With the trend-sensitive cultural savvy that served Susan Faludi so well in her 1991 best-seller ”Backlash,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had been tracking male malaise well before the terrible, tragic young men of Littleton, Colo., first adopted black trench coats as the defiant costume of outcasts. And in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man — an eye-catching title that demonstrates a whole new level of postfeminist provocateur humor — Faludi bags and tags mountains of research in support of her sweeping, sound-bite-ready thesis.
(1) Manly morale is a mess because ”masculine” industrial economy has been replaced by ”feminine” service economy — not to mention an obsession with ”feminine” ornamental celebrity in which appearance regularly trumps ”masculine” substance (a separate dissertation is needed to discuss these sexist stereotypes).
(2) The loss of economic authority has been accompanied by a devaluing of traditional male virtues such as loyalty and fraternity, not to mention that girls are being admitted to the Citadel.
(3) At the core of the sickness is a sense of paternal betrayal. In the post-World War II era of abundance, Faludi writes, ”Never… did fathers have so much to pass on…. And conversely, never was there such a burden on the sons to learn how to run a world they would inherit. Yet the fathers… failed to pass the mantle, the knowledge, all that power and authority… on to their sons.”
Briefly, only briefly, the author asks why. Why did dads fail sons? Why haven’t men risen up, as women did so dramatically in the ’70s, to change the system? But there’s no time and no room here for Faludi to consider such unwieldy follow-up questions. Instead, she jams her book with voluminous reporting and interview transcripts to stress (and frequently overstress) her argument.
”Stiffed” is reader-friendly and gender-inclusive, calm in argument and conciliatory in approach; no one need be frightened by any gusts of sharp feminist emotion here. And that’s both its appeal and its limitation: It’s a fat, flashy, provocative book meant to describe the condition of an oppressed majority by a highly empowered member of the opposition. ”If my travels taught me anything about the two sexes,” she says in good-girl conclusion, ”it is that each of our struggles depends on the success of the other’s.” Easy for you to say, sister.