Naomi Wolf 1962-
American nonfiction writer and journalist.
The following entry presents an overview of Wolf's career through 2001.
A provocative author and commentator on the subject of women's issues, Wolf emerged as one of the most powerful new voices of American feminism during the early 1990s. Though often at odds with the beliefs and issues that structured the nascent feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Wolf has developed pointed criticisms regarding the culturally dominant notions of beauty, power, sexuality, and motherhood, which she feels continue to prevent women from gaining full equality with men at all levels of society. Wolf offers extended considerations of each of these themes in several best-selling books, including The Beauty Myth (1990), Fire with Fire (1993), Promiscuities (1997), and Misconceptions (2001). While Wolf has received criticism for her use of questionable statistics and broad historical references in support of her arguments, her works consistently raise compelling questions about the role of feminism in the lives of women and society as a whole.
Born in San Francisco, California, Wolf was raised by educated, liberal Jewish parents. Her father was a professor, her mother an anthropologist, and Wolf grew up in the city's Haight-Ashbury district, the center of the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s. Her childhood and adolescent experiences within this turbulent milieu informed many of Wolf's perspectives on the shortcomings of second-wave feminism. Wolf attended Yale University and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in English literature. The recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, Wolf pursued graduate work at New College at Oxford University. Her first book, The Beauty Myth, is based on research she initially conducted for her dissertation at Oxford. Following the popular success of this work, Wolf left Oxford and returned to the United States, continuing to research and write about feminist issues. Since the publication of The Beauty Myth, Wolf has received considerable attention from the mainstream media in the United States and Britain, appearing as a frequent guest on the news and talk show circuit and becoming one of the most visible women in the contemporary feminist movement. In 1993 Wolf married David Shipley, a journalist and speechwriter for former U.S. President Bill Clinton, with whom she has a daughter. During the 2000 presidential election, Wolf served as a campaign advisor to Democratic candidate Al Gore. In addition to her published books, she has also contributed to various periodicals, including the New Republic and the New York Times.
Each of Wolf's books explores the limitations and possibilities of modern feminism through a broad focus on different facets of women's experience. The Beauty Myth examines the backlash against the feminist movement and the way in which traditional ideas about beauty are used as a political weapon against women's claims for equality. Tracing ideas of feminine beauty throughout the centuries, Wolf argues that obsessive and unrealistic expectations of beauty serve as a last resort for men to defend themselves against women's demands for greater social and political power. For Wolf, the tremendous influence of the beauty myth in contemporary Western societies can be found in the amount of money women spend for cosmetics and dietary aids, in the hope of attaining the ideal physical appearance that these industries promote. Wolf insists that the cultural force of the beauty myth encourages women to destroy themselves physically—for example, through excessive dieting and plastic surgery—and drains their psychological and emotional energy, thereby slowly eroding the initial gains of feminism. Wolf contends that this obsession with beauty is unhealthy for both men and women, and she encourages women to seek other images of female beauty in places such as women's films, novels, and art. Wolf also suggests that younger women draw upon the work of second-wave feminists to form an intergenerational alliance to advocate for alternative notions of beauty that are more faithful to the needs of feminine desires and the female body. Wolf continued to develop her notion of a new kind of feminism in her second book, Fire with Fire, in which she promotes what she terms “power feminism.” Wolf urges women to move away from the type of feminism that views women primarily as victims of male dominance, and to embrace instead a movement that encourages women to take control of their lives and their futures. To create this new movement, Wolf argues that feminism must welcome all women, not just those who adhere to a specific ideology. For this new feminism to be successful, Wolf asserts, women must learn how to acquire economic and political power within the mainstream and to effectively use this power to advocate for women's issues. Rather than cling to a wishful vision of a fundamentally different political arena, Wolf insists that such a movement must be pragmatic and adjust to the realities of politics as it is currently practiced. Only through a focused pursuit of economic and political power, Wolf declares, can feminism achieve its emancipatory goals and renew itself as a vibrant and meaningful social movement. Wolf's work became increasingly personal with the publication of her third book, Promiscuities, in which she offers a revealing account of her own coming of age within the context of sexual liberation. Supplementing her own stories and those of her girlhood friends with historical and anthropological analysis, Wolf argues that the sexual revolution offered little in the way of genuine freedom for women. Although social changes encouraged young women to consider themselves as sexually free as young men, women were given scant guidance on how to responsibly explore and foster their sexuality. Through her own personal experiences, Wolf reveals how girls typically become aware of the often confusing nexus of power and vulnerability that characterizes feminine sexuality. Rather than being able to forge distinctively female modes of sexual desire, Wolf asserts that the sexual revolution continued to leave women in the position of seeking to satisfy male desires before identifying their own. To rectify this, Wolf argues for a new sexual morality that would encourage women to control their sexuality and to find genuine ways of expressing their sexual desires. Wolf insists that girls not only need more information about their bodies and sexuality, but also require a values-based approach to sex education that would offer a more thoughtful structure for the decisions girls make about sex. In her next work, Misconceptions, Wolf examines the mythologies and expectations that structure the understandings of pregnancy and motherhood in America. As in her previous books, Wolf again relies on her own personal experience to develop her feminist critique, focusing on the ways in which she feels society fails to adequately support pregnant women and new parents. Despite feminist advocacy for greater control over the birthing process, Wolf argues that American women continue to be offered condescending advice and misleading information about the often conflicted nature of pregnancy, labor, and new motherhood. Although many women expecting a child may feel inadequate, vulnerable, and even angry, Wolf asserts that many leave these genuine fears and anxieties unspoken for fear of being labeled a bad mother. Along with criticizing the medical establishment for its failure to provide women with a safe and emotionally supportive setting for their pregnancies and labor, Wolf also insists that business and society place great pressure on new parents and do little to address their economic and psychological needs. Wolf argues for a renewed examination of how best to support pregnant women and new parents in more effective and helpful ways.
