Picks and Pans Review: Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women

UPDATED 12/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

by Susan Faludi

The women's movement has only worsened the lot of American women. Right?

Wrong. With painstaking research and in chilling detail, Faludi, a Pulitzer-prizewinning reporter, shows how during the past decade screaming headlines and anecdotal lifestyle features have fed American women false information, designed to discredit feminism. In fact Faludi provides evidence that your chances of marrying past 30 today are greater than at any point in history. There is—and was—no burgeoning fertility crisis: "Overall," Faludi writes, citing a U.S. National Center for Health Statistics survey, "the percentage of women unable to have babies had actually fallen—from 11.2 percent in 1965 to 8.5 percent in 1982." And mothers who remain in the work force exhibit greater life satisfaction than those who leave it, while "research...has consistently found that if day care has any long-term effect...it seems to make children slightly more gregarious and independent."

Faludi is also merciless in her critique of popular culture. The pilot's "bio" for thirty something's homemaking Hope, for example, said only, "Hope is married to Michael." CBS executives vetoed affairs for single cop Cagney, while pronouncing them acceptable for male Magnum P.I. In the late '80s, the fashion industry started its self-inflicted decline "by pushing 'little-girl dresses'... at a time when the average American woman was thirty-two years old, weighed 143 pounds and wore a size 10 or 12 dress."

Visiting various conservative organizations lobbying for old-fashioned "family values" (read: Mom, stay home), Faludi wryly counts the number of working mothers in their ranks. Faludi also relates how in 1985 then EEOC Chairman Clarence Thomas undercut his own attorneys, who were pressing a sex-discrimination suit against Sears.

Like the Thomas-Hill hearings, this book is destined to enrage the most passive women and make even liberated men squirm. It is also an important book, with Faludi's astonishing findings matched by the grace, intelligence and humor of her prose. (Crown, $24)

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