This is a very interesting article from Naomi Wolf about the future of global feminism and where she sees Western feminism as having gone wrong. It’s very optimistic about global feminism but not so much about Western feminism. To be honest, I have trouble deciphering what some of her criticisms mean for me as a Western feminist – am I being stupid or is Wolf being too restrained in explaining exactly what she doesn’t like? I also read her Q&A with readers and while I found it thoughtful I didn’t find it to be all that illuminating – but I think that was about the questions she was asked rather than Wolf being deliberately evasive.
Here are the two criticisms from Wolf that I find most compelling:
The 19th-century tradition also leads to organizational paralysis, as women’s groups fetishize “consensus”. It has led to feminism being so afraid of offending anyone that we have ironically recapitulated the voicelessness of the original “angel in the house”. A discomfort with conflict has reproduced conventional feminist wisdom at the expense of bracing and productive debate.
That has led to a kind of passivity in many western democracies, where a tradition of seeing oneself as being at the mercy of a powerful authority leads women in EU countries, or nations that have “women’s rights officers”, to yield the job of female assertion to official, even government, bodies. Western women have been left ill-prepared to do what is urgently needed: to field their own candidates, run for office themselves, to raise their own money, start their own institutions, draft their own laws and inaugurate their own media.
And also this from Wolf, which I think is a good framing of the problem with ‘choice feminism’:
Western women became very good at identifying what was crying out in their souls and kicking away the hindrances to self-fulfilment. That had value. Unfortunately, however, this message of self-assertion above all dovetailed neatly with the needs of consumer capitalism. From the 1970 onwards, our culture told both sexes that individual expression was paramount. And for women, that was defined as the right to choose an interesting a career, a high-status mate, the desirable handbag or vacation, the perfect family size, and a definitionally fruitless quest for “perfection”. This focus is why so many “feminist” debates tend to become lifestyle discussions: should women have facelifts? What about hiring nannies? What about stay-at-home moms versus working mothers? Frankly, if I – as a passionate feminist – am bored by two decades of such discussions, it is no surprise that everyone else is, as well. Lifestyle choices are not meaningful if no bigger questions are being asked.
I still don’t have big conclusions about any of this, I’m uncharacteristically quiet. I just want to think about it all more. And to read your thoughts. The end.