All of Wolf's books have received considerable critical attention, with very little of it being unequivocally positive. Though many reviewers have praised the honesty and passion of Wolf's work and her skill in raising compelling questions regarding the status of women, many critics have been sharply critical of factual errors found in Wolf's use of social statistics, her sometimes confused arguments, her polemical rhetoric, and the limitations of her sweeping political generalizations. The Beauty Myth has received an extraordinary amount of critical attention in the United States and Britain, with many lauding Wolf's desire to bring the attention of a new generation of women to the old problem of culturally inscribed standards of feminine beauty. However, many commentators have noted that her argument is undermined by her failure to cite sources for her claims about the rates of cosmetic surgery and rape. Other reviewers have criticized Wolf's lack of reflection on her own privileged status—including the ironic fact of her own telegenic physical appearance. Such detractors have also bemoaned her failure to adequately consider how the complexities of race, class, and sexuality may play into the workings of the beauty myth. Critics of The Beauty Myth have frequently charged it with being overly pessimistic or too simplistic by ascribing many of the problems women face to the singular factor of beauty. Fire with Fire has faced similar criticism, though many commentators have welcomed Wolf's call for a renewed feminism that recognizes the importance of economic power and that is open to women of all political stances. Others, however, have dismissed her position as elitist and naïve, arguing that simply encouraging women to acquire more political power will not alone address the structural inequalities of education and wealth that disadvantage large numbers of women. For these critics, the promise of Wolf's “power feminism” has remained inaccessible to the many women who have relatively few economic resources and who have little, if any, power of their own to deploy for political causes. Promiscuities has been perhaps the most harshly reviewed of Wolf's books. While some have lauded Wolf's recommendations for a new approach to sex education and praised her frankness in assessing the failures of the sexual revolution, especially for women, most critics have regarded Wolf's mixture of personal revelation with historical and anthropological material as a less than convincing approach to the complex subject of female sexuality. Other critics have decried the lack of diversity in Wolf's discussion of sexuality, noting the conspicuous absence of lesbian and male voices. Though reviewers have welcomed Wolf's willingness to raise provocative questions about the relationship between feminism and female sexuality, many have regarded her solutions as problematic. Like her previous books, Misconceptions has received criticism for being too personally revealing and seemingly self-indulgent. Some critics have viewed Wolf's personal revelations as offering little insight for women who may be in significantly different or more disadvantaged social, economic, or emotional circumstances than Wolf herself. As in the past, Wolf's use of statistics has again come into question, particularly her assertions about the abortion rate in the United States. Despite such apparent factual lapses, commentators have also praised Wolf's honesty and acknowledged that her frank, often frightening look at the experience of pregnancy and motherhood presents a useful counter to the many sanguine advice books currently available for expectant mothers.
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women (nonfiction) 1990
Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century (nonfiction) 1993
Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood (nonfiction) 1997
Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood (nonfiction) 2001
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SOURCE: Picardie, Justine. “The Suffering Sex.” New Statesman & Society (21 September 1990): 39–40.
[In the following review of The Beauty Myth, Picardie commends Wolf's moving personal accounts and insight, but criticizes in her “muddled” argument and use of statistics.]
A great deal of attention has been paid to this book: the Sunday Times has paid a large sum of money to serialise it; the author, a young American woman called Naomi Wolf, recently appeared on both The Late Show and breakfast television. Magazine profiles have been written; glamorous pictures taken of the attractive Ms Wolf. For The Beauty Myth is, according to the publishers, “the direct descendant of The Second Sex and The Female Eunuch,” “a cultural hand grenade for the nineties,” “the book which no woman today can afford to ignore.”
The result of all this publicity is, perhaps, that The Beauty Myth will be viewed with a sharper eye than might otherwise have been the case. Naomi Wolf has, at 27 years old, a great deal to live up to. And the problem is that her central thesis, that unreal images of female beauty oppress women, is not as remarkable as the hype might have led us to believe.
Susie Orbach, among others, has already covered this ground in her eloquent book, Fat Is a Feminist Issue. Naomi Wolf's variation on...
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SOURCE: Davenport-Hines, Richard. “Torments of the Flesh.” Times Literary Supplement (12–18 October 1990): 1097.
[In the following review of The Beauty Myth, Davenport-Hines praises the eloquence and force of Wolf's writing, though finds shortcomings in what he perceives as her unconvincing statistical evidence and her failure to account for the personal responsibility of women.]
Naomi Wolf grew up in California. Her mother Deborah kept a notepad in the kitchen where the rest of her family could surreptitiously peep at it. On the notepad Deborah recorded the agonies of her diet, and the guilt that engulfed her when she broke it with food binges. Deborah martyred herself at family meals, had tantrums of fury when she weighed herself, placarded the refrigerator with self-admonishing photographs of her shape. Judging from The Beauty Myth, her daughter was assaulted, even abused, with anxieties about food from her earliest years. By the age of thirteen Naomi was subsisting on the caloric equivalent of famine victims.
The dreams I could muster were none of the adolescent visions that boys have, or free and healthy girls: no fantasies of success or escape, rebellion or future success. All the space I had for dreaming was taken up by food.
Though Wolf writes with compelling power about her anorexic experience, she gives...
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SOURCE: Wasserstein, Wendy. “Through the Good-Looking Glass.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (12 May 1991): 4.
[In the following review of The Beauty Myth, Wasserstein concludes that Wolf offers interesting and unsettling generalizations, but that her book is “not earth-shaking.”]
I remember reading The Feminine Mystique my senior year on the steps of my dormitory at Mt. Holyoke College. I had a yellow highlighter pen and every other sentence I would madly underline because not only did Betty Friedan seem to have put her finger on a previously unnamed plight, but she was, by doing so, opening up doors and possibilities for me and my classmates. That was in 1970, the first year “Women's History” was taught at Mt. Holyoke, and my yellow highlighter remained hyperactive underscoring Germaine Greer, Kate Millet and the classic Simone De Beauvoir.
Now, 20 years later, generations of women whose lives changed forever from those readings can look back with hindsight. The gains were innumerable, but there remains an undertow, a nagging erosion to those hard-earned victories.
Certainly the battle for reproductive rights is one that is still raging, and consumer images such as “The Good Housekeeping New Traditionalist” campaign—complete with squeaky-clean shirtwaist-clad mother with squeaky-clean Lacoste-clad sons in a squeaky-clean suburban...
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SOURCE: Yalom, Marilyn. “Feminism's Latest Makeover.” Washington Post Book World (16 June 1991): 7.
[In the following excerpt, Yalom offers a positive assessment of The Beauty Myth.]
Periodically throughout our century the debate on women's position in society swells to daunting proportions. For the past two decades, it has pervaded the media in countless books, articles, films, plays and television shows, with no signs of abating. American women's gains in the workplace and homeplace are weighed against their losses. White middle-class women are contrasted to their working-class and minority counterparts. Feminist aspirations are evaluated in the context of antifeminist backlash and resurgent sexism. Economic, legal and psychological indices are cited to support visions of progress or despair. William Chafe, in his book The Paradox of Change, quotes the Dickensian “best of times, worst of times” phrase to capture this ambiguous assessment of American women's lives. …
In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf analyses one aspect of work and private life that is additionally onerous for women: the commandment to be beautiful. A feminist journalist and poet, Wolf has already achieved prominence with the British edition of this book, which attacks the age old mandate for women to remain young and beautiful, whatever the costs. And in Wolf's analysis, the costs are crushing....
