). With what assumptions did you approach this book? In what ways did Susan Faludi's research undermine your preconceptions? Confirm them?
  • What solutions do you see for reconstructing our culture's prescriptions for manhood?
  • Discuss the ways in which shame has been instilled in American men.
  • Why has it been so difficult to pinpoint the root of the masculinity crisis?Why has feminism been perceived as such an emasculating force?
  • Throughout Faludi's research, men make reference to their inability to recognize themselves in their own reflections. What is it about themselves that men are unable to recognize?
  • Faludi observes that for the men she interviewed, "Beyond all the public double crosses . . . lay their fathers' desertion" (p. 596). How did postwar American men desert their sons and why? Where else can men look to find role models and heroes that represent and give meaning to manhood?
  • Faludi writes that "for some men . . . there was no winning for losing in a world where they had been taught that winning was all and losing less than nothing" (p. 580). Who is the opponent? Where does this paradigm come from? How is this taught?
  • Does the fact that this book is written by a woman color your reading of the text?
  • Discuss which man's story or profile you found particularly resonant. Which most surprised you?
  • Faludi asserts that men and women need to work together "to wage a battle against no enemy, to own a frontier of human liberty, to act in the service of a brotherhood that includes us all" (p. 608). How do you think men's and women's needs would differ in this enlightened brotherhood?
  • How do you think the plight of today's boys differs from that of today's men?
  • Why do you think Susan Faludi chose Stiffed as a title for this book? What have men been cheated out of? What is every person owed? Who owes it to us?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2001

    'Stiffed' Is Masterfull

    As a downzised (1996) white male, Susan Faludi's book 'Stiffed' struck and resonated on every chord with me. The stories she retells could have been my own- including the fictional propaganda that is used to make us (white men) hate ourselves if we fail to achieve the so called American model for male success. I don't want to say too much here, as a book of this size merits being read in its entirety. And let's be sure to note that the males Faludi writes about here are not the brand I'd call 'SWGs' or 'Scary White Guys' - the powermongers and bullies - CEOs, politicians etc, who ruin every one else's lives. No these stories are about the real, flesh and blood normal white guys and others- who are as much products of the exploitative capitalist, winner-take all system, as blacks, chicanos and native Americans. In the end, we all need to forge common cause and oppose the system that exploits us- as Faludi notes in her final chapter. Rather than invoking the false attribution model (that SWG's insist on) and blaming ourselves for the failures an egregious and iniquitous sytem has imposed on us. Faludi deserves to be hailed for this work, and I hope as many men as possible will get to read it, to see how society and the culture have brainwashed and propagandized us. Partricularly white men, who are most likely to buy into the societal baloney.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2003

    Wordy but excellent!

    This is most impressive when you consider a feminist ( and a good looking woman at that!)is writing to defend the plight of men in this day and age of restraining orders,sexual harassment,codependnecy and a host of other fad-of-the-day catch phrases. She has obviously done her homework and it is a good but not always easy read. The book is a little long for the basic messages but i think it is an excellent work overall.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2000

    Qualified Tour de Force

    I have thoroughly enjoyed Stiffed, mainly because the author gives us wonderfully detailed and nuanced portraits of very different kinds of men as they struggle to deal with a very alienating and exploitive culture. Faludi is sometimes windy and her writing strains under the sheer accumulation of details she has gathered 'from the field.' I don't always think she has applied the best analysis to her subjects (she is not trained as academic and I can see how some in the academy would poo-poo her) but, as an investigative journalism the book is consistently engrossing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    The best sociological work of its kind

    Stiffed by Susan Faluti: One of the first things that struck me about this book was the incredible amounts of research that went into it. It made me think about other feminist writers I¿ve read, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer, who like Faludi, took great care to be meticulous, to make their case so solidly that no amount of backspin would be able to legitimately refute their analysis. Obviously the feminist movement had good early teachers, people who somehow got though to those who wished to be writers ( and perhaps other professionals as well) that to make it they were going to have to surpass the quality men put into the same kind of work. I can not think of male writers I¿ve read who went to such pains to make certain there were no holes in their case. Even classic sociological studies like that of Max Weber and C. Wright Mills seem intellectually provincial in comparison. But Faludi goes beyond Greer and Friedan, becomes involved with her subjects on an unprecedented level, merges a sharp intellectual insight, (learned from feminism) with an empathy so liquid it made me recall Basho¿s line about poetry, ¿ the problem with most poetry is that it is either objective or subjective. ¿ That perhaps is the greatest wonder of this book, the way it breaks down the sociological walls intellectually and the psychological walls personally. It leaves you feeling what you thought was impossible, Christ¿s prescription to love your enemy. It made me cry terribly by bringing me face to face with the human condition and left me ultimately with a resolve to try again to make some small difference in the world, to go over the social landscape again and find some holes in its totalitarian structure. While I was still a teenager I already understood that what made our own system akin to other totalitarian systems wasn¿t its politics as much as its economy. One did not need to control people politically in our culture because the economy took care of that by leveraging its own sanctions against the differing elements that either wouldn¿t or couldn¿t conform. Throughout the past couple of decades I couldn¿t help but see the similarities between the left wing movements of the sixties and the right wing movements of the eighties and nineties. Though the rhetoric was aimed at one another, the rhetoric never had that meticulous element in its analysis that always seemed to be there in works of the feminists, and feminism never quite led itself to the pigeonholing of left and right, as hard as conservatives tried to condemn it or liberals tried to embrace it. In fact, the most prominent contradiction that seemed to be in most conservative thinking was a peculiarly Marxian dialectic; that the free market itself, while making conservative thought more marketable, was making traditional skills less so. The same thing was happening to the conservative movement that had happened to the new left two decades earlier. They were being coopted by the free market, the very thing that according to their philosophy was meant to either bring them to or keep them in power. Faludi has given a new dimension to this analysis. Those skills are less marketable not only because of technological changes but more succinctly because they are less glamorous. It is not merely that a technological or a service economy has replaced the traditional industrial economy but that celebrity culture is turning us into one dimensional beings. This of course is the by product of having produced massive amounts of junk that nobody ever really wanted and having to find a way to make people want it, of having to many competitive companies collectively overproducing and having to find another level of competition on which to work out their destinies, on allowing an economy to come into being that was based more on quantitative statistics than on qualitative benefits to communities, on demanding that everyone work even if most of the work was meani

