How 9/11 Questions Gender Roles (A response to Susan Faludi’s talk)

by Isabel Braverman

Author Susan Faludi presented “9/11: Myth, Media and Gender” at Ithaca College as part of the Park Center for Independent Media’s speaker series. The talk was about the connections between 9/11 aftermath and gender roles in American society. The cynical side of me thought “oh god, here’s another feminist relating everything to how women are thought of as inferior to men” (I get enough of that, going to Ithaca College). I’m not anti-feminist, I’m just making a social observation. I also thought that you could relate almost anything to 9/11. But, when presented with the facts and Faludi’s well structured and well written argument (it was poignant, funny and eye-opening all at the same time) I silently reprimanded myself for thinking so.

9/11 questioned many things about America- who are Americans? What holds us together? From where is our courage? America thinks of itself as the strongest country in the world (I am personifying America here as I don’t want to generalize all Americans by saying “we”). America is strong, doesn’t take no for an answer, and cannot be attacked on home ground. Faludi pointed out that the only other times we were attacked was not only Pearl Harbor, but also the attacks on Native Americans by white settlers, how this country was founded. America was already a beefed up egotistical country, and like the bully in middle school who is taunted by the wimpy kid, they must then prove their strength after being attacked. Strength, in America, means men.

Faludi questioned why, when it was the center of trade and business that was attacked, did we feel the need to revert to the golden age of family values? In the days when men brought home the bacon and the women cooked it up. In the 9/11 aftermath, single women were thought of as unpatriotic and a threat to American family values. Some media went so far as to say if a single woman was on the plane headed toward the Twin Towers, who would they call? The Towers themselves were representative of a couple, a man and woman. Why did being attacked mean our country needed to restore family values?

Women journalists were also disappearing in the media. Women’s bylines in newspapers decreased by 50 percent, and there was a 40 percent decrease of women on air. The press believed that women were sending the wrong message. They wanted to appear strong, like they could protect you. This was congruent with the rest of the country- we needed big strong men to protect the country and its small frail women. Male political figures were re-formatted as action figures, superheroes and cowboys.

Faludi brought up many other shocking examples of gender stereotypes in the media after 9/11. Post-9/11 was a frenzied time in the media when reporters were perpetuating ridiculous and untrue stories. Faludi commented that they suffered from “post 9/11 reporter stress syndrome.” In a democratic society, we hold up the media to report on what is happening… what is actually happening. It is up to us to hold them to it. The question Faludi’s talk brings up is what do we do about this? Faludi joked that as a journalist she just identifies the problem, and doesn’t offer a solution. Though she did have a solution- continue to question what the media puts forth.