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SOURCE: Germani, Clara. “The Truth about the Beauty Myth.” Christian Science Monitor (18 June 1991): 14.
[In the following essay, Germani discusses The Beauty Myth and reports Wolf's comments on her feminist views.]
When a radio talk-show host here felt it necessary to note that Naomi Wolf is a beautiful woman, the author of The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women turned the tables by describing him for the audience as tall, dark, and cute.
While the host's comment didn't immediately seem out of line, it did as soon as Ms. Wolf demonstrated the double standard implied by how out of place it seemed in that same context for a woman to comment on a man's looks.
It's the kind of hyper-awareness that her book and a conversation with Wolf can provoke.
Wolf contends that for all women's gains in workplace rights, equality under legislation, access to education and reproductive control, the ideal of physical perfection robs women of self-esteem and even endangers their lives—through hunger caused by eating disorders and the knife (of cosmetic surgery).
Whether you agree with every point of The Beauty Myth or not, Wolf's ideas make you suddenly see images of beauty like an undesirable goo coating almost every aspect of American life.
When a woman chooses salad over a sundae, is...
(The entire section is 692 words.)
SOURCE: Gotschall, Mary G. “Poisoned Apple.” National Review (8 July 1991): 42–44.
[In the following review, Gotschall offers an unfavorable assessment of The Beauty Myth.]
In The Beauty Myth, a provocative new feminist tract which should take its place alongside such polemics as Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, Naomi Wolf argues that American women are enslaved by the cultural edict to be beautiful. They are victims of an impossible standard. The pressure, according to Miss Wolf, has become relentless during the past decade, as women have begun competing head-on with men in the professional sphere.
For Naomi Wolf, the beauty business isn't just a ploy by Madison Avenue to make a buck. What truly powers the ＄33-billion-a-year diet industry, the ＄20-billion cosmetics industry, the ＄300-million cosmetic-surgery industry, and the ＄7-billion pornography industry, she argues, is a far more insidious and destructive agenda. It is a political tool to keep women down: “The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men's institutions and institutional power.”
According to Miss Wolf, the myth has a number of uses. It pits women against one another, thereby diluting their political influence; as she puts it, “What women look like is considered important because what we say is not.” It stokes the consumerist engine of our economy,...
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SOURCE: Cranston, Maurice. Review of The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf. American Spectator 24, no. 8 (August 1991): 36–37.
[In the following review, Cranston offers a negative assessment of The Beauty Myth.]
The Beauty Myth has already caused something of a stir in England and, being English, I think I can understand why. The argument is outrageous, and it is written in a wild and witty way by a glamorous American graduate student, aged 28, who is at Oxford on a “Rhodes scholarship”—that is, with a fellowship endowed by the racist imperialist Cecil Rhodes, although her own views are those of the most radical-feminist left. Like Cecil Rhodes, however, Miss Wolf is rather a bully, and the people she is out to bully are the millions of American women who try to make themselves look pretty. She wants them to stop it.
Miss Wolf's argument is that the male tyrants who rule America are conspiring to frustrate the liberation of women by imposing standards of beauty as conditions of equal acceptance in professional and social life. American women, she maintains, have absorbed and internalized these standards so completely that vast numbers of them have taken to starving themselves in order to be thin, submitting their breasts and hips to the knives of cosmetic surgeons, paying out fortunes for phony weight-loss formulae and sojourns at fat farms, and pumping iron daily, in...
(The entire section is 1585 words.)
SOURCE: Rapping, Elayne. “Bad News, Good News.” Women's Review of Books 9, no. 1 (October 1991): 1, 3–4.
[In the following excerpt, Rapping offers an unfavorable assessment of The Beauty Myth.]
Is it the best of times or the worst of times? Have we come a long way, baby, or are we systematically being beaten back to ground zero by the right-wing goon squads? On any given day, depending on the headlines or my phone messages, I'm likely to believe either one. The times are certainly a-changing, but who's on first? The horrors of the Reagan-Bush era—increased feminization of poverty, terrifying threats to reproductive rights, reported increases in sexual violence—certainly chill the blood. And yet, there's no denying the amazing gains made by women, particularly white middle-class women, for which second wave feminists can take much credit. Many young women can, and do, expect to live lives of far greater independence, choice and realizable ambition than did my generation.
The authors [Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf] of these two angry, militant books [Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women and The Beauty Myth, respectively]—both in their twenties—certainly don't suffer from my sense of middle-aged muddle about things. They are absolutely certain that things couldn't be worse for women, that all we have struggled for is in danger of going down the...
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SOURCE: Johnson, Diane. “Something for the Boys.” New York Review of Books (16 January 1992): 13–17.
[In the following excerpt, Johnson discusses the significance of The Beauty Myth and renewed interest in feminism, gender roles, and masculinity, as reflected by a number of new books published in the early 1990s.]
Dorothy Parker is said to have remarked to the authors of Modern Woman, the Lost Sex, “I bet you say that to all the sexes.” Reading these books together is like being locked in the coat closet at a cocktail party to overhear a muffled cacophony of half-truths, partial insights, and entrenched wrongheadedness, from which emerges the general impression of a society foundering in reproachful cries of loster-than-thou from all the sexes (cries which the events surrounding the Clarence Thomas hearings and the William Kennedy Smith trial have intensified). The male writers, as usual, tend to find women essentially peripheral to their lives, and seem more interested (or more free of practical cares) to address existential questions of individual moral and emotional progress, while for most of the women writers, men are still the problem. Underlying the discussion are the abiding central questions of definition: What ought “real” men to be like? What are women really like? What is “masculinity”? Does a real man “feel”? Are “caring”...
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SOURCE: Greene, Gayle. “The Empire Strikes Back.” Nation (10 February 1992): 166–70.
[In the following excerpt, Greene offers a favorable assessment of The Beauty Myth.]
Those who are living through change may be the last to know it, until something we read brings things together in a way that makes us see that yes, things really are different—it's not just us growing older. These books [Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and Susan Faludi's Backlash]—both written by young women, both bristling with indignation—demonstrate that something has changed profoundly in the culture's attitudes toward and representations of women, that we are undergoing a “cultural onslaught” that is the more “remarkable for how little it has been remarked upon at all.” Both books contextualize this backlash in relation to earlier backlashes—in the late nineteenth century, the early twentieth century and the fifties—and both explain its ferocity in economic terms.
Just when women were making some progress toward equality, just when we were mobilizing against job discrimination and sexual harassment, the Reagan Administration began dismantling federal programs and blocking progressive legislation. Just when young women were supporting feminism in record numbers, the media declared the advent of a “post-feminist” generation and began publishing scare stories (the man shortage,...
