The New York Times on Susan Faludi’s desk was turned to the Business section, where a headline asked, “To address gender gap, is it enough to lean in?” The article—which featured a few of Faludi’s own annotations—referenced the fall-out from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” the book that dominated the feminist news cycle over the summer.
Faludi—Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, celebrated feminist author, and visiting 2013-2014 Tallman Scholar—is not tired of talking about Sandberg’s controversial book.
“I’m of two minds,” she said. “I completely agree…that the absence of women at the top in corporate America is something that needs to be redressed.
“But, having said that, I don’t think we’re going to achieve gender equality by telling women they just need to change their own behavior and defeat the internal obstacles within them,” she added. “Are there internal obstacles? Sure, but that’s not why 40 percent of single mothers are at the poverty line.”
Faludi is well known for articulating this sort of insight and discussing the need for equality in daily American lives. This more populist approach to feminism also meant she was a good fit for Bowdoin.
“The Bowdoin Gender and Women’s Studies Program (GWS) is a program that really likes to focus on the intersection of women and issues of class and race,” said GWS Director Kristen Ghodsee. “Where some other programs are more esoteric in terms of the gender theory they do, we tend to really focus on practice: real women in the real world, gender issues broadly construed.”
Faludi has been writing about social issues for decades and reached national success in the early 1990s. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for her reporting on “the human costs” of Safeway’s financial practices, which she spent months researching while working for the Wall Street Journal.
Her first book, “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women,” was published that same year, and shortly thereafter, Faludi left the newspaper industry because she really wanted to “probe more deeply and concentrate on feminist issues.”
Her next books, “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man” and “The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasty in Post 9/11 America” were published in 1999 and 2007, respectively.
From an early age
As a child, Faludi found she had a lot in common with the titular character in “Harriet the Spy,” the 1960s novel that has served as a sort of handbook for decades of curious young girls.
“I realized that when I picked up my notebook and went around and asked people questions, I suddenly had a lot of power and authority,” Faludi said.
She began writing for her elementary school newspaper and was writing stories that irritated authority figures by fifth grade.
“The principal would say, ‘please, do you have to write that?,’” she said.
Her interest in feminism developed alongside her journalistic instincts. When Faludi was in middle school, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a topic of national debate, and the Roe v. Wade decision was still a few years away.
“I did a survey of the class…I asked what they thought about the ERA, I asked what they thought about reproductive rights,” she said. “The students were overwhelmingly in favor” of both.
At the next school board meeting, an angry woman “was waving the newspaper and ranting and raving that this was a fascist communist Pinko plot,” Faludi said.
Even though “it was horrifying that she thought I should be expelled,” it was then that Faludi realized that the issue of women’s rights was “profoundly charged” and “profoundly important.”
When Faludi arrived at Harvard in the late 1970s, she planned on pursuing a career in law or academia.
“But I got caught up in the Crimson,” Harvard’s student-run daily paper, she said.
The male to female ratio among Harvard’s student body was three to one during Faludi’s time there, and she “covered the faculty and wrote a lot about women’s issues. [During this period] there was no sexual harassment policy until a young woman came forward and filed a charge.”
After graduation, Faludi was a “copy girl” at the New York Times, a glorified intern position that involved writing stories off the clock and without the credit of a byline.
From there she moved to the Miami Herald and made her way to the San Francisco bureau of the Wall Street Journal, when she wrote her Pulitzer-winning story.
“Feminism and journalism for me are both ways of questioning what I see,” she said. “Both of these callings are about challenging the world around me and hoping to…be a part of changing society for the better…as hokey as that sounds.”
The road to Brunswick
Faludi returned to Harvard in 2008, when she was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advance Study. A few years later, Ghodsee completed the same program, and Ghodsee and Faludi met as alumni.
“We hit it off immediately,” said Faludi, and the two applied for an exploratory seminar grant. In October 2012, they taught a two-day seminar at Radcliffe called Gender, Socialism, and Postsocialism: Transatlantic Dialogues.
Because she had worked so well with Faludi, Ghodsee “thought it would be really fantastic if we could get her to Bowdoin.”
The Tallman professorship rotates through departments and is a unique position; it can be filled by a “professor of practice”—someone who has real-world professional experience, rather than just academic experience.
Professor Ghodsee pitched the idea of Faludi filling the professorship for the upcoming year, and the deans agreed.
“It’s really an amazing coup for Bowdoin. It shows the intellectual vibrancy of our program that we don’t often get credited with,” said Ghodsee.
The Tallman position only requires professors to teach one class a semester. This fall, Faludi is teaching a first-year seminar called Mothers, Sisters and Facebook Friends: Is Feminism a Dysfunctional Family?, but Faludi is quick to say it’s not about social media: she uses “Facebook friends” as a code word for the ways feminism “has been thwarted by inter-generational divides and conflict.
“The larger exploration of the class is built around the question of why it is that the women’s movement in the U.S. can’t seem to sustain itself past one generation,” she said.
"The class isn’t made just for women,” said Adam Glynn ’17, the only male student in the class. He knew Faludi’s reputation before he got to campus, and his reasons for taking the class were “less because of the course content specifically” and more because “Susan Faludi was the professor.” Being the singular male voice hasn’t impacted his classroom experience, though.
“I don’t have to be sensationalized as the only male in the room,” he said. For him, the notable presence is Faludi herself.
“To go to the class knowing about the caliber of her as an academic, it was incredible to have someone so down to earth, so humble, so interested in what we as freshmen in college have to say,” he said.
Her appreciation for the youthful idealism of first year college students shows in person, too.
“I think people who are cynical are people who really care deeply and have just had their hearts broken,” she said. “What scares me is the kind of ironic...take on the world; the disaffected pose that I sometimes see in popular journalism today.”