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2000

    Telling story of male insecurity

    A good read for any man wondering why our culture makes him feel pathetic, used and ultimately forgotten.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999

    What is this book about??

    The author first rose to fame with a Pulitzer Prize for a story about how a corporate reshuffling at Safeway disrupted the lives of so many people. But what was the point? We learned in Economics 101 that all the reshuffling from the horse and buggy to the Boeing 747 made progress possible. If the truth be told the point is that heart wrenching stories about exploited little people are told over and over again so power will be given to liberal sociologist (of which Ms Faludi is certainly one) so that progress can be managed by them rather than the fools who prefer to travel by 747 more than horse and buggy. In her recent book, 'Backlash' the author claims that men are inherently evil misogynists who are getting back at women for feminism in a thousand ways. In the book at hand, 'Stiffed' it is claimed men aren't really so evil after all but rather they are victims too; victims of general culture; particularly corporate culture. The 'man of the house' macho gunslinger role just doesn't work for men anymore she claims. But the changing role of men and women in modern society has been a standard essay topic in high school English for 30 years so who needs another 700 pages with, seemingly, thousands of more examples. To make her case about the way men are victims without an obvious and meaningful role to play she interviews tons of very sad men from many walks of life to detail the particular corporate/cultural tragedy that has befallen them. But what an effort she made, thinking the whole time she was uncovering new men and new truths, when she could have just turned on The Jerry Springer Show to see the same male porn stars she later wrote about. But the Springer Show is much more accurate in its way. It seems to have an equal number of totally crazy women too. This would lead to the conclusion that being absolutely crazy or just suffering from a general malaise(as President Carter said) has to do with more than gender. But, for a true believer like the author feminism is all and all is feminism. But, if men can be victims too then perhaps they can be enlisted to support their feminist brethren. Such a development sparked by this book would be worth two Pulitzers for sure. But that is too grand for a book that absolutely misdiagnosis the problem and does not even aspire to offer a course of action, let alone a solution. Many see social, political, economic, cultural problems and from them they derive a solution which they ardently want us to accept, and even vote for but 'Stiffed' can't even make the tiniest attempt in this direction because the problem has been so recklessly defined. When asked what men ought to do about their victimization the author says: 'I have no prescription' and when pressed hard she was able to say only and exactly two things: 1) Men should join the very broad international coalition that was protesting free world trade in Seattle, and 2) they should join in the French movement against the imperialistic MacDonald's Hamburger stands which are spreading throughout France like a cancer. Well, in econ 101 you learn about free trade that if you can only buy things made within 100 miles of your home your standard of living would be cut by 99% and that if you can freely buy things made anywhere in the world your standard of living would go up by 99%. And, you learn that it is silly to ban MacDonald's (or any company in a democratic society) since it will be banned anyway, at the exact the moment its customers agree that it is a cancer rather than a blessing. It is hard to recommend a replacement book since one has no idea what the topic is. But, 'Understanding The Difference Between Democrats and Republicans' is still the classic primer on all the major political, social, cultural, and economic problems that face a modern world, and, those problems are neatly detailed by political parties so that when you walk into a voting booth or bump into a Ms Faludi you will have a simple,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 1999

    INTERESTING--BUT?

    STIFFED is a one way street in examining masculine psychology and behavior in today's cultural atmosphere. No doubt what she writes about the modern man is true and accurate for a segment of the male population (and also true of previous male generations) but--she for whatever reason--ignores the vast differences in today's male behavior that respond to the masculine primeval need to dominate and take charge. Look around and you shall see boxing and wrestling events as well as strenuous martial arts competitions. One of the fastest growing fighting arts today, but relatively unknown, is the pankration-like combat in which men fist fight and wrestle naked with bare fists in an exhausting and excruciating fight to the finish until one man is sujugated into the agony of defeat. Yet, unlike the earlier ancient Grecian pankration combat, the battle between them is fought with great honor and the highest ideals of sportsmanship respecting the sanctity of the human body. The ASIAN DUEL OF STRENGTH is fought not to injure or destroy one's rival but to test one's strength and endurance against a rival of equal height and weight and in the process of combat men increase strength and endurance in each succeeding encounter.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2015

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