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SOURCE: Theodoulou, Maxine S. Review of The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf. ETC: A Review of General Semantics 49, no. 2 (summer 1992): 251–52.
[In the following review, Theodoulou concludes that The Beauty Myth is undermined by Wolf's narrow thesis and “pedestrian style,” but that the work offers useful insight.]
Women's preoccupation with beauty [in The Beauty Myth] fuels a billion-dollar industry. The “standards” of beauty constantly change, leaving women with closets of outdated clothes and, in the worst case, outdated bodies. To meet the current standards of feminine beauty women diet, exercise, and undertake dangerous and costly surgical procedures. Those who deviate from the latest “norm” meet up with both overt and covert discrimination.
Naomi Wolf contends that the myth of female beauty has replaced religion and that it mimics a medieval torture instrument dubbed “The Iron Maiden.” Whether they meet the current standards or not, Wolf theorizes that the “beauty myth” keeps women out of the mainstream of business and politics and prevents them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, this preoccupation with looking “right” undermines women's freedom. By keeping women preoccupied with beauty, they are kept out of the way.
Wolf zeroes in on ways that our cultural demands encourage women to strive to meet...
(The entire section is 345 words.)
SOURCE: Benn, Melissa. “The Big Girls.” New Statesman & Society (26 November 1993): 39.
[In the following review, Benn argues that Fire with Fire oversimplifies women's liberation and the complexities of social reality.]
Absurdly over-hyped, Fire with Fire is the latest in a long line of high-energy, sweeping tomes by American feminists that everyone tells us overshadow our sour, small-minded, home-grown variety. But massive publicity of both book and author will ensure that they get out to millions of women looking hungrily (or lazily) for the text of their age. For that reason alone, it is important.
It is certainly the first feminist book of the Clinton era. Unashamedly, it welds the optimism of a new liberal consensus with what was learned from the dark 1980s: marketability, pragmatism and a fine-tuned sense of individual initiative, to be deployed on behalf of the unfortunate parts of the collective.
Women, says Wolf, are at an “open moment” in their history. They must simply step forward and claim the power that is theirs. Anita Hill's strange mix of humiliation and triumph on Capitol Hill was a pivotal moment. So was the election by proxy of Hillary Clinton. So too was the 1992 Year of the Woman. These were dramatic moments, but do they signify as much as Wolf claims? However important the Anita Hill experience, does it really...
(The entire section is 832 words.)
SOURCE: Applebaum, Anne. “Laughing All the Way to the Bonk.” Spectator (27 November 1993): 40–41.
[In the following review, Applebaum offers a negative assessment of Fire with Fire.]
Fire with Fire is an odd work. Neither fiction, nor journalism, nor criticism, nor autobiography, it nevertheless retains elements of all four: there are eye-catching, source-free statistics (‘most women have been sexually harassed at work’), up-to-date anecdotes (Anita Hill, Hillary Clinton, and the women of Sarajevo all make appearances), and odd bits and pieces of popular culture (the films Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction get a mention, and advertisements for Donna Karan clothes are analysed at length). All of these are spiced up with the author's very own erotic recollections.
It makes for some confusing reading, but I stuck to it long enough to pick up the two basic themes. The first of these is that it is better for women to make money than not to make money. The second is that it is better for women to have power than not to have power. To these two theses, there is a corollary: it can be very enjoyable for women to sleep with men.
This last discovery seems to have been a particularly difficult one, since it puts Naomi Wolf at odds with the rest of the feminist movement—or so she implies. For in this book, Wolf sets herself up as a different kind...
(The entire section is 865 words.)
SOURCE: Boo, Katherine. “Taking Off the Velvet Gloves.” Washington Post Book World (28 November 1993): 1, 10.
[In the following review of Fire with Fire, Boo finds Wolf's inclusive “power feminism” interesting, but concludes that her recommendations for change are inadequate, particularly as she fails to account for the economically disadvantaged.]
Lordy, what a mess this manifesto [Fire with Fire] is. Proving that even feminists have the right to change their minds, it argues against much of what undergirded Wolf's bestselling Beauty Myth two years ago. It's so full of subtextual exclamation points it reads like an over-caffeinated Katie Couric. And it's so rich in contradiction that feminists from both the Camille Paglia and Katha Pollitt camps are surely sharpening pencil and claw as we speak. And yet—this call-to-arms, however bizarrely argued, makes a crucial, felt, contribution to recent feminist debate. For Wolf here has managed to break free of a compelling feminist, and liberal, tradition that refuses to acknowledge today's progress for fear of jeopardizing tomorrow's “we're-in-crisis” fundraising drive. A card-carrying member of a movement that tends to adorn itself with gags and coat hangers and black eyes and mastectomized breasts, Wolf dares to play Pollyanna—arguing that women, finally learning to use the fact that they possess 7 million potential votes...
(The entire section is 1357 words.)
SOURCE: Gallagher, Maggie. “Party Girl.” National Review (29 November 1993): 66–67.
[In the following review, Gallagher offers an unfavorable assessment of Fire with Fire.]
Feminism has come to a peculiar pass: Feminist ideas are everywhere; feminists, however, are hard to find. How did this happen?
That is the question Naomi Wolf—whose first book, The Beauty Myth, was a national best-seller—takes up in Fire with Fire, a feminist's critique of feminism. This is what she has come up with: Why did feminism fail? Because it isn't any fun. Holding her first large royalty check in hand, Miss Wolf has had an epiphany: Money is good! Power is good! Success is good! Why doesn't feminism, she asks, drop its “trouble talk” and concentrate on the good stuff?
Miss Wolf offers one of the most cogent and penetrating descriptions of why movement feminism is so profoundly unattractive, including: “hangover habits of the revolutionary Left,” “the common perception that feminism and lesbianism are synonymous,” “a clubhouse mentality,” and “rigid proscriptions.”
A Yale grad herself, Miss Wolf has tumbled to the fact that ambitious young women who get into Ivy League universities want primarily to “make it,” and not to engage in class warfare to overthrow running-dog capitalist institutions.
(The entire section is 874 words.)
SOURCE: Nemeth, Mary. “Who's Afraid of Naomi Wolf?” Maclean's (6 December 1993): 70–71.
[In the following essay, Nemeth discusses Wolf's career, critical reception, and feminist perspective in Fire with Fire.]
Having determined that the restaurant does not offer free-range poultry, free-range meat or free-range anything, Naomi Wolf begins searching for a meatless item on the menu. The 31-year-old American feminist author is in a fancy French eatery in uptown Toronto, talking up her new book and running on adrenaline. Wolf finally settles on a croque monsieur sandwich—but insists that it be prepared without ham. Very gastronomically correct. Then, as an afterthought, she asks the waitress to substitute french fries for the coleslaw. So much for correctness.
