Naomi Wolf is the Monica Lewinsky of the book trade. When anyone mentions her name, those within earshot who are literate close their eyes, reopen them, shake their heads, and then roll their eyes.
The Wolf-woman burst on the scene in 1992 with The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used against Women, not long after completing a Rhodes Scholarship at New College, Oxford. It purported to be a feminist tract exposing “an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society's impossible definition of ‘the flawless beauty.’” On the back of the dust jacket was a photograph of the thirty-year-old author dressed to the nines, greeting the reader with a “come-hither” look. Right then you knew that the book was nothing more than a vehicle for drawing attention to the comeliness of its author.
Subsequent volumes – including Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood and Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood– were autobiographical to an ever-increasing degree and increasingly embarrassing to boot. The former represented itself as a “provocative and highly personal book,” in which the author “explores a subject that has long been taboo in our society: women's sexual coming-of-age.” We were told that this path-breaking work
brazenly exposes the truths behind the conflicting messages directed at young women during and after the sexual revolution. Drawing on surprising examples from the ancient and recent past, along with vivid recollections of her own youth, Wolf shows how our "liberated" culture still fears and distorts female passion. She also shares fascinating true stories that illustrate the fantasies and sometimes crippling realities women pass through on their way toward erotic and emotional discovery. A landmark book, Promiscuities is a call to women of all ages to reclaim and celebrate their sexuality.
And in the book, of course, we learned rather more about the sex life of a confused and narcissistic young woman than anyone sane would really want to know.
The latter of the two books was more of the same, for, in it, we were informed, the Wolf-woman
demythologizes motherhood and reveals the dangers of common assumptions about childbirth. With uncompromising honesty she describes how hormones eroded her sense of independence, ultrasounds tested her commitment to abortion rights, and the keepers of the OB/GYN establishment lacked compassion. The weeks after her first daughter’s birth taught her how society, employers, and even husbands can manipulate new mothers. She had bewildering post partum depression, but learned that a surprisingly high.percentage of women experience it.
I trust that you get the idea. Self-dramatization is Naomi Wolf’s forte. It is pretty much the only art that she has mastered.
But these three works were just the beginning. For the Wolf-woman is now fifty and getting long in the tooth; and, not to be outdone by other, younger, more svelte self-promoters, she has just published her magnum opus Vagina: A New Biography, and it, too, is largely autobiography – for, if there is anything that Naomi Wolf is interested in, it is Naomi Wolf.
I would discuss this book in detail here on Ricochet but I am not sure that I could do so while observing the Code of Conduct. So I will refer you to the review that Florence King has published in the 1 October issue of National Review, which is blessedly already available online. I could, in any case, not hope to bring to the book’s discussion the verve and vinegar applied by the estimable Ms. King. The one thing that I can assure you of is this. You will enjoy her review of the book a whole lot more than you would enjoy reading the volume itself – which brings me to a question that puzzles me no end.
Naomi Wolf hopes to gain attention and earn money by pushing a volume focused on exposing what, in bygone days, we used to think of as her private parts. Her publisher HarperCollins, which was once thought of as a respectable press, presumes that it, too, will cash in if it publishes this book.
But who would buy it? I can imagine an adolescent boy or a young man pulling it off the shelf in a bookstore, perusing some of the autobiographical material, and reading out loud with glee a paragraph or two to a friend. But I cannot imagine any boy or man forking over $27.99 or even a tenner for the volume.
Let me add that I cannot imagine a man writing a comparable book about the male member. Nor can I imagine an adolescent boy or a man buying such a book (or even wanting to look at it).
Given, however, that the editors at HarperCollins have a pretty good notion of the bottom line and that Naomi Wolf’s earlier efforts must have sold well enough to justify the press’s taking a financial risk on this volume, I can only conclude that among today’s women there is a market for such schlock. I say “today’s women” advisedly – for I cannot imagine women of my mother’s generation or even of my own being interested in what Naomi Wolf is so desperate to put on display.
And yet, as I write these words, the book is listed on Amazon as no. 513 in sales – which suggests that HarperCollins is likely to turn a tidy profit.
What has happened to American women? How is it that so many of them are willing to invest in a book in which, as Florence King, puts it, “We are knocked down by streams of gushing hormones, we slip and slide on slick layers of lubrication, we are thrown to the floor by violent throbbing, we collide with G-spots, we are challenged by a clitoris demanding ‘Who goes there?’ and yanked in by a cervix with a strength more often found in bar bouncers?”
What, gentle reader, am I missing? If I were to read Fifty Shades of Grey, would this clarify matters?