When I first came across Susan Faludi’s Backlash in my Women’s Studies class at university, I felt vindicated and understood. I’d been grappling with the limitations of liberal feminism and couldn’t quite articulate the overwhelming sense of unease, the backlash, that persisted for me.
It was published in 1991, felt pertinent when I read it in 2005 or so and basically hits me over the head with how relevant it still is now. As an investigative journalist, Faludi posed a structured and compelling narrative of misinformation and outright deception in the backlash to the rising feminist movement - I mean, sound familiar?
‘The truth is that the last decade has seen a powerful counterassault on women’s rights, a backlash, an attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women. The counterassault is largely insidious: in a kind of pop-culture version of the Big Lie, it stands the truth boldly on its head and proclaims that the very steps that have elevated women’s position have actually led to their downfall’.
More than 25 years later and I’m still oscillating between nodding my head and banging it on the desk in front of me.
Faludi will be making the closing address at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. It was the first ticket I bought. Her recent book is more personal, a reflection on her family and identity, but I’m desperate to hear her speak. Engaging with her ideas remains essential - ‘for the most part’, she writes of the period, ‘the workings are encoded and internalized, diffuse and chameleonic… the backlash against women’s rights succeeds to the degree that it appears not to be political, that it appears not to be a struggle’.
To hear her speak to these issues now, when her country has just elected Trump, when women’s most basic access to healthcare is being eroded, when people around the world are marching for change, when both the groundswell of support for and criticism of the women’s movement is being paraded in the media, will be remarkable. I hope to think on her work, and the work ahead of us, with a renewed sense of purpose and a hell of a lot of fight.
* From the 23 May 2017 Make Nice Newsletter.