A similar dichotomy defines her vision of feminism as a movement that would unite and inspire women whether they are politically correct or not: leftists, rightists, pro- and anti-abortionists, women who wear makeup. Wolf even likes men—she married one recently. “But liking men,” she says with a wide grin, “doesn't keep me from wanting to dismantle their privilege.” Feminists, in Wolf's view, should be able to insist on free-range chicken, and have their french fries, too.
Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century is an imperfect work, prone to...
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SOURCE: Scheer, Robert. “Revolution Betrayed.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (19 December 1993): 1, 8.
[In the following excerpt, Scheer offers an unfavorable assessment of Fire with Fire, describing it as “a breathless, noisy and contradictory tract that substitutes overblown rhetoric for analysis.”]
Are women a class with broad common interests? Does a welfare mother in Watts share a common oppression with a female executive in Beverly Hills that can be addressed by the women's movement? The unexamined assumption of both of these books [Naomi Wolf's Fire with Fire and Barbara Boxer's Strangers in the Senate] is that they do.
On the level of civil rights, both books are obviously correct: It is not difficult to postulate a common stake in equal protection of the law and freedom of opportunity. But now that the women's movement is progressing beyond an agenda centered on comparable pay, an end to harassment and busting glass ceilings, unity is becoming a more elusive goal.
What is the common interest of women in NAFTA, trade unions, the capital gains tax or the death penalty? Such issues, on which women would likely be as divided by economic class as men, were not prominent when the women's movement was weak and the struggle for basic civil rights predominated. Now, however, all that is changing.
We are reminded, by both...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)
SOURCE: Stark, Kio. “I'm O.K., You're O.K.” Nation (31 January 1994): 137–40.
[In the following excerpt, Stark criticizes what she views as Wolf's lack of concern for socioeconomic disparity and argues that Fire with Fire reflects Wolf's implicit interest in preserving existing power structures.]
Naomi Wolf's Fire with Fire takes its title from the proverb, which is juxtaposed on the opening page with a quote from Audre Lorde: “The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house.” Wolf's polemic begins with Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which, she says, marks a major turning point in women's history, one that directly caused “a train of events that led American women into becoming the political ruling class—probably the only ruling class ever to be unaware of its status.” According to Wolf, the only obstacle women as a “class” now face is to recover from their deep-seated insecurities and embrace power and money, sex and beauty. Her motto: Feminism is “easy, fun, and even (forgive me Karl) lucrative.”
In the world according to Wolf, three “obstacles” block the path to a so-called equitable society: “Many women and their movement have become estranged; one strand of feminism has developed maladaptive attitudes; and women lack a psychology of female power to match their new opportunities.” All three are...
(The entire section is 1358 words.)
SOURCE: Hazleton, Lesley. “Power Politics.” Women's Review of Books 11, no. 5 (February 1994): 1, 3–4.
[In the following review, Hazleton offers a favorable assessment of Fire with Fire.]
Naomi Wolf's brand of feminism is full of energy. It includes laughter, and mischief, and a brash, cleansing honesty. It flexes its muscles and gets women out into the world, not asking but demanding, not self-pitying but doing.
A much better and far more important book than Wolf's best-selling The Beauty Myth, Fire with Fire incorporates two clarion calls. The first is for feminism to re-contact its power base: women. All women. Not just those women who support every tenet of an ideologically pure feminism, but every woman everywhere who is interested in equal rights, without any litmus test on specific issues such as abortion, pornography, sexuality, or political affiliation. The second call is for women to learn the ways of economic and political power, and to wield that power effectively to foster women's interests. Wolf calls this “power feminism.”
The need for the first call is clear if you have roamed any distance beyond the corridors of academe in the past few years. All through this country, women in politics, in business, in the professions, in the military, in blue-collar and pink-collar jobs, are living lives of what I call “applied feminism,”...
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SOURCE: Collins, Clare. “Genderquakes and Aftershocks.” Commonweal (25 February 1994): 22–23.
[In the following review of Fire with Fire, Collins approves of Wolf's inclusive feminist perspective, but finds shortcomings in the book's generalizations, repetitions, and underlying indifference toward the underclass.]
I was apprehensive about reviewing Naomi Wolf's new feminist treatise. After all, Ms. Wolf not only went to Yale but she became a Rhodes scholar. Besides, I'm not at all versed in feminist literature and have shied away from describing myself as a feminist because I am not adamantly prochoice. The unquestioning acceptance of abortion rights as the cornerstone of the women's rights movement seemed to count me out.
As it turns out, I am exactly the alienated audience for whom Wolf wrote her book. Among other things—many other things—Wolf argues that creating the perception that one's feminist cachet rests on the abortion issue has been the movement's undoing. As she puts it, “While a strong majority of U.S. women passionately endorse the goals of feminism, a large plurality avoids identifying with the movement itself. This estrangement impedes women from attaining the equality that they desire.”
Just a few years ago in her best-selling The Beauty Myth, Wolf, who was a tender twenty-six years old at the time, argued that...
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SOURCE: Lehrman, Karen. “Women's Hour.” New Republic (14 March 1994): 40–45.
[In the following review of Fire with Fire, Lehrman finds flaws in Wolf's contradictory feminist positions and trivial self-help pragmatism.]
Underlying nearly all the commentary on relations between the sexes these days is the notion that we have entered a period of unprecedented contradiction and confusion. A president devoted to equal rights for women now resides in the White House, along side a First Lady who seems to personify those rights; twenty-eight new female members of Congress have helped press legislation concerning women's health and family issues that had been languishing for years; and in the corporate world, women have been steadily amassing in numbers and rising in status. Meanwhile, what is variously called a gender war, a war against women or a war against masculinity, is supposed to be raging. Issues such as sexual harassment and date rape are allegedly creating a deep and permanent rift between the sexes; women purportedly cheer Lorena Bobbit; and men are characterized as belligerent or beleaguered, full of defensiveness and fear. A sense of hopelessness prevails.
Not coincidentally, the role of the women's movement, and the popular understanding of feminism, also seem caught in contradiction. Among organized activists and theorists who claim to speak for women and feminism,...
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SOURCE: Menasche, Ann. “When Feminism Joins the Establishment.” Off Our Backs 24, no. 5 (May 1994): 9.
[In the following review, Menasche offers an unfavorable assessment of Fire with Fire.]
NEWS FLASH: The backlash against women is over. A “genderquake” represented by the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings and the 1992 elections of Clinton and an increased number of female politicians, has brought us to the brink of the end of patriarchy. Now, all we need to do to make things “increasingly all right” is to “change our self images,” stop “bashing” men, and get over our “fear” of power and money.
