A feminist, an author, an activist, a conspiracy theorist & a political consultant who has in many eyes fallen from the halcyon pedestal that her initial success put her in. A three part series covering the life of Naomi Wolf and what it could have been; where she diverged away from the mainstream media and why her followers still believe in her.
Part I – For some the fallen angel, for others the rising Phoenix – Naomi Wolf, as controversial as they come
A fascist United States, ruled by insensitive elite is creating an environment of anarchy through highly violent acts of terrorism, around the world in different guises, paving way for dictatorship to take the freedom away from the people in United States, providing path for a new world order where the world will be ruled by just a few and fear will be the currency of use.
May be, this should have been the closing line of the first part, yet this line finds its way as the opening. Ironic, just like Naomi Wolf herself.
Before I go any further with the article, let me tell you a little about myself and some of my beliefs. I am not necessarily a conspiracy theorist and do not believe in every word they utter or every random theory that they come up but there are some aspects like the rule of Wall Street over our lives, corporate CEO’s making millions and the shady and murky world of banking and finance that I find a bit disturbing, actually more than a bit disturbing. So a part of me is sympathetic to anyone who raises a voice against such atrocities (note technically correct but I definitely think that financial irregularities are and should be termed as atrocities as well), and a part of me will always want someone to speak about the people working their lives at minimum wages. Other than that, I am as patriotic as they come, United States is my country, and I love it to the hilt. My pain though stems from the fact that a proud US Marine who spends the best years of his or her life serving the country, makes peanuts while a glorified NBA player, or a CEO of some bank makes millions of $’s a year. I guess the little clarity before we delve in this highly controversial issue was required.
Being an American, I do not feel an obligation to poke how other countries work but I have a strong interest in political climate around the world. The Scottish referendum was a thing of interest as well for me – A nation-taking stand to what it believes is its basic right. The nation chose to stand by with unity and UK managed to lobby the people towards the federation. I do believe that there are issues and UK policy makers need to step in, if the people feel alienated or wrongly dealt with, it is part of the Governments job to provide solutions to people. After all the Government’s job is to take care of people, it is an ideal example of division of labor, the people work and make money, the people allocate some from its lot to take care of creating fair society. If every single person is involved in trying to take care of society, the outcome is nothing but chaos, hence a win-win situation for every person living in the society. For me, the Scottish referendum is clear, there are shortcomings and the higher ups in UK parliament need to understand that, work on it, eliminate the disparity and create satisfaction for people. Next time, if they keep repeating the same mistakes and do not change their methodology, they may not be able to sway the opinion held by people. Simple, end of story, and a logical conclusion.
No, not at all, if you happen to be named Naomi Wolf, this is not the ending but a mere beginning. Details come next but first thing first, she claims the referendum was rigged, totally manipulated through unfair means and not a reflection of the will of people (the exact opposite choice was forced on people – since there are only two choices in a referendum anyways). Where does sanity stop? Where does brainwashing step in? What explains paranoia? And what if (and it is highly unlikely) what Naomi says is true?
She stands for her beliefs, give the lady that much credit. Here she is seen at the Scottish rally in defiance to the referendum result, an event where she also made her speech which was actually welcomed by the highly charged crowd. Her Facebook feed where the image is taken from is full of her tirades about the referendum, claims that are often backed by posters who say that there was evidence of rigging in the referendum (I certainly have no opinion, nor the authority to verify or deny the claims of any sort). Her hashtag #TeamHumanity is an interesting read as well, in many ways you are able to see both the anger and frustration of the people who believe in her and the non-believers who consider her delusional and far-fetched. Internet debates are not my forte, when I see one, I run away but it is always interesting to see some logical arguments, so I would encourage you to have a look, if you ever get some free time the comment sections will provide for an interesting read.
