The Terror Dream:

I can’t believe how long it has taken me to post about this book.  I’ve had it as a draft for weeks.

The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America by Susan Faludi was a GREAT book.  And I rarely say that.  Faludi explores the sexual anxiety that America experienced after 9/11 and why women (feminists) were suddenly either demonized or urged to get married, stay home and make babies.  In other words, women had to fulfill the victim role…in need of being protected and taken care of…or else they were viragos who were responsible for the male failure to protect the nation.  The first part of the book deals with various studies and media representations of women after 9/11…from the lionization of 9/11 widows who said their primary and greatest duty was to take care of their family to supposed baby booms and single women suddenly reconsidering their choosiness and deciding what was most important was finding a nice man with whom to settle down, even if he wasn’t the greatest catch. 

In the second part of the book, Faludi ties back this response to 9/11 to American’s earliest history and traces it from Puritan days to the Revolutionary and even Civil War.  She believes that the anxiety caused by 9/11 can be traced back to anxiety about our inability to deal with the natives.  At first, captivity narratives such as Mary Rowlandson’s were hailed as the appropriate response to the native threat.  Rowlandson is a good, Christian woman who submits to her abduction as God’s will.  However, she can take care of herself and that was ok.  Such narratives were prized. However, as time went on, abduction narratives began to paint men in a negative light (e.g. the husband scramming with the rest of the kids, leaving his wife and newborn to fend for themselves) and women began to act, well, less womanly (e.g. hacking natives to death because they remembered there was a reward for each native killed).  It began to be suspected that somehow women were sapping the vitality of the men and preventing them from being heroic.  As a result, female heroism began to be viewed with suspicion and even marginalized.  Only certain types of female heroism could be acknowledged and rewarded, and it was best if the female wasn’t heroic at all.  This anxiety has become part of our national psyche.

Stunning stuff.  For the most part, I really liked and enjoyed this book.  I found myself appalled by the first half of the book dealing with 9/11 and how women were treated.  How could I not have noticed it?  She cited several articles and essays from Time magazine, and I know I read them because I have been a subscriber to Time for over 10 years.  I’m sure I didn’t bat an eye when I read the essays she cites that are so damning when read in her book.   But I also remember being scared to death after 9/11 even though I live in NC.  I had just turned 24 2 days before 9/11.  And interestingly, I was engaged to be married two months later.  I had never been through anything like 9/11 before.  My life had been free from Cold War anxiety, the stress of Vietnam, etc.  Instead of feeling like I needed to rush to the altar like women were apparently urged to, I wondered if maybe we should postpone our wedding.  It didn’t seem right to have such a conspicuous display a few short months after 9/11. 

I didn’t agree with everything Faludi wrote.  For example, many of the examples she used were from extremely big cities, and I wonder how they played in other areas of the nation.  As well, I don’t think it is so unreasonable that anyone–man or woman–wonder about their lives and to whom they would cling if tragedy occurred.  Of course you are going to wonder who would miss you and how things would be different if you did or didn’t have a spouse.  I think that’s human nature.  I was scared to death and glad I had a fiance on whom I could lean.  I don’t think I would have necessarily have run right out and found the first guy to marry to provide that if I had been single, but it was a scary time, and it would good knowing I had someone. 

I like Faludi’s work and hate that some don’t read her because she is a “feminist.”  While I might not agree with everything she wrote in the book, I am angered enough by my own failure to notice what was being written that I swear to always read with a skeptical and aware mind. 

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