This weekend I attended a reading of The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, by Naomi Wolf, and finished Susan Faludi's new book, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, within months of each other, two of the most prominent feminist voices of the 1990s have hit the ground running with stirring takes on the social, political, and cultural fallout of 9/11. Who better to expose the myths and media narratives that have justified the increasing power of a Cowboy President, gun slinging blusters on a global scale, and the erosion of democratic rule of law here at home than feminist critics?
Neither writer disappoints. With characteristic laser-like focus, Faludi documents the cultural response to an assault on American omnipotence. At the moment our nation felt most vulnerable, she argues, our media responded with a frenzied summons to restore virility, calling up images of John Wayne masculinity and trembling "security moms" in need of rescue. "No doubt the fantasy consoled many," Faludi concludes. "But rather than make us any safer, it misled us into danger....There are consequences to living in a dream."
Wolf picks up where Faludi leaves off, outlining the political actions that unfolded, unimpeded, while America slept. (Full disclosure: Wolf and I are colleagues through the Woodhull Institute.) She makes a compelling case for the fragility of democracy, noting along the way the steps taken post-9/11 to subvert the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law: in the years since the towers fell, we've seen the establishment of secret prisons, the surveillance of ordinary citizens, the infiltration of citizens' groups, arbitrary detainment, the casting of criticism as "espionage" and dissent as "treason," the restriction of the press, and more.
Both books end with pleas for action. "September 11 offers us, even now, the chance to...imagine a national identity grounded not on virile illusion but on the talents and vitality of all of us equally, men and women both," writes Faludi. Wolf calls on citizens across the political spectrum to join the war to save our democracy from within: "Each one of us needs to enlist. We have no one to spare."
The last time Wolf and Faludi published books within months of each other -- both Wolf's Beauty Myth and Faludi's Backlash debuted in 1991 -- the nation witnessed a resurgence of interest in feminism as an explanatory theme in women's lives. This time, may the persuasive, impassioned call coming from these cultural observers serve as a wakeup to those of us diverted by Angelina's weight gain, the fall of the housing market, the collapse of the Mets.
And may the mainstream media start taking note. While Wolf's book hits number 14 on The New York Times bestseller list among paperback nonfiction this week, only SFGate and The Washington Post seem to have covered its release in any depth. True, Wolf recently appeared on The Colbert Report. But is parody the only medium these days through which such critical messages get heard?