The second issue that she has recently put her weight behind is the conflict in the Middle East, for the first part we consider the Palestine versus Israel conflict, the ISIS can wait till later (this is a long column and I will try to cover as much as possible in it). The problem is, whenever Middle East comes into media fore, emotions run too high for any logical or fact based discussion. History – a contradictory reflection of who ruled who, written by conquerors, modified by their predecessors – is often as murky and unclear as our financial world is. Historians will say no to this statement, they will say that they have complete record and fact based documents for every major event that has happened till now, but no matter how much they disagree, the fact of the matter is that there are always two sides of the same coin. One man’s martyr is the other man’s terrorist, one man’s spy is the other man’s hero and the people who entered Troy secretly within the horse will never be considered as Heroes by any Trojan ever, Fact.
Anti-Semitism is a reality and in many ways so is Islam phobia. These two religions have been at opposite corners almost ever since the inception of Islam. Her stand on Palestine as a free state and idealizing the people who support the movement has been instrumental in creating pressure on the British parliament. Her quote regarding Baroness Warsi (a UK parliamentarian of Pakistani descent who quit the parliament due to, in her words, slow and ineffective response on Gaza conflict during Israeli repression and aggression) hails the baroness as someone who stood for right despite having no grasp on the history of the region and the background of events which resulted in the tragic war is just cringe worthy in more than one way
“Maybe a principled stand makes a difference over time? Baroness Warsi quit Parliament over Gaza — and now is pressing ex-colleagues to recognize Palestine…moral truth has this way of worming itself toward the light…slowly and painfully” Naomi on Warsi – (Source Facebook feed – quoted as is except the removal of character “c” from ex, original post “dcx”).
Taking a blatant side in a conflict, which is complex, intricate and historic is an act that few people will perform with so much ease, but Naomi is not one of them, it seems (“fools rush in, where the angels fear to tread”). Other than the Israeli and Palestinian people, it is hard for people to just pick sides; the neutrals are neither victims, nor oppressors and in most cases observers that almost know little or nothing. Such hard core stance makes you wonder whose side is she on, I mean seriously it is hard to comprehend such things when people whose freedom of expression is solely due to the countries that they are born in is laughable and in some cases a bit hurting.
Now let us talk a bit about ISIS, no sane mind anywhere in the world should ever be able to say that the atrocities that are being carried by ISIS are for a reason. There is no justification, in any religion, under any law or in any pretext. It does not require a degree in Political Science to see that the whole direction that is being taken by ISIS prompts nothing but violence. The whole Middle East conflict is hard to understand at the moment, that is a given. Who are the allies and who are the enemies is not clear to anyone, there has been so much war that no one is aware anymore that who they are fighting. Syria is in war against ISIS, ISIS was previously supported by Iraqis and other Sunni states, now ISIS is a threat to Iraq, and Iran is supporting action against ISIS, US is supporting action against ISIS, Iran is considered enemy of US who were present in Iraq but are currently allies against ISIS and religious extremism. The whole situation is borderline maddening and downright unfortunate, there are no two ways about it.
Now consider the following opinion, again taken from Naomi Wolf’s Facebook page and try to get your head around it.
“So much about ISIS seems hyped/spun (again that doesn’t mean they don’t ‘exist’ or aren’t ‘real’ as my readers know I often explain: we are in a time when real news merges with agendas/spun reporting and agendas hijack ‘real’ historical agents of change.) But….horses? Swords? Everyone’s faces covered all the time? All that convenient video — the convenient British guy who is memorably a DJ — that conveniently means Britain gets to change its laws again to crack down on local freedoms…the convenient 500 MILLION ask from the Pentagon TODAY to make war on ISIS in the wake of a news event LAST WEEK…it takes time just to get the paperwork together….the branding — “Hey Biff, what is the scariest name we can think of to freak out Middle America?” “I’ve got it Jim — “Islamic State”!”. The endlessly iconic stream of ‘assertions” that “sources” say they are cutting babies in two — crucifying people — again this does not mean they are not real or their atrocities are not real. But real threats and the agendas of others can be symbiotic (handy to have 500 million in a time of peace) — remember the fake accounts of “the HUN” raping Belgian women that drove everyone else into World War One…it doesn’t mean there wasn’t a threat but other discussions might have unfolded without the ‘terror hype’ of 1914….”