If this sounds a bit far fetched to you because lately, like most women everywhere, you've been getting poorer, not richer (maybe you've been laid off from your job, can't get anything but part-time or temporary work at low wages and no benefits; or you have seen your rent and gas bill rise while your welfare check has been cut and you're afraid of ending up on the street), you are sure to find Naomi Wolf's new book, Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century, at best, a disappointment.
Wolf's belief that female psychology is the primary obstacle to women's liberation may hold a grain of truth (we all internalize our oppression), but her emphasis is wrong; it has led her to minimize the structural...
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SOURCE: Waldron, Jeremy. “Take These Chains.” Times Literary Supplement (3 June 1994): 4.
[In the following review of Fire with Fire, Waldron approves of Wolf's candor and accessibility, but finds faults in the book's simplistic dichotomies and unconvincing anecdotal evidence.]
Naomi Wolf's first book, The Beauty Myth, was a remarkable piece of work: a bitter and compelling argument about the way in which the freedom that women are winning is poisoned by the culture of idealized physical beauty. Wolf's account of the social and psychological consequences of this insinuation was packed with insight. She traced the terror of ageing, the pathology of diet and hunger, the tyranny of glamour, the intrusion of a “beauty qualification” into professional life, the competitiveness, resentment and loneliness that a preoccupation with physical appearance engenders among women, and the dark, dangerous role of beauty's imagery in our modern cults of violence and sex.
Her new book, Fire with Fire, is not only written by, but in large part written about, the author of The Beauty Myth. It addresses the relation between feminism and money, pleasure and power; and for that theme Wolf's success with the earlier book is an almost perfect case study. Wolf tells us, for example, that the royalties she received from The Beauty Myth were initially threatening to a...
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SOURCE: Rollins, Karina. “Power Play.” Public Interest, no. 116 (summer 1994): 124–27.
[In the following review of Fire with Fire, Rollins finds shortcomings in Wolf's preoccupation with an outmoded notion of patriarchal oppression and a tendency to resort to unsubstantiated generalizations and truisms.]
Women's fight for equality did not end when women won the vote seventy-three years ago. Equal in theory but often not in practice, many women turned to feminism to help them fight the remainders of inequality. While these remainders were real, the feminist movement of the 1960s and beyond frequently degenerated into extremism and radical excess.
In Fire with Fire, Naomi Wolf attempts to extract the good from the bad. While she applauds the feminist movement in general, she notes a development she believes harmful to women: the notion of women as helpless victims, unable to stand up to the “patriarchy.” Women are anything but, she argues, and it is time they recognize it. Wolf announces a new feminism: power feminism, the feminism that will change the twenty-first century.
Wolf's mission is to show women that they are the real victors in the gender war. Women not only have the power to stand up to the patriarchy, Wolf argues, they have the power to eliminate it. So why does the patriarchy still exist? Too many women are not aware of their own...
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SOURCE: Sterk, Helen M. Review of Fire with Fire, by Naomi Wolf. Christian Century (13–20 July 1994): 694–95.
[In the following review, Sterk offers an unfavorable assessment of Fire with Fire.]
We have met the enemy, and she is us. This is Naomi Wolf's message to women, especially feminists. Wolf tells women that they are “suffering from too much subordination for no more pressing reason than that we have stopped short of compelling it to end.” Ignoring the history of gender relations in the West, Wolf says all will be well if women just accept and use the power they already hold. Marked by good intentions and marred by poor execution, Fire with Fire cleverly taps into contemporary currents of feminism-bashing.
Wolf's youthful good looks and her embrace of the media limelight, as well as her facility with the literature, themes and language of contemporary feminist theory, have made Fire with Fire popular and influential. Its cover endorsement by Gloria Steinem, who praises its “energy and honesty,” and a Ms. cover employing its term “power feminism,” suggest that the book is required reading for anyone interested in the current state of arguments on gender relations. A Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar, Wolf is well known for her controversial first book, The Beauty Myth, which explored the impact of the beauty industry and advertising...
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SOURCE: Pollard, Eve. “The Virgin Myth.” New Statesman (9 May 1997): 45.
[In the following review, Pollard offers a mixed assessment of Promiscuities, finding fault in Wolf's focus on the loss of virginity as the defining point of a woman's maturation.]
Just before the feminist movement seriously got under way, a rash of Hollywood films explored the sleep-over teenage sisterhood of America. Dazzlingly acne-free, Sandra Dee, Connie Francis and the rest would stay overnight at one another's houses, or in each other's hotel rooms and spend innocent hours wondering where the boys were. As lightweight as an asexual version of the TV series Friends, these movies were a definable group of West Coast offerings that said women could and should be pals.
Naomi Wolf must have seen them, too, because her book [Promiscuities] has several of the same qualities. Described by her publishers as the most outspoken feminist of her generation, she has written her third book on the basis that, unlike men, women hide their erotic autobiographies because even in this post-feminist age any woman who has a sexual past can find it used against her. Ask any rape victim.
She goes through the history of how our male-dominated world has always feared the unleashing of women's desire. She starts with the abomination of female circumcision, and goes on to medieval European...
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SOURCE: Kenny, Mary. “Created, Not Begotten.” Spectator (10 May 1997): 36.
[In the following review of Promiscuities, Kenny commends Wolf's personal observations and provocative questions, but concludes that her assertions are undermined by a dogmatic view of gender as a social construct.]
The trouble really began when Simone de Beauvoir announced, ‘One is not born a woman, one becomes one.’ From this single sentence comes most of the discourse, over the past 40 years, on the feminine condition. If one becomes a woman, how does that process occur?
In the 1960s, some very clever feminist writers dissected this process of becoming a woman: works like Eva Figes' Patriarchal Attitudes (a brilliant book), and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics profoundly influenced me at this time. I was also hugely impressed by Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which was simply smart journalism, but none the worse for that. Mrs Friedan showed that many American women were basically bored by married life in the suburbs, and in that boredom were searching for something more ‘meaningful’ than the mystique of femininity which Madison Avenue preached at them incessantly.
Fair enough. But the common de Beauvoir assumption underlying virtually all feminist writing was that the feminine condition was merely a ‘social construct’: that it was...
(The entire section is 751 words.)
SOURCE: Gewen, Barry. “The Seat of Women's Delight.” New Leader (19 May 1997): 19–22.
[In the following excerpt, Gewen offers an unfavorable assessment of Promiscuities.]
Not long ago I read an article on South Africa that was so smug and sanctimonious, so pleased to bask in the warmth of its own progressivism, that it made me want to come out in favor of apartheid. I had a similar reaction while reading Naomi Wolf's latest book, Promiscuities. In its effort to celebrate female sexuality—or, as Wolf puts it, “to redeem the slut in me”—it is so self-important and inflated, so sentimental to the point of ickiness, that I found myself thinking purdah might not be such a bad idea for women (or at least for Naomi Wolf).
