Naomi Wolf

naomi wolfNaomi Wolf is an influential feminist and  is considered a founder of third-wave feminism. Wolf was born in San Francisco and attended Yale University, earning a bachelor of arts degree  in English literature (1984); she then spent  a term  as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford  (1985  to 1987).  She  garnered international acclaim  in 1991  with  the  publication of The Beauty Myth,  now  considered a classic  work  of American feminism.

In   The   Beauty  Myth,   Wolf   argued that   the   goals  of  the   women’s movement  were  co-opted by the  beauty  and fashion  industry. Wolf  contended that when  women made  advances in science, economics,  and   politics,   they   threatened  the  Western social  order  that  positioned  women  as  lesser   beings.   The result   was  the   creation  of  the   beauty myth  that  maintained women’s oppression  by imprisoning them  in an unrealistic  and  unattainable body  of  flawless beauty. According to  Wolf,  the  beauty myth   was  a  socially   constructed  system that physically and psychologically punished  women for  their   inability   to maintain this  beauty  standard. Through the  beauty  myth,  the  patriarchal system replicated its own hegemony by creating beauty-based norms in  several  aspects of women’s lives: work, sex, violence, hunger, and  religion. Wolf ’s  work  also provided numerous  statistics demonstrating the  danger of the  beauty  myth, as  well  as  a  historical overview  of  the beauty  myth  and  its origins. The Beauty Myth  was a call to dismantle the  beauty myth   by  refusing to  follow  its  impossible  standards. “What I support in  this  book,  “ Wolf  wrote  in  the  10th  anniversary  edition, “is a woman’s right  to  choose what  she  wants  to  look  like and what  she  wants  to  be,  rather than observing what  market forces  and  a multibillion  dollar  advertising industry dictate” (2).

Wolf followed  The Beauty Myth  with  Fire with Fire, a book  considered the  first publication of third-wave feminism. Fire with Fire presented Wolf ’s argument that feminism in  the  1960s  and  1970s  hinged on  a victim  mentality, and  it advised women of the 1990s  to embrace their  will to power  by taking  control over media representations of women. Wolf  continued to  build  her  reputation as a leading feminist scholar and activist with Promiscuities (1998), which  argued that  stories  of female  adolescent sexuality  were  suppressed by patriarchy. In Promiscuities, Wolf encouraged women to regain authority over their own sexuality. Wolf also became heavily  involved  in American mainstream politics  in  the  late  1990s.  She  served as an advisor  to President Bill Clinton during his 1996  reelection campaign and worked on Al Gore’s bid for the presidency in 2000. Wolf continued to write as well: Misconceptions (2001) advocated a return to midwifery,  and her most  recent books, The End of America (2007)  and  Give Me Liberty (2008)  are handbooks for political change. Wolf continues to be an influential and  controversial voice of American feminism, with regularly published essays and a blog on www.huffingtonpost.com. Her greatest contribution to date, however, is The Beauty Myth, which  remains one of the most  influential treatises on the beauty  industry ever written.

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