Magazine article The Spectator

Frustrated Masters of the Universe

Magazine article The Spectator

Frustrated Masters of the Universe

Article excerpt

STIFFED: THE BETRAYAL OF MODERN MAN

by Susan Faludi Chatto, L15, pp. 662

The author of this gigantic, high-flying and rather belligerent work is one of the world's greatest experts on what, I think, are called `gender politics'. Susan Faludi's last book, Backlash, which won a Pulitzer Prize and was translated into millions of languages, was about women's distress at the start of this decade. She now turns her attention to men and the terrible, terrible problems they face at the end of the millennium.

Inadequately mothered and fathered, men are apparently now going through an appalling crisis of their own, imprisoned by the surrounding `ornamental culture', severely wounded along `the bloody paths to virility' and full of bitter grievances against women. In other words, men are now flat out, deadbeat, paralysed or, to use Miss Faludi's phrase, stiffed.

To unearth what she calls `the determining factors in modern masculinity', the author has travelled widely and deeply. She has fearlessly penetrated the baseball and military worlds, wandered `the crud-caked sidewalks' of suburban Los Angeles, attended `Alternative to Violence' groups, visited a university campus where every second epithet is 'faggot' and in fact made a thorough nuisance of herself. She has interviewed `bad boys' from the Mid-West, out-of-work shipyard workers and highearning porn stars, lunched in fast-food Mexican franchises and in the grandest restaurants in Manhattan.

All these explorations have been backed up by deep reading and historical research: the meticulously documented text of this book is spattered with references to all sorts of enticing-sounding other works and learned papers, such as Sue Kaufman's Diary of a Mad Housewife, Smalley's The Hidden Keys to a Loving Lasting Marriage and Professor Kleinberg's essay `Where Have all the Sissies Gone?'

Yes, Susan Faludi is worryingly well informed and writes in the racy, raunchy, high-intensity prose you would expect from a New Yorker contributor. Her chapters are crafted in a newsy, journalistic style, slang and jargon are generously employed and the text abounds with clever phrases as the author steers us through `the riptide of celebrity culture' and `the mystery of men's non-rebellion' leads us towards 'a ceremonial gate to nowhere'. I doubt if anyone has written more informatively about the `celebrity-driven consumer culture' in which so many American sociologists work and make their fortunes. …

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