It's not that one disagrees with her. Who on this side of Pat Robertson would deny the joy and value of female desire? And even if Wolf sometimes seems to be pounding away at so many open doors, she can be provocatively instructive, as in her thumbnail, hide-and-seek history of the clitoris. She points out that a Venetian scientist identified this “seat of woman's delight” as early as 1559, but over the years there occurred what she calls “the great forgetting,” until our own era when the various advocates of open and honest sexual relations—from Havelock Ellis, Margaret Sanger and Theodore van de Velde to Shere Hite and the authors of Our...
(The entire section is 1858 words.)
SOURCE: Shuger, Scott. Review of Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf. Washington Monthly 29, no. 6 (June 1997): 49–51.
[In the following review, Shuger offers a generally positive assessment of Promiscuities, though notes shortcomings in Wolf's evasion of personal accountability and failure to recognize the importance of responsible parenting.]
An aspect of political correctness that is particularly troubling from a public policy perspective is its hostility to distinctions among and within different social groups, distinctions often crucial for formulating and implementing solutions. Thus, even if Group A has a pronounced and disproportional tendency towards problematic Behavior B, the typical blue-ribbon commission report or party platform document will do its level best to moss over this news with lots of time spent on the non-A's who B, even if this less-prominent activity verges on statistical insignificance. This is the logic that made it too difficult for too long to discuss the growth of AIDS as somehow more related to drug-users and bisexuals than to the rest of the general population. And the logic that still clouds discussions of race and crime.
Another politically inconvenient differential that this leveling logic has fuzzed over with a vengeance is this: Sexuality (especially at a young age) is more personally and socially toxic when exercised by women than when...
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SOURCE: Fielding, Ellen Wilson. “All-American Girl?” National Review (2 June 1997): 54–56.
[In the following review, Fielding offers an unfavorable assessment of Promiscuities.]
You remember Naomi Wolf. She was the author of a much discussed article in The New Republic titled “Our Bodies, Our Souls.” In it she coaxed her fellow pro-choicers to admit that abortion does kill a human being and is usually undertaken for reasons of convenience and therefore could be, may be, might be wrong. She got in some sharp jabs at the self-serving obfuscations of her allies on the Left, but ultimately her efforts petered out into suggestions on how to establish mourning rituals for abortion, while she continued to defend its legality.
That publishing event, and the extensive media reaction to it, happened more than a year ago. Since then Miss Wolf has completed a new project—a kind of autobiographical account of the sexual coming of age of the author and those she grew up with in those promiscuous, post-Pill pre-AIDS days following the sexual revolution. From this she intends to draw lessons about the role and meaning of women's sexuality, and the way in which girls should be inducted into womanhood today.
In her introduction, Miss Wolf tells us she thought of this collection of sexual anecdotes, recollections, and reflections as the story of “an ordinary American...
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SOURCE: Elshtain, Jean Bethke. “Danger in Paradise.” Times Literary Supplement (6 June 1997): 12.
[In the following excerpt, Elshtain offers a mixed assessment of Promiscuities.]
Naomi Wolf is another child of the revolution. She grew up in its Mecca, the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. She watched her parents shed the garments of what had become a despised conformism and take on new personae: Mom in mini-skirts, hair flying, wearing dark kohl eyeliner, the sexual object with whom her daughter fell into a weird competition; Dad as renewed adolescent, taking up vampires as his hobby. Wolf, too, must stamp out “repressive hypocrisy” wherever she finds it; but her own narrative is in many ways a harrowing tale. What haunts the reader is a sense of massive adult abdication of responsibility for the world in which their children are growing up. There is a yearning in Wolf's account for a few adults, orderly houses; but that isn't the world she finds in Haight-Ashbury.
The best parts of this volume [Promiscuities] come when Wolf brings to life a particular version of coming of age in America and offers a critique of sexual liberation, including the canned feminist version. Wolf remains a Rousseauian at heart: nature made us good. But culture has gone astray. So what do we need? Here the wind goes out of Wolf's sails. We get a call for “better information that can...
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SOURCE: Gottlieb, Annie. “First Person Sexual.” Nation (9 June 1997): 25–28.
[In the following review of Promiscuities, Gottlieb criticizes Wolf's “reverent rhetoric” and selective history of non-Western cultural practices.]
I'll never say another bad word about the memoir. Reading Promiscuities, which aspires to be so much more—to vault from the “first person sexual” into cultural critique and change-the-world exhortation—I was at first exhilarated by the grandeur of its reach, a familiar yet oddly dated emotion I traced to the early seventies. Here was a throwback to an earlier, nervier genre, a feminist Big Book à la Beauvoir and Greer, vowing to break the silence shrouding a key piece of female experience—the sexual awakening of teenage girls—in a way that would fuse the personal and the political, the erotic and the intellectual. How strange to feel again, even for a moment, the extravagant expectation of a quarter-century ago: that the female millennium was just an orgasm and an epiphany away.
But just for a moment. Naomi Wolf ultimately overreaches, and grandeur turns to grandiosity, leaving me surprisingly homesick for the memoir's stubborn modesty, its chastened apprenticeship to actual, singular life. At the end of a century sick with “isms,” grand ideas seem bound to go wrong, deaf as they are to the paradox and ambivalence that will...
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SOURCE: Smith, Wendy. “Naomi Wolf: Confessions of a Feminist.” Publishers Weekly (30 June 1997): 56–57.
[In the following essay, Smith provides an overview of Wolf's life, career, and critical reception upon the publication of Promiscuities.]
Discussing the books that have made her a prominent figure in the feminist generation she has dubbed the “Third Wave,” Naomi Wolf is articulate and forceful. When she feels something she wrote has been misinterpreted, she can be emphatically (albeit politely) combative. But she reveals another side after a fan approaches her in the Gramercy Tavern, praises her books, and urges, “Keep up the good work!” Wolf thanks the woman, then upon her departure flashes a wry smile and confides, “That doesn't happen to me very often out in the suburbs where I'm wiping poop.”
Wolf's daughter, Rosa (named for civil rights activist Rosa Parks), recently turned two, and the author has experienced the feelings of loneliness and isolation that afflict virtually every first-time mother. In her case, it's exacerbated by what she hopes is a temporary exile in Chevy Chase, Md. She moved there from New York City with her husband, former New Republic executive editor David Shipley, when he became a speechwriter for President Clinton and the First Lady, but she is by upbringing and inclination a city person. “New York mothers seem so connected,”...
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SOURCE: Glauberman, Naomi. “Hot and Bothered.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (27 July 1997): 9.
