by Susan Faludi
Back in 1986, when the media was busy scaring unwed career women with tales of a looming “man shortage,” Newsweek famously declared that a 40-year-old single woman was “more likely to be killed by a terrorist” than marry. One didn’t need a degree in actuarial science to know the claim was ludicrous, but it instantly instilled fear in the unmarried female populace. There was probably no more repeated line in the backlash ‘80s. And no wonder: the formula had such resonance. For American women, the threat of terror and submission to second-class status historically have gone hand in hand.
Never mind the well-established fact that an American woman is far likelier to be attacked or killed by a “loved one” than a stranger. Terror is invariably depicted as violence from alien invaders, a violence that can be evaded only by surrendering to the yoke of domestic male “protection.”
The terror-submission formula that Newsweek story spelled out so baldly–get married or get blown up—has been in operation in this country since the days of the wagon trains. Pioneer women crossing the Overland Trail were inundated with horror stories about imminent Indian rape and pillage. In fact, as the women’s diaries and letters have since revealed, less than 10% ever encountered a problem with the native population. As pioneer Caroline Richardson confided in her journal in 1851, “We are continually hearing of the depredations of the Indians but we have not seen one yet.” Julie Sinks, who settled in Austin, Texas, concluded that “ladies’ men” were ginning up “a host of fears for the pleasure of allaying them.”
Flash forward to the 2004 presidential race, in which the ladies’ men of the Bush re-election campaign deployed the same tactic: swarthy terrorists were poised to invade America’s suburban homesteads, and “security moms” could only find relief by submitting to another four years with our presidential sheriff and his strong-man deputies.
As it turned out, women were no safer under the Bush administration, which has worked on multiple fronts to undermine their security (from economic health to reproductive rights—and it didn’t do such a hot job with national security, either.) Yet once again it’s the vaunted rescuer, not the supposed terrorist, who women have most to fear.
Susan Faludi is the author of The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America (Paperback, Picador 2008), Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (Crown 1991), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (William Morrow 1991). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Nation, among other publications.
Protecting the Human Family by Sally Roesch Wagner
“Terrorism is the unpredictable violent destruction or taking away of what is mine.” This is the definition of terrorism from a friend.
What is mine. My thoughts catch on that phrase and stick. What is mine, anyway? I don’t know. My retirement home — my lake cottage in South Dakota — the only land I own, isn’t mine, if I’m to be honest to my history profession. I’ve studied the conditions of the treaty, know the coercion, brainwashing, violence, forced starvation that created it, that took the land from the Dakota nation.
If I have a piece of bread in my hand and the woman across from me is starving, is the bread mine?
Of course. I bought it. I earned the money to buy it.
Of course not, if I fatten as she starves.
If I am part of the human family, what I have is hers.
If I am a part of the world of property, it is mine and I will fight to the death to keep my property. I will let my own children starve so I can buy guns to protect my piece of bread.
Will we win in Iraq? Afghanistan? What will we win? How many terrorist hearts will grow out of the rubble? How many grow now in the bellies of Palestinian women who pass Israeli swimming pools on their two mile walk to get water for their families to drink, the nearest water on their side of the fence? What if we had spent all the money on bread that we spent on bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan?
It is a foolish question. It is as foolish as this one sounded 150 years ago: What if we immediately freed all the people held in slavery? It is the sort of question that a child would ask. Here’s another question: What action would we take if we said that terrorism in five years is not an option?
Sally Roesch Wagner, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, New York.
Gaining Control by Kate Millett
Controlling our wombs — that is and has always been the main issue that the movement should be working on.
Twenty years ago, Millett said, “When you’re working.. .on any kind of social change, it is extremely important always to have that radical edge or your intellectual content will turn to water.” Read more of her cutting-ed comments in BREAKING THE BARRIERS Merle Hoffman Interviews Kate Millett in the Vol. 10 1988 On The Issues Magazine.
Kate Millett, PhD, is a sculptor and author. Her books include Sexual Politics (Doubleday 1970, reissued 2000); The Prostitution Papers (1973); Flying (1974); Stia (1977);. The Basement (1979); Going to Iran (1979); The Loony-Bin Trip (1990): Believe me, you don’t want a picture of that! (1991);The Politics Of Cruelty (1994); Mother Millett (2002). In 1971, she began the Women’s Art Colony Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she now lives.