And the other opinion which was taken down later due to critical and factual comments from a fellow journalist Rukmini Callimachi of New York Times foreign correspondent
“Ok … two of the hostages just happened to go from long careers into the military to … sudden humanitarian work? (same was true of the latest British hostage.) Where are they getting all these folks? If someone is abducted there is a record with Amnesty and with Reporters without Borders. Can someone please confirm that these organizations have any record of this person having been abducted? The NYT yesterday ran a depressingly sloppy editorial claiming that all the ISIS beheading video and atrocity videos must be real because “there are so many of them on YouTube.” THAT’s journalism??? They also called ISIS “evil” many times … which is not language of a news analysis, it is a theological category for some faiths and a Global War on Terror talking point … this may be all true but it takes five people to stage an event like this … two to be ‘parents’ … two to pose for cameras … one in a ninja outfit … and one to contact the media that does not bother checking who ANY Of these other four people are” (As is extract from Naomi’s Facebook page – the post was later taken down but the discussion remains very much active on the topic)
Wolf’s connected posts contain similar content, distrust on the reporting, accusations about creation of misconceptions and creating sensationalism about things, which are not real. Her almost 100,000 followers of the page are real people who lap up to such comments with utmost glee. Her series of questions against the New York Times on the fabrication of the abductions, and denial to get a third party neutral verification were highly welcomed by her followers who appreciated her courage on every question. Her denial to accept the kidnappings by ISIS people goes to this extreme that the kidnappings and murders have been verified even by the ISIS headquarters of Raqqa and neutral news sources.
She has many other similar opinions to this but we have tried to avoid going too much in the literal words of the author and want to analyze some of her statements on the ISIS matter. War on Terror, is a concept – it may not be a war and the name is more of a PR stunt rather than significant fact based terminology. The fact remains though that this is a constant struggle of our times, times before us and sadly it seems very much into the future as well. As much as we all love peace, the threats to global peace, literally, are very real. No matter how much we want, there is no denial to the clash of civilizations; it is a reality just like the Crusades were for the Middle Ages. ISIS IS A THREAT, and the whole world, even the Islamic countries realize that. A doctrine of terror, created to produce blatant hate, war and killing. The western media or the US which Wolf has often claimed is directly responsible for such atrocities has actually little or no benefit from the so called “propaganda”. The ISIS is recognized as a terrorist body by most Muslim states, a fact that alienates it for those which it aims to stand for. How do the beheadings propaganda change anything is beyond belief, as of now we wait to see the next stinging reaction from Wolf on the matter.
On a personal note, I do believe that in general, it has easier to create a propaganda machine as compared to times before us. Video editing, image editing, realistic animations, social media outlets and other media can be converted into a rumor mill. A single tweet in today’s world can have massive impact, if you do not believe me; ask the guy who tweeted from Abbotabad while the operation by the SEAL team to apprehend Osama was underway. There is a role that the media needs to play and that role should be more responsible. There is no denying that sensationalism is not the right way forward, it does attract eyeballs, it does giver viewership numbers, it does increase TRP’s and it creates revenues. The whole point of the counter argument though is to not validate the concerns of Wolf, it is just to let people know that media’s power needs harnessing. Her followers and she included are part of the machine that is thriving on sensationalism. While she is revered for her honest opinions and bold stance on ISIS, the whole point of validation gets lost. Her posts include sources as an eye witness here and an eye witness there, barely respectable people and barely credible sources.
