The Terror Dream Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America

Susan Faludi




Trade Paperback

480 Pages



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A National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee In this examination of America’s post-9/11 culture, Susan Faludi looks at the country’s psychological response to the attacks on that day. In her observational study of media, popular culture, and political life, Faludi unearths a barely acknowledged but bedrock societal drama shot through with baffling contradictions. Why, she asks, did our culture respond to an assault against American global dominance with a frenzied summons to restore “traditional” manhood, marriage, and maternity? Why did we react as if the hijackers had targeted not a commercial and military edifice but the family home and nursery? Why did an attack fueled by hatred of Western emancipation lead us to a regressive fixation on Doris Day womanhood and John Wayne masculinity, with trembling "security moms," swaggering presidential gunslingers, and the "rescue" of a female soldier cast as a "helpless little girl"?
The answer, Faludi finds, lies in a historical anomaly unique to the American experience: the nation that in recent memory has been least vulnerable to domestic attack was forged in traumatizing assaults by nonwhite "barbarians" on town and village. That humiliation lies concealed under a myth of cowboy bluster and feminine frailty, which is reanimated whenever threat looms. The Terror Dream is also available on CD as an unabridged audiobook. Please email for more information.


Praise for The Terror Dream

"Feminism, like a trampoline, has made possible this splendid provocation of a book, levitating to keep company with Hunter Thompson's fear and loathing, Leslie Fielder's love and death, and Edmund Wilson's patriotic gore."—John Leonard, The New York Times Book Review
"Throughout the book, Faludi provides stunning and depressing evidence of a concerted effort to silence women and roll back women's rights in the wake of 9/11 and to transform the attack on a U.S. financial symbol where men and women worked side by side into an assault on family and hearth. She shows over and over again how some conservatives and right-wing media and bloggers have blamed the attack on a society feminized and emasculated by the women's movement."—Amy Wilentz, Los Angeles Times
"Faludi here has once again described the pushback, the demand to retain the straitjacketed roles that tell us what a man and a woman should be.  With a rigorous insistence on truth, not comforting stories, Faludi proposes we can still awaken from the terror dream."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"A first-rate journalist . . . An ambitious engagement with a provocative idea . . . Like the best polemics—and the word need not be pejorative—you can disagree vehemently with her yet find your own argument sharpened and strengthened by the power of hers."—Chicago Tribune

"Incisive . . . Faludi remains a keen observer of the present . . . She marshals provocative evidence, documenting such phenomena as a decline of women's bylines in national newspapers and a forty percent drop in federal sex-discrimination prosecutions."—The New Yorker
“Any list of important books about that dark day will now have to include Faludi’s sharp and spirited account of gender politics in the feverish aftermath . . . [Her] overall argument is powerful, convincing, and very much in need of articulation by a bestselling author who can commandeer a public pulpit.”—The Washington Post Book World

“In The Terror Dream, Susan Faludi argues that the ‘symbolic war at home’ waged to ‘repair and restore a national myth’ of invulnerability adds up to a real war against the wrong foe—American women. It leaves us without real security or a workable foreign policy . . . The Terror Dream is a worthy sequel to Backlash and Stiffed, Faludi’s now-classic dissections of late twentieth-century gender politics . . . As in those books, Faludi reads deeply and widely in popular media to make The Terror Dream’s case for the manufactured, yet all too real, revival of antifeminism.”—David Waldstreicher, The Nation

"[Faludi's] is a lively, important argument, a discussion highly worth having as we wake from our own terror dreams and try to figure out how all of us, male and female, wound up in the dangerous place where we find ourselves today."—Francine Prose, O, The Oprah Magazine
"Faludi's talent isn't just in reflecting the zeitgeist; her ideas often shape the dialogue."—Reyhan Harmanci, San Francisco Chronicle

The Terror Dream is exhaustive and compelling, and it not only instructs the reader in how to parse the often puzzling turns in the media and popular culture . . . but also reveals a deep and abiding
narrative that has lain underneath the very conception of how we view ourselves as ‘Americans.’”—Kelly Mayhew, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"Faludi, the feminist author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has written a sweeping historical analysis of why our nation—as reflected in the American media—reacted to the 9/11 attacks by 'cocooning ourselves in the celluloid chrysalis of the baby boom's childhood,' a domestics 'Leave it to Beaver'-like fantasy . . . Faludi begins The Terror Dream with an elegant and highly readable introduction in a searing critical tone. Weaving together post-9/11 media snippets, bits of antiquated scientific and psychological theory, and film history, Faludi lays the groundwork for her most ambitious book yet: an explanation of the American psyche. If her aim is a bit grand, it's hard to notice as Faludi wields her rhetorical prowess . . . A highly detailed documentation of our reaction to 9/11. What she reveals is startling."—Bree Nordenson, Columbia Journalism Review

