In my reading of Susan Faludi’s 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, I’ve moved into what may turn out to be my favorite part of the book: Faludi’s critique of the New Right. I enjoy reading about American conservatism, and I find that I have read some of the books and periodicals that Faludi mentions: Alan Crawford’s Thunder on the Right, Rosemary Thompson’s The Price of LIBerty, Phyllis Schlafly’s The Power of the Positive Woman, Conservative Digest, etc.
Is Faludi fair to the New Right? There are some times when I wish that she could provide more information. For instance, she says that a provision of conservative Senator Paul Laxalt’s Family Protection Act would “repeal all federal laws protecting battered wives from their husbands” (page 236). I don’t think that the New Right supports domestic violence, for I remember reading in Carol Felsenthal’s biography about Phyllis Schlafly, The Sweetheart of the Silent Majority, that Phyllis looks with favor on the days when wife-beaters were publicly beaten. Moreover, my impression is that conservatives dislike federal legislation regarding spousal abuse because they believe that such an issue should be a state concern, not because they’re okay with domestic violence. But I welcome gentle correction and information about how their policies impact victims.
To her credit, Faludi does read the other side, and, in a sense, she is fair to it. For example, she does not portray Phyllis Schlafly entirely as a retrogressive matriarch, for she notes that Schlafly in The Power of the Positive Woman praises strong women and the advances that women have made. That tells me that Faludi is at least willing to listen to the other side, even though there are places in her book where I feel that I am reading a caricature.
Probably my favorite passage in my latest reading of Faludi is on page 239:
“These ‘pro-life’ advocates torched inhabited family-planning clinics, championed the death penalty, and called the atom bomb ‘a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.’ These ‘pro-motherhood’ crusaders campaigned against virtually every federal program that assisted mothers, from prenatal services to infant feeding programs. Under the banner of ‘family rights,’ these spokesmen lobbied only for every man’s right to rule supreme at home—-to exercise what Falwell called the husband’s ‘God-given responsibility to lead his family.'”
Some of this is not entirely fair. Most pro-life activists do not torch inhabited family-planning clinics. New Right conservatives’ support for the death penalty does not necessarily contradict their belief that innocent life should be protected. And they believe in a strong national defense because they think that is what secures the peace. At the same time, I can appreciate Faludi’s point in that I do wish that conservatives would respect the value of all life—-the lives of those who are unjustly put to death under capital punishment, the lives of civilian innocents that are lost in war, etc. Moreover, I question the New Right’s implication that it is pro-family, whereas liberals are anti-family, for is it not pro-family for the government to make things a little easier for middle and lower income families—-through the federal programs that Faludi talks about?
The title of this section is “Origins of a Reaction: Backlash Movers, Shakers, and Thinkers”. Up to this point, I have wondered whom Faludi blames for the backlash against the advancement of women. She believes that blue-collar men and the media are mere receptors of the backlash, not the people who are primarily responsible for it. So who is responsible for it, in her eyes? The New Right? How did it get to the point where it could influence the media, especially when, in certain respects, it has been a marginal movement that has seen itself as marginal?