Naomi Wolf is an author and essayist whose works have appeared in The New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Ms., Esquire, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. She also speaks widely to groups across the country.
Her first book, The Beauty Myth, was an international bestseller. She followed it with Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change The 21st Century; Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood; Misconceptions, critique of pregnancy and birth in America; The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot; and Give me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.
Wolf is also co-founder of the Board of The Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, an organization devoted to training young women in ethical leadership for the 21st century. She is a graduate of Yale University and completed her graduate work at New College, Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
Wolf: Well, I guess, many people were sort of inventing the term the term at that time and I remember kind of making it up, you know, for me, I hadn’t heard it before. When I was finishing my first book “The Beauty Myth” and it was kind of an early exercise in “if you built it they will come” thinking because at that time I read “The Beauty Myth” everyone were saying feminism is dead, no one’s interested, it’s over and in fact there wasn’t a lot of there, there was almost no activity on the part of young women especially. And second wave feminist were, you know, their mom’s age. So, I said it in the end of the book, you know, there’s going to be this third wave of a feminism and I sort of hoping, well, you know, if I say it maybe someone will join up, you know? And, of course, other people like Rebecca Walker is also using the phrase that the same time. What’s the definition? You know, I don’t think, it really needs to have a rigorous definition. I’ve never been one who’s a fan of labels. To me it just means women who are younger substantially younger than second wave feminist, you know. Does that generation of third and probably a fourth wave feminist have different style in their feminism? I think there are some differences and they’re good differences. I think, third wave feminism tends to be much more pluralistic about sexuality and personal expression and, you know, fashion choices and much less dogmatic which I think is great. I think third wave feminism tends to be more alert than some second wave feminists were to issues of a class and race. I think, third wave feminist are more engaged, tend to be more engaged with being willing to use power like to use the media or to use the electoral process or to use consumer practices for a good outcome which is great like second way feminism tended to become puritanical, like, we can only be really good if we don’t touch the market place, we don’t touch the media, we don’t touch, you know, politics as usual. But apart from that, I mean, what I love about, what I love about being kind of superannuated, you know, I love being kind of the dinosaurs and letting the young ones kind of carry the ball forward. I mean, what I love about the third wave and the fourth wave is it’s time for them to make their own mistakes, you know, to create their own theories and, you know, throw up their own leaders and that as it should be. I mean that a movement is alive and vigorous.
Question: Does feminism respect the hijab?
Wolf: I did write a piece in which I said that Westerners should be aware of being presumptuous in assuming they know that a Hijab means oppression to a women wearing it, and where did I get that from, I got it from feminists in the Muslim world saying again and again things like, you know, what we have much worse problems than this, you know, it’s much more urgent that they’re burning, you know, brides or that, you know, we’re facing [forced clitoridectomies] like you Westerners are so preoccupied with wearing a head scarf. You know, get a grip. This is, you know, like grow up. And many feminists I’ve heard from including young women in Western Europe and I think it’s very interesting and I was just reporting what they said, they said very intriguingly to me as the author of “Beauty Myth” that when they wore the head scarf or modest clothing like Hijab, they chose to do so and these are, I mean, I’m talking about like the head of the Oxford Union, you know, this beautiful brilliant young Muslim woman who could have worn anything she want and she chose to wear a head scarf and she said for her wearing a head scarf or more modest clothing made her feel freer in the Western context than wearing Western clothing, freer of objectification, freer of sexual harassment, freer of having to worry all the time about how she look compared to fashion models, and I thought that was intriguing. And I thought it was intriguing to surface these comments because I think, you know, we’re in such deep conflict with the Muslim world right now, we are, in the West and one of the problems is, you know, their presumptions about what our culture means and stereotypes about Western corruption and our presumptions about with their culture means and stereotypes about Islam. So, I think, it’s healthy for Westerners to turn a lens on Western practices to maybe, you know, it’s not necessarily so free to define freedom in this very reductive way we do in the West as, you know, any kinds of sexual expression, any kind of purchasing power, any kind of, you know, secular practice. I mean, there are other ways of looking at how other people see us, and even if we don’t agree with those ways, I do think that it’s a very important time to be engaged in an open dialog with this, you know, with the Muslim world and be open to hearing, you know, Muslim women’s own interpretations of what the Hijab means for them. Are there many other Muslim women who think it’s very oppressive? Absolutely and I remember saying in the piece that that is true, of course, yeah.