“A lively analysis of the mythmaking that substituted for the work of reflection that 9/11 required.”—The New York Observer

The Terror Dream is the most thought-provoking and eye-opening book yet about this nation’s reaction to 9/11.”—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor

“[Faludi] builds a strong case for her view that the media, the White House, and most of the rest of us salved our post-9/11 fears by falling back on the myth of men as invincible protectors and women as frail little ladies.”—Barbara Jones, More

“[Faludi] has an eye for the tellingly symbolic image and weirdly apt coincidence, and an ear for what resonates in the deep structures of the American mythos.”—Elle

“Provocative . . . Whether you resist her argument or buy it wholesale, you’ll find yourself thinking harder about the social fallout of 9/11.”—Entertainment Weekly

“In The Terror Dream, Susan Faludi compellingly argues that 9/11 gave us an excuse to reinstitute one of our fondest and stupidest national myths: that in times of crisis, men are decisive, strong and effective, while women become wholly dependent on menfolk to see them through.”—David Hinkley, Daily News

“Her criticism of the media gullibility is well deserved.”—Cheryl Reed, Chicago Sun-Times

“Bold, ambitious, often brilliant . . . As an exposé of the failures of the fourth estate, it is a master class in debating . . . Faludi persuasively demonstrates that the attack on New York launched a concomitant attack on feminism, unleashing a torrent of regressive sexism in response to a sense of national impotence. The saber-rattling was hard for anyone to miss, but the degree to which it was also directed domestically, and especially at women, comes as a shock, as does the media’s complicity and laxity . . . Faludi offers a convincing case for a wholesale assault on woman’s rights in the name of national security.”—Sarah Churchwell, The Guardian (UK)

"With heroic acuity, [Faludi] digs through the mythological debris of the Bush era to recover the dark fairytale—shades of white savagery on the early Frontier—that founds the vengeance fantasy we call the 'war on terrorism.'"—Mike Davis, author of Ecology of Fear
"No system has more completely failed us since 9/11 than the print and television media.  The American public is too misinformed even to think of elementary oversight of its government. In painstaking and documented detail, Susan Faludi demonstrates that this was not just a matter of neglect but a failure of intent—the Sean Hannitys, Diane Sawyers, and network anchors misled us in service of an ideological agenda. Her chapter on Jessica Lynch is a tour de force of how the military-journalistic complex works. You cannot find a more eye-opening book to read."—Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback Trilogy
"An important contribution to our understanding of the cultural and political reaction to 9/11, which shows how deeply ingrained beliefs about masculinity, femininity and sanctified violence have shaped our national identity, and our ways of responding to crisis."—Richard Slotkin, author of Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America
"When the viciously misogynist al Qaeda attacked America, the mainstream media responded, strangely enough, with a call for a revival of manly men, frail females, and traditional domesticity. In The Terror Dream, our premiere cultural reporter exposes the backlash and offers a fascinating explanation of why 9/11 led to such a perverse retreat from our own values. This is a book that had to be written, and only Susan Faludi could do it so brilliantly and engrossingly."—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed
"In this bold and courageous book, Susan Faludi peels away the veneer of post-9/11 bravado to expose our collective national psyche, bringing us face to face with our nation’s innermost fears and fantasies. The Terror Dream unmasks the Lone Rangers running our nation and their loyal media Tontos who hark back to a mythic frontier where men were men and women were victims. Faludi shows how the revival of these myths since 9/11 has made us weaker and less secure, and the world a more dangerous place.”—Elaine Tyler May, author of Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era
The Terror Dream does for 9/11 and its effects what Backlash did for women in the ‘90s. Once again, Susan Faludi combines her unparalleled gifts for research, reporting and, of course, great writing, with an arresting and wholly original thesis.”—Katha Pollitt, author of Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time
"Susan Faludi is an eloquent researcher and a remarkable journalist whose response to social crisis is invariably shrewd and original. Now she gives us a work of eye-opening documentation of how American culture, instead of being changed by 9/11, has absorbed it into its own mythic sense of self. The Terror Dream is a bold, brave book that joins the literature of dissent during one of the most dangerous, flag-waving moments in American history."—Vivian Gornick
"Rich, incisive analysis of the surreality of American life in the wake of 9/11. In a clear-eyed recounting of our culture's reaction to the terrorist attacks, Faludi finds that we have been living in a dream that offers solace for a national tragedy we cannot comprehend. We need stories to live, she notes. Lacking a story for 9/11, we made up a compensatory narrative filled with heroes and John Wayne-like leaders who went to war to maintain a national aura of invincibility. In fact, there were no heroes on 9/11, she says flat out. Exhaustively examining events and their coverage in media from talk shows to comic books, the author shows how the tragedy sparked a 'national frenzy to apotheosize' that turned firefighters into supersoldiers (although they were helpless at the Twin Towers) and cast 9/11 widows as venerated keepers of the hearth—unless they criticized the government or spent newfound money in unseemly ways. 'What mattered was restoring the illusion of a mythic America where women needed men's protection and men succeeded in providing it,' Faludi writes, adding that the same process informed the story of Private Jessica Lynch's rescue in Iraq. In the last third of the text, she links the cultural response to 9/11 with a centuries-old national propensity for protection fantasies. From the days when settlers faced Indian attacks, we have favored 'captivity narratives' in which men rescued captive women and children, providing a sense of security. Readers . . .  will find painful her tearing away of the comforting stories we have told ourselves instead of 'learning to live with insecurity.'"—Kirkus Reviews

