Faludi feels men's pain Feminism: Helping women requires insight into men, she believes.

March 29, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

For the most part, the college men who attended Susan Faludi's lecture at Loyola College Wednesday night clung to the rear of McGuire Hall, the brims of their caps tilted low, should any feminist shrapnel fly their way.

In her highly acclaimed 1991 book "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women," Ms. Faludi assailed male rage and resistance to the women's movement. And this lecture, which attracted 700 students and faculty, was billed: "Whose Backlash Is It Anyway? The Women's Movement and Angry White Men."

On an affluent and conservative campus like Loyola, a school that "prides itself on the homogeneity of its student body," as one professor puts it, Ms. Faludi's controversial themes could spell fighting words for young men poised to enter that downsized, grown-up world.

As it turned out, Ms. Faludi had a confession to make about her prior research. In what was either an "epiphany or an embarrassing discovery," she realized that she was "concentrating on the wrong sex."

Women's quest for economic and intellectual parity are still crucial, Ms. Faludi stressed. But her reading of many studies indicates that today, more men than women suffer from a sense of hopelessness and depression. Men, not women, fail most frequently in the effort to juggle work and family.

And so, in preparation for her next book, Ms. Faludi, 37, plunged into what she calls the "uncharted waters" of masculinity. She has spent the last several years visiting "all-male domains," including a court-ordered therapy group for Los Angeles men accused of battering their wives, a GI Joe convention, support groups for laid-off aerospace workers, and denizens of the "Dawg Pound," those rambunctious Cleveland Browns fans who are "not sure who they are without their team."

Throughout the country, Ms. Faludi found "men in pain." Some, of course, were men who have also inflicted pain. This and other paradoxes made Ms. Faludi all the more aware of how complicated gender issues are and how impervious they are to polemical solutions. After getting to know the batterers, as well as their wives and girlfriends, she thought, "How can you pick sides in these couples' lives? To do so would demean everyone involved."

To dismiss men's growing sense of hopelessness "would prevent us from better understanding men's resistance to female equality," Ms. Faludi concluded.

As she probes male identity, Ms. Faludi said, she has "accumulated more questions than answers." But that hasn't stopped her from becoming, somewhat reluctantly, more than an astute social critic and reporter.

Ms. Faludi's work and visibility have thrust her into the role of cultural guide for a confused and disoriented nation. At the end of Wednesday's lecture, Ms. Faludi called for a "new paradigm of sexual politics," one that would preserve a sense of manhood while allowing women the equality they deserve.

Ms. Faludi winces when people approach her for solutions to the social muddles she examines. On the other hand, she said, "It's a responsibility for me or anybody calling for change to have some ideas."

The next morning at breakfast with Ms. Faludi, students Amanda Cassidy, president of the Young Feminist Group at Loyola, and her friend Christeen Bernard jokingly called themselves "feminist central" on campus. After Ms. Faludi's lecture, they said their phones rang constantly, as students exchanged thoughts and opinions.

One friend of Ms. Cassidy's was highly offended by the talk but could not articulate why, other than to call herself a Republican, she said. But Ms. Bernard's conservative roommate was impressed by Ms. Faludi's reasoning.

After breakfast, Ms. Faludi took questions in a gender studies course called "Public/Private Distinction in American Life." The questions came from women. They asked about "anti-feminist feminists" and the National Organization for Women's concern for minorities. One student asked how women could join forces with other women to effect change.

"Part of the problem is living in America," Ms. Faludi responded. Here, "you've got to do everything on your own. It doesn't count unless it's an individual effort. Women's collective political thinking is not encouraged at all."

When the class concluded, a group of women gathered to speak to Ms. Faludi further and get her autograph. The college men, hats tilted against the flak, left.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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