Susan Faludi on 9/11 Myths and Truths

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Susan Faludi

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Overall, including the Pentagon and the planes, the ratio of death was three to one male to female. So when you have a situation where the majority of victims were actually men, how do you make that fit into our cherished storyline of men galloping to the rescue of violated women on the prairie?

Why do you believe that the Jessica Lynch story so important to the country and to the Administration?

The Jessica Lynch story, or I should say the manufactured Jessica Lynch story, was the perfect parable of our cultural myth. The story we were told by the government and the military and the media was that Special Ops teams armed with all kinds of fancy weaponry battled their way through a fierce fight into the Iraqi hospital to rescue Lynch from these bloodthirsty Fedayin death squads. Of course, the reality was that there was no battle and there were no death squads and the hospital was mainly peopled by doctors and nurses who were trying to take care of her and were actually trying to return her to the U.S. military. What we turned it into as a culture was the story we wanted to hear of the daring raid and the helpless, rescued girl. It was quite striking to me from the get-go that the military and the media and the government and government officials insinuated over and over again that she had been sexually violated. Even when the evidence was at best sketchy and she herself said, 'hey, I have no memory of this. I don't know what you're talking about.' It was so important to put her in that role; not just her personally, but to have that image of a woman threatened by the ultimate female form of violation and for men to come to the rescue.

You're not too happy with the media's role in all of this, are you?

No, I'm not. I'm disturbed by how much my own profession played a role in propping up this mess. I want to believe that there are other people in the media, as well, who look back with a combination of horror and embarrassment and a desire to redo some of the things they said.

You write about the fact that there weren't many women's voices post-9/11, either on the editorial pages or on the talk shows. Why do you think that happened?

Women are acculturated not to jump in there and yell and scream and pontificate and bloviate as much as men in this country. But even factoring that in, there was a dramatic decline from the low point. You had a 40% drop of women guests on the important Sunday morning talk shows. You had dramatic declines on all the Op-Ed pages of all the important newspapers, and even women who would seem like obvious guests for the Sunday morning talk shows, like Diane Feinstein or Barbara Boxer who are both chairpersons of subcommittees on terrorism, there was this feeling that this was the time for men and women should take a back seat. There was one place where there were plenty of women's faces on TV, and that was the 9/11 widows, as long as they played the role of helpless homemaker victims. In the absence of female victims in the planes or rescued from the events of 9/11, the TV shows trotted out 9/11 widows as the substitute victims. Then, the Larry Kings and Bill O'Reillys acted like daddy saviors towards them...There was this need to assert the protective authority role of men, particularly after a trauma in which every aspect of the male protective system failed. Our government ignored warnings that we were about to come under attack. Our 9/11 dispatch system did not warn people properly. Our military did not protect our skies.

Do you think that your perspective on this is colored by your own politics? Are you concerned that you're seeing it through a feminist prism or a liberal one?

Well, I'd like to turn that around and say I feel that our cultural analysts don't look through a gender prism enough. No, I don't. This isn't a particularly liberal or conservative take. We reacted in this very strange way, and how do you explain it? This is my attempt to explain it. Other people come up with other theories, and I hope they will.

Could you see a more productive way that we could have gone other than this myth-making?

Yes. First and foremost, we could have reacted to the actual threat in a practical and realistic way. Compare our reaction with England or Spain who treated their terrorist attacks as criminal actions that had to be systematically and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. If we had kept our eye on the ball and not run off to Iraq just so we could say that America is Number One, mission accomplished, we might have actually pursued the actual antagonists and ensured our security in a meaningful way.

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