"Panicked and anxious in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the nation has returned to the earlier mythology of the protective male and the dependent female, according to Faludi, author of Backlash and Stiffed. She points to the sudden and stunning disappearance of women in the media as editorialists, commentators and scholars immediately following 9/11. In addition, police and fire departments across the nation have reduced their hiring of women, using 9/11 as justification for the need for brawny rescuers, while President Bush took on the persona of a cowboy, issuing threats to the terrorists. Faludi also examines how the media-fabricated rescue of Jessica Lynch morphed from a story of a heroic GI Jane to the more appetizing one of a fragile female rescued by heroic American male troops. She also examines the scrutiny and harsh criticism of four 9/11 widows who became politically active and asked embarrassing questions of the Bush administration. Faludi debunks the media-created myths of post-9/11 trends of baby fever, nesting, and security moms, all involving women returning body, mind, and vote to the hearth. Faludi traces the roots of the fascination with the tableau of the brawny male and the fragile female all the way back to Puritan America. In the conclusion of this insightful book, Faludi laments how all the myth-making has squandered opportunities to critically examine the flaws in American foreign and domestic policy."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred review)
"Susan Faludi has written a brilliant, unsentimental, often darkly humorous account of America's nervous breakdown after 9/11. The intrusions of September 11, she observes, broke the dead bolt on our protective myth, the illusion that . . . our might makes our homeland impregnable . . . Drawing on political rhetoric and accounts from the New York Times and the major networks, as well as Fox and talk radio, her book makes clear just how sexually anxious Americans became in the aftermath of that terrible day. But the tragedy had yielded no victorious heroes, so the culture wound up anointing a set of victimized men instead: the firemen who had died in the stairwells of the World Trade Center. The woman's role, she argues, became that of victim. Husbands had lost wives, but it was on the surviving wives of September 11 that America's grief was fixed. When some widows—the Jersey girls—rejected the victim's role by asking pointed questions about governmental incompetence, they were quickly ostracized by the press.  After September 11, we read that Donald Rumsfeld had been a wrestler at Princeton—and that became his legend in news accounts. Even the president clearing brush in Crawford, Texas became the stuff of legend in the National Review, which juxtaposed Bush's refreshingly brutish demeanor with the way the president sizes up the situation and says, 'You're mine, sucker.' A late chapter on Jessica Lynch rehearses how the myth of the imprisoned woman rescued by male warriors was manufactured by the government and the media . . . The last third of the book traces how the American male's determination to see himself as protector (and the woman as dependent) derives from colonial Puritan wars against the Indians and the cowboy conquest of the West. In the end, Faludi judges our invasion of Afghanistan to be inept and the war in Iraq disastrous. It is essential, she says, not to confuse the defense of a myth with the defense of a country."—Richard Rodriguez, Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
We’re at War, Sweetheart Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had a nightmare. I don’t know how to explain it—I lay no claim to oracular powers. Maybe it was just a coincidental convergence. I dreamed I was sitting in an aisle seat of a commercial airliner. Next to me was another passenger, a woman. A hand jostled my headrest, and I looked up to see two young men bearing down on us. They both held pistols. One put his gun to my neck and shot. Then he shot again. I watched, as if from outside my body, as the first bullet entered at an angle and lodged
Read the full excerpt



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  • Susan Faludi

  • Susan Faludi is the author of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man and Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. 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. She lives in San Francisco.
  • Susan Faludi Russ Fischella