Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century

1993, first edition, from Random House
Naomi Wolf
Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century
Bought new for $21.00
Good condition hardcover, with slightly worn dustjacket

While not without its own flaws, this is an improvement over Wolf's more famous book of two years earlier.  (For one thing, her pop culture knowledge has improved, although Mr. Nilsson was definitely not Pippi Longstocking's "talking horse"!) Instead of the often melodramatic tone of The Beauty Myth, Wolf is now more aware of shades of gray.  (No, not 50!)  She talks about seeing other women's (and men's) perspectives on what feminism means, including her willingness to listen to Susie Bright, despite their different takes on pornography.  Even when she disagrees with other feminists, particularly what she calls "victim feminists," as opposed to her own vision of "power feminism," she tries to understand why they think and feel the way they do.  She also has sympathy for some who aren't feminists.

Obviously, her subtitle proved to be wildly overambitious.  Not that women haven't made progress in the last two decades, but there have been setbacks as well, and we're still a long way from seeing, for instance, 51 women in the U.S. Senate.  The current number is twenty.  But then, remember, it was a big deal in 1992 that there were four.  So Wolf was right that there was a "genderquake" in the wake of the Clarence Thomas hearings (among other events), but the changes were not as dramatic as she predicted.

She wrote this book as if women were about to take over, and she advises them to be kind and considerate rulers.  For instance, no more male-bashing jokes!  Well, women (with notable exceptions) are still relatively powerless, but then so are most men.  It makes more sense to suggest that we all try to respect and consider each other because it's the decent thing to do.

As before, her focus is on upper-middle-class and higher women, who are urged to pool knowledge, resources, and money.  I'm not sure what the other women are supposed to be doing, other than unionizing and letting their richer "sisters" help them.  Actually, she doesn't like the concept of sisterhood, because it makes women feel like they have to like and be like each other.  (This despite the portrait she offers of two little girls who fight like puppies.)  

While she praises Faludi's Backlash, she sees it as too focused on women's suffering and not on their power, which misses the points when Faludi does talk about progress.  And she seems to have ignored the stories of working-class and middle-class and, yes, upper-class women who have not demurely asked for less money than they're worth, because she herself seems to think that all women under-rate themselves and don't struggle for more pay.  There are times that women put other wants and needs ahead of money, but then so do some men.  

Still, it's a good book, worth reading for its optimism and advice.  If she seems to have too short-sighted a vision-- as if we'd reach utopia in a few months-- well, the 1990s were a less depressing time for women than the '80s were, so I can see how she got carried away.  And we are better off in many ways than we were then.

Appropriately enough, this finishes off 1993, and there are only 20 years left of this project.  (Not that I own any books from 2013, or even '12, but I might by the time I finish.)

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