Fire with water
By Melinda Jollie
Naomi Wolf, the respectable darling of liberal feminism, author of the 1991 best-seller The Beauty Myth and the recent Fire With Fire, will be speaking in Sydney later this month to espouse her "power feminism".
With the price of seminar tickets ranging from $45 to $125, sales have been sluggish, despite extensive advertising. Wolf claims her message is universal and all inclusive, yet it seems that only the wealthy will be given the opportunity to hear it.
Wolf gained mass popularity for her first book, which was both insightful and critical. Her second book, however, adopted a softer, non-confrontational tone which infuriated many feminists.
In Fire With Fire, Wolf rejects what she terms "victim feminism": instead of blaming the system, we should just get in there and change it ourselves; individuals can carry much of the responsibility for perpetuating women's oppression by remaining silent; women should use their economic power to gain equal rights.
Her framework is upper middle class, white and capitalist and ignores the fact that millions of women are disempowered victims of racism and poverty and without a political voice.
Wolf is quick to condemn the bulk of the feminist movement as being too "leftist", too radical and too separatist. That is a good recipe for getting yourself a run in the establishment media, but requires her to be moderate to the point of compromising.
She has sided with the institutions most harmful to women. She flirts with women's magazines (she had to postpone her Australian visit to accept Glamor magazine's Woman of the Year Award) and continuously pays homage to the capitalist system.
She advocates physical, emotional and financial co-dependency with men and, in a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, stated: "At times the critical mind has got to shut down; we have to become simply breasts, simply mouths, simply sex, even as men are known sometimes to want to be just sex".
Wolf calls herself a critic, yet she behaves more like a politician during election time when she attempts to tone down her feminist approach in order to avoid being too harsh on the existing system.
In fact, by rejecting organised, group, feminist action in favour of "revolution" within the individual (it is a naive assumption that every woman is capable of this), Wolf is undermining the structure and mechanics of the whole feminist movement, which builds on the strength of group mobilisation and support.
Wolf, who was born into a privileged family and educated at Yale and Oxford, is part of a growing number of young liberal feminists attempting to marry feminist philosophy with the anti-woman society we live in.
Of course, the corporate boardrooms of the Western world can make room for a few representatives of that sort of feminism. What Wolf fails to appreciate is that her personal career path has been paved by the actions of so many feminists of the past, who were prepared to risk alienation from men and from society in order to help other women, not just themselves, in the struggle against oppression.