To continue preparing for Jean Bethke Elshtain’s Erasmus Lecture by revisiting her many contributions to First Things, I recommend her 1992 review of Susan Faludi’s book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. She deplores the anti-intellectual paranoia of the book and problematizes (to coin a word) the feminist narrative that all problems bedeviling women today spring from a well-orchestrated backlash against women’s progress:
Backlash is an amazing beast, a living, breathing monster possessing irresistible force. Thus: “Just when women’s quest for equal rights seemed closest to achieving its objectives, the backlash struck it down. Just when a ‘gender gap’ at the voting booth surfaced in 1980, and women in politics began to talk of capitalizing on it, the Republican party elevated Ronald Reagan and both political parties began to shunt women’s rights off their platforms.” On and on in this vein. When Faludi touches on the rise in female poverty (directly correlated with the rise in female-headed households—there’s no doubt about this relationship), the rise in violence against women, the rise of eating disorders, she blames it all on The Backlash.
But suppose someone came along and blamed all these things on feminism—after all, didn’t these phenomena appear after the rise of the feminist movement?—and dredged up the relevant statistics to make the case. This would be the occasion for outrage on Faludi’s part and further evidence of Backlash. The point is that conspiracy theory, no matter in whose hands, is a monument to anti-intellectualism.
You can read the rest of the review here.