Her third strange conspiracy theory comes from West Africa in the form of Ebola. Let your mind run and imagine the wildest problem created by Ebola. Take a little break, go for a glass of juice or a cup of coffee and keep thinking on it. Well let me provide you with the amazing theory that Wolf has on Ebola; a little left field or totally off the park, I will let you decide over it. She believes Ebola has been created to get more military control over US Citizens and people travelling to US. (That is the summary of her theory based on an interpretation, some people may have other interpretations but this is the most impeding and highly hinted upon theory)
“And…TV news in US reporting Department of Defense is sending three thousand troops to Liberia. Troops with no medical expertise, to construct and run field hospitals for Ebola….then they will be quarantined for 21 days…and eventually come home. A crazy idea as Liberia and Sierra Leone already have a dense infrastructure if medical aid organizations on the ground…many Western ones…that already have doctors nurses and well tested medical education networks that were activated to educate people about AIDs. I was in Freetown and witnessed this. What they don’t have is enough doctors or supplies. They need the CDC not the Pentagon. So why send soldiers with no medical background? A. Militarized Africa has long been on the agenda but B. Three thousand Ebola-exposed American troops creates a direct vector into the US and whatever happens a narrative can exist to justify military condoning of US populations…quarantining Americans…emergency measures to limit travel…crisis best left to military not civil authorities. People in Liberia and Sierra Leone know perfectly well how to build more buildings for more beds. These are modern societies…they just need money. There is no practical reason to put our soldiers in the eye if Ebola. That is why I don’t like this narrative. ..” (Extract taken from her Facebook feed).
And another comment that she made.
“The US benefits from … us being SO DAMN SCARED so that our intelligence agencies can take away the last of our freedoms on behalf of corporate interests the way intelligence agencies in the West are doing all over … Britain, Canada, Australia, next NZ … so there you are.” (Another comment available on her Facebook feed about Ebola).
This opinion makes me cringe, not only because it is devoid of facts, devoid of a solid base on which an argument is made valid and lastly because of the total denial of the services of armed men and women in times of disaster. If these people need not to be sent to Liberia, they should not have been helping victims of Hurricane Katrina, or they should have not been present in Haiti or any place else where a disaster has just taken place. The fact that the opinion creates and nullifies the role of these men and women in working for national causes is just plain wrong, to put it in the lightest of ways. If I could ask Wolf, I would definitely ask her about the alternatives, after all how many alternatives are there. If the aid agencies on ground had sufficient resources and trainings, the need to put these people there would not arise in first place. Tales of incompetent officials have been one of the highlights that have come from the failure to stop the spread of Ebola, failed administrators, broken quarantine places; riots and corruption have resulted in the disease to almost become a major threat for all humanity. So when the world is facing grave danger and there are competent people, who have been trained and are tested and proven performers sent to Liberia, risking their own lives for the lives of people the world over, should there be any conspiracy theory against them. Other than thanking them for their bravery, and working for a greater human benefit, I cannot possibly think of any other outcome.
But, these soldiers are just an excuse for the politicians to create the start of a marked encroachment of military regime, aimed at taking personal freedom away from people. Now it would be great to imagine a world where there are no polarizing opinions on global threats and no matter which way you look it is hard to imagine that there is a conspiracy of control behind Liberia. I mean seriously, even if half the conspiracy theories are true and there are powerful and intelligent people in the world who are planning a thorough, complete and total domination of the world and its resources, they are bound to think of better alternatives and ways to sway public imagination. I mean literally there are less cost intensive ways and even more direct and better ways to create the same impact. I would refrain from writing them here, but there are many ways, even Holly Wood producers, directors and writers have been able to write better narrative plots for such events. If Holly Wood people can do that, surely the world’s elite (if so they exist) can come up with a better plan to control the citizens of America.
On a deeply different note, I wish recovery for all the people suffering from Ebola, wish that our soldiers are able to return safely and that Ebola can be countered and controlled. The world does not need another endemic at the moment, or at any moment. Let us hope that lessons have been learned from Black Plague and the world does not have to suffer from another problem like that ever. A silent prayer for those who have lost their life, rest in peace.
