Susan Faludi’s new book, “The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-911 America,” gives the game away the game in the title. Just what kinds of fantasies? Well, fortunately, Kay Hymowitz has read the book so I won’t have to. Hymowitz writes:
“Faludi’s diagnosis runs like this: September 11 so traumatized Americans that they released their John Wayne id out of its cage in the collective unconscious. Tormented by an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability, they sought comfort in ‘rescue fantasies’ starring stereotypically fearless masculine heroes such as a cowboy president, New York City firemen, and ordinary male civilians who, with their ‘Let’s roll’ war whoop, fought the hijackers of Flight 93.”
Alas, such “rescue fantasies” short-change women:
“There could be no room for powerful or even competent women during this sort of neurotic seizure, Faludi believes. In America’s fevered brain, men had to be the stereotypical protectors, women the protected. The media always showed pictures of firemen saving women, even though most of those working in the World Trade Center were men. The media ignored the six female rescue workers at the WTC and the stewardesses on Flight 93, who planned to use boiling water to ward off their attackers. The media swooned over weeping widows; wrote exaggerated reports that a rash of single career women, in the anxiety of the moment, were wondering if it wasn’t time to settle down and get married; and prattled on about ‘security moms.’ Meanwhile, women who might have tempered some of this madness were disappeared from television pundit chairs and print editorial offices.”
Why does Faludi derive such odd ideas from the very real destruction of 911?
“Faludi can’t begin to make sense of the raw human instincts that underlie such headlines,” writes Hymowitz, “since she’s at heart a full-bore ideologue. Remember the 1980s cartoon that depicted a wild-eyed woman asking: ‘World War III? But what about my career?’ Faludi brings her to life: ‘A horrific attack by a death-loving terror group? But what about feminism?’ she says, in effect. The condemnation that greeted Susan Sontag’s callous words about American blame for the attacks as the towers lay smoldering, and the widespread criticism of Nation columnist Katha Pollitt’s reluctance to allow her daughter to fly the American flag? For Faludi, who evidently forgets the skewering of Michael Moore and Ward Churchill for similar comments, these were attacks on feminism. The conservative press’s ‘Swift-boating’ of the Jersey Girls, the 9/11 widows from the Garden State, after they began supporting the Kerry campaign? Blame the fact that they were strong women in the middle of a ‘grueling traveling and speaking tour.’ Had they been Bush supporters, though, their ‘we-are-no-safer-today’ plaint doubtless would have earned Faludi’s dismissal as a ‘protection fantasy.'”