[In the following review of Promiscuities, Glauberman finds shortcomings in the book's lack of focus and organization.]
Naomi Wolf, either through brilliance or luck, captured the gold ring of feminist punditry with the publication of her first book, The Beauty Myth in 1991. Her denunciation of the cosmetic industry in her discussion of beauty, health and feminism resonated with a new generation of young women, many of whom had never read a feminist text. Her second book, Fire with Fire (1994), shifted gears. In her new role as public feminist, she suggested that feminism itself was partially to blame for so many women rejecting the movement. Power was in reach, if women would but seize it.
Distinguishing between what she called “victim” and “power” feminisms, Wolf became an outspoken proponent of the powerful approach, charting out a program of power networks and fund-raising that she argued would ultimately reach all classes of women.
In Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood, her chaotic and frustrating new book, Wolf moves from the political to the personal, from power feminist to “bad girl.” Here, she will write in “the first person sexual,” to boldly map out the terrain of female sexual desire; through her own...
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SOURCE: Schaub, Diana. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Public Interest, no. 129 (fall 1997): 116–24.
[In the following review of Promiscuities, Schaub commends the seriousness of Wolf's feminist concerns, but faults her “sloppy” eclecticism and contradictory aims.]
Clearly, it will not be supplied by Naomi Wolf, whose new book, Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood, shows her to be still in quest of “a better time.” The book is an evocative recounting of the sexual coming of age of Wolf and her friends in the San Francisco of the 1960s and 1970s, interspersed with potted summaries of the sexual mores of other times and places. In “A Short History of the Slut,” for instance, we move from “the Great Mother, with her divine sexuality,” circa 20,000 B.C.E., to Nicole Brown Simpson, all in five pages. Much of the memoir portion of the book is actually quite frank about the costs of the sexual revolution. Wolf describes particularly well the various ways in which children were neglected, bereft, forgotten, or abandoned as adults increasingly put their own gratification foremost. Her comments about the effect of divorce on young girls are perceptive:
Just when the girls needed their fathers to be around to admire their emerging sexual identity from a safe distance—to be the dependable male figures upon whom they could innocently...
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SOURCE: Shalit, Wendy. “Daughters of the (Sexual) Revolution.” Commentary 104, no. 6 (December 1997): 42–45.
[In the following excerpt, Shalit offers an unfavorable assessment of Promiscuities.]
The signals of distress currently coming from the fairer sex merit a hearing. They issue from books and magazine articles, and they are echoed in the often impossibly contradictory statements by leaders and spokesmen of the feminist movement on themes ranging from women in combat roles to the threat ostensibly posed to womankind by the all-male Promise Keepers.
On the one hand, we are still being assured by feminists that any behavior on the part of men that suggests a protective attitude toward women is by definition sexist. “Chivalry,” the writer Nancy Henley has declared, is an “oppressive tool”; according to the philosopher Marilyn Frye, even the act of opening a door for a woman sends the abhorrent message that “women are incapable.” As for the Promise Keepers, a movement of men who forswear violence and vow to fulfill their marital obligations, it has been denounced by Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Organization for Women, for seeking to perpetrate a “hidden agenda”: installing “men back in control as heads and masters of the family, government, and every other institution that shapes our society.”
But does this mean that...
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SOURCE: Abrams, Rebecca. “More Mummy Lit.” New Statesman (17 September 2001): 55.
[In the following review of Misconceptions, Abrams commends Wolf's “determination” but finds flaws in the book's “hackneyed” and “self-indulgent” qualities.]
It was absolutely predictable that Naomi Wolf would write a book about motherhood [Misconceptions]. She belongs to a generation of women, which is also my generation, for whom becoming and being a mother have undone every comfortable feminist certainty we ever had, and whose trademark response is to write about it. Reared on a weirdly neutered brand of feminism, you regarded motherhood as just a vague idea to keep up your sleeve in case it came in handy later. Children were things you left as late as possible, then farmed out to minders and nurseries while you concentrated on the all-important task of being equal. During those decades of active, angry, acquisitive feminism, motherhood was expunged from the official doctrine, cast as an old-fashioned habit best ignored. “Our great romance was with the belief in equality itself,” as Wolf puts it.
Misconceptions is Wolf's fourth book. It is interesting not so much for what it has to say about the journey to motherhood, a story which has been told rather better elsewhere, but for how it fits into a wider publishing phenomenon, recently dubbed “mummy lit.” The...
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SOURCE: Gardner, Marilyn. “The Baby Myth.” Christian Science Monitor (27 September 2001): 19.
[In the following review, Gardner offers an unfavorable assessment of Misconceptions, commenting that the book is narcissistic and lacks specific examples to support many of Wolf's points.]
Pregnancy can be a joyous, wondrous time. In the eyes of Naomi Wolf, it can also be a period fraught with confusion, ambivalence, and conflict with medical professionals. As she warns at the beginning of her sobering, often angry book, Misconceptions, the experience of becoming a mother in America is “undersupported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women's expense.”
Wolf's own journey to motherhood begins in a small town in Italy, where a pregnancy test confirms her unexpected new state. After she and her husband return home to Washington, D.C., she quickly becomes “inducted into a medical system that had very clear expectations of me—but little room for me to negotiate my expectations of it.”
In the ensuing months, as her figure grows “startlingly big,” those expectations shrink. She encounters dispassionate obstetricians who, she complains, seem determined to withhold information and wrest power from expectant parents. She also learns that the hospital where her baby will be born has a Cesarean delivery rate of 30 percent.
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Bellafante, Ginia. “Do We Need More Oprahs?” Time (30 June 1997): 71.
Bellafante deplores Wolf's sketchy information and “dabblings in scholarship” in Promiscuities.
Douglas, Susan J., and Meredith Michaels. “The Belly Politic.” Nation (26 November 2001): 26–29.
Douglas and Michaels offer a negative assessment of Misconceptions.
Duffy, Martha. “Tremors of Genderquake.” Time (27 December 1993): 82.
Duffy faults Wolf for shifting from “serious argument” to “flights of rhetoric” and for cluttering Fire with Fire with lengthy lists and unnecessary details.
Mensinger, Janell Lynn. Review of Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf. Sex Roles 39, nos. 9–10 (1998): 817–20.
Mensinger encourages the public to read Promiscuities despite its intricate arguments, brazen honesty, and inflated language.
Mitchell, Emily. “The Bad Side of Looking Good.” Time (4 March 1991): 68.
Mitchell discusses Wolf's feminist argument in The Beauty Myth and the critical controversy surrounding the book.
Phillips, Julie. “Bad Girl Blues.” Women's Review of Books 14, nos. 10–11 (July 1997): 34–35.
Phillips offers a...
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