Audiobooks take so long to finish sometimes, and by so long I mean almost a year for this one. But I finally finished “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf on my commute the other day.
Naomi Wolf is most well-known for this book, although I enjoyed her other book “Vagina” just as much, if not more than “The Beauty Myth”.
“The Beauty Myth” is definitely a must read in the spectrum of feminist works. It explores the creation of the beauty myth as a reaction to the shattering of millennial old chains that kept women in their place within society. In other words, as women gained more and more freedom and rights, something had to be created by the patriarchy in order to ensure that we were still controllable. And so the birth of the beauty myth.
The book is extensive and covers many topics, from eating disorders, to plastic surgery, to pornography, to the every changing face of the beauty myth. Naomi Wolf dives into this conception of beauty and what it represents not only for women, but for men as well. I particularly enjoyed the part of the book that was devoted to exploring the ill effects of the beauty myth for even men. It resonated with me that heterosexual relationships (and homosexual relationships, although she did not explore this aspect of the beauty myth) are deeply affected by this myth and that it is to it’s advantage that heterosexual relationships, and in that vein, any male and female relationships always have this facade; a certain disingenuousness. That they always lack a certain intimacy and understanding between the two parties, that men always feel separate from women. I would go so far as to say that Naomi Wolf was illustrating the revolutionary act that is men loving REAL women; male and female romantic relationships that are filled with mutual understanding, friendship, and most of all authenticity. This quote from the book illustrates this idea so well: “Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so.”
True feminist works have to expose the ill effects of the patriarchy on more than just the female body. They have to include a discourse on how men are also negatively impacted by the cultural and systematic patriarchal ideas that plague all aspects of our society. This is key as well in enabling people to better understand what feminism is. Feminism is not supposed to be male hating, feminism is supposed to be inclusive to all. The goal of feminism is to destroy the gender norms that chain both women AND men. The goal of feminism is to create equality between the sexes, and promote the idea that your gender does not determine who you can be, who you should be, or how you should be.
I do have to make a pointed critique on “The Beauty Myth”, particularly in regard to my earlier statement that feminism must be inclusive. I acknowledge that the book covers a breadth of topics, which potentially makes it hard to cover everything. However, I do not think that is a valid excuse to forget that the female experience is not the same across the board, and Naomi Wolf writes as if it was. A trans woman has a very different experience than women born biologically female. Just like a woman of color has a very different experience than a white woman. When writing feminist work one cannot forget the idea of intersectionality. The female experience is not universally the same. Writing as if it was, does the movement as a whole a disservice, and, most importantly, ensures that the lived experiences of most women are ignored and irrelevant. We should be using femaleness as a means to unite us, but we shouldn’t be using it as a means to equate the lived experience of all women. Doing so silences and disenfranchises the very women whom feminism should be serving.