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Author Susan Faludi wore 2 hats telling the story of her transgender father

| Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, 5:41 p.m.
Author Susan Faludi
Tony Luong for The New York Times
Author Susan Faludi

For most of her adult life, Susan Faludi had little contact with her father.

When she received an email from him in 2004 with the word “Changes” in the subject line, she'd hardly spoken to Steven Faludi for over a quarter century. But that email, about his sex reassignment surgery and a photo with the caption “Stefanie,” started a remarkable process that enabled the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to understand a parent from whom she'd been estranged.

“It terrifies me to think I could have just let this go and not reconnected with my father,” says Faludi, who appears Feb. 26 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Ten Evening series. “It's easier to avoid somebody who caused you a lot of pain. My father gave me a great gift by making the first move.”

Armed with a tape recorder, batteries, reporter's notebooks and 10 pages of questions, Faludi traveled to Hungary and conducted extensive interviews with her father. “In the Darkroom” (Henry Holt) is her chronicle of an experience that changed the way she thought about a parent whom she previously considered “a scofflaw, an artful dodger who had skipped out on so many things.”

“I had two toolkits,” Faludi says. “One as a journalist that enabled me to keep a mental distance when I needed that to put my judgments and assumptions aside, to perceive rather than moralize, which is very tempting to do particularly when you're dealing with a parent.

“My other toolkit was as a feminist, having struggled throughout my life to understand gender roles and assumptions, and how they damage all of us.”

Faludi's accomplishments as a journalist, including winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for coverage of a leveraged buyout of Safeway Stores Inc., are mirrored by her influential writings dealing with feminist issues. Her most notable work is “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.” Most references to her start with the description “feminist writer Susan Faludi,” a designation that she finds accurate but incomplete.

“Every identification is also a limitation,” she says. “I certainly feel myself to be more than simply a feminist; I write about all kinds of issues. I do feel an obligation — and maybe that's because it's part of my identity, partly assigned, since ‘Backlash' — and a responsibility to write about feminist issues.”

Thus, Faludi has a keen interest in the #metoo movement. She's heartened that women are finally coming forward to tell stories of abuse.

“But it's even more remarkable that they're believed and that there are consequences,” Faludi says, “and that the bad apples have been booted from their jobs and as heads of corporations. It's astounding.

“All that is great, and my hope is that this new mobilization of women also focuses on the larger structural issues that are keeping women down. But we're not going to take down the patriarchy one patriarch at a time. Getting rid of each individual bad guy is not going to change the underlying structure. I hope we can keep our attention on the larger, broader problems that women face.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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