Susan Faludi has no trouble documenting the war she describes in her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women's subtitle. Launching a counter-attack, Faludi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Wall Street Journal, takes aim at the normally veiled maneuvers of media moguls, business executives, and politicians. Her book demonstrates how this elite of mostly male and mostly pale opinion makers has in the past decade propagated images of women that are reactionary, degrading, and, in some cases, demonstrably false.
If Faludi's rhetoric is frequently heated, she nevertheless writes well enough to make the developments she describes as vivid as an expose on 60 Minutes. Her book is a mosaic of anecdotes and profiles that put a human face on the forces that shape our public culture. She looks at everything from the world of high fashion to trends in popular psychology. She takes readers into the offices of major news organizations and shows how editors have cooked up bogus stories about women. She goes behind the scenes of the popular television series thirtysomething and interviews the staff, finding one female writer who frets that the show's characters leave the impression that ''all single women are unhappy.'' And she reveals how trend watcher Faith Popcorn turned herself into a media guru by coining the term ''cocooning'' to describe the growing number of professional women leaving the work force to become old- fashioned housewives.
But, in fact, ''cocooning'' may not have been a trend at all. In the past decade the number of women in the work force has steadily risen. And remember the ''man shortage'' and ''infertility epidemic'' of the 1980s? According to Faludi, neither happened. Census Bureau data released in 1985 show a clear surplus of single men between the ages of 25 and 54. Similarly, a 1985 U.S. National Center for Health Statistics study found that the incidence of infertility since 1965 had declined.
For nearly 500 pages, Faludi marshalls her evidence, sometimes in anger, often with humor, almost always to devastating effect. ''The backlash decade,'' she concludes, ''produced one long, painful, and unremitting campaign to thwart women's progress.'' But ''women never really surrendered'' certainly Faludi hasn't. A-