Her other controversial opinion to hit the headlines was her tirade against Katy Perry, a renowned pop singer who has been an influential existence in the world of music. Naomi targeted the song “Part of Me”, which is a shameful act. The song’s video, a tribute to the service woman focuses on the empowerment and is an expression of how the women have influenced the army.
“I really want to find out if she was paid by them for making it, it is truly shameful … I would suggest a boycott of this singer whom I really liked – if you are as offended as this glorification of violence as I am”.
Her stance splits opinion, Wolf’s detractors argue that she is a living breathing contradiction while her supporters believe that glorification of war is not something which should be taken lightly. The impact of boycott of the song, will still be unknown – although history suggests that such boycotts or censoring rarely solve the purpose – if anything it gives popularity as it becomes a headline news. Katy Perry also seems to be unhinged by the song and the reaction that it received from Wolf, for her the song and the video is a pretty strong message and an affirmation of the effort that is being carried out by the women.
The reason that Wolf may think that the “song is a total piece of propaganda for the marines” may have little or no value for many of the fans and feminists who fell total awe of the bestselling author in her prime. Her current group of followers though stands firm and do believe that behind every action, there is a particular motive and a will to take power away from the people. Her frequent visits to Islamic Centers make her a soft target for the hard liners and people who see Islam as a threat to the modern society. Her hard stance on Palestine, her strange reasoning about events related to ISIS, her abrupt disclamation of the Irish Referendum being rigged, her stubborn support of Gaza and Palestine and her Anti-Israel views have made her controversial. Her followers find it presence of abundance courage, a person who was and is still in many ways, a global personality who managed to rise above her contemporaries and yet when she could have stayed forever happy in her little bubble, she managed to speak out and stand for the people.
There is a hidden romanticism to her tale, a lone voice of reason among the skeletons that everyone has been trying to hide in closets. Her opinions are controversial; she is also skeptical of those voices who stand against the system in some cases. She did accept Juilian Assagne and even argued in his favor that the rape allegations against him are a pre-text and part of a secret bigger hidden agenda. An opinion that made her despised in the feminist community and was considered as a comment from someone who worked hard to gain respect, yet when it came threw it away. Her consistent approach to Edward Snowden and his girlfriend where she believes that they are not true whistleblowers, in fact they are planted agents trying to sway the attention of the media. Her argument against Snowden, he is too well spoken and learned. Well definitely you cannot have a discussion on such sort of statement!
It is really hard to understand what Wolf wants and what she stands for. Naomi Wolf is not just a citizen who believes in every conspiracy theory from Aliens to faking moon landing. She was the campaign manager of two presidential candidates and even had power over picking the clothes (though not a statement that she agrees with, but many influential and credible sources do hold her accountable) of Al Gore. Bill Clinton may be remembered for many things, one of them is having Naomi Wolf at her side during the presidential campaign. It is hard to imagine a person in such a high position having an opinion about conspiracies like the rest of us who literally have no access in the inner sources of power. When someone like you and me castigates facts to our opinion, we do so because we are unaware of how the system truly works. Yes we are aware of how our surroundings work, but none of us (in most cases) have no access to how the real system works, not many of us get to talk with the power brokers, the movers, the shakers, the people who make law and definitely the President or would be President will have no knowledge about who we are and how we look. The fact that Wolf’s CV boasts such a success makes her not only credible in many ways (for those who believe her), it also gives her an excellent platform to create confusion / clarity (read appropriately based on the side that you are).
We live in the age of information technology, unlike before when mass information was not accessible. Today the information cannot be controlled; it is true that conspiracy theorists have left not a single major event in known history without a delusional and in some cases farfetched background story. Take any event, the death of Hitler, the 9/11 terror plot, John F Kennedy’s assassination, the Bretton wood’s agreement, or the more recent toppling of Saddam, Qaddafi, and Egyptian Brotherhood and Hosni Mobarak and you will find hardly believable conspiracy theories. It is hard for people to stay uninformed; we are bombarded with information from so many sources that it is hard to remember a lot of things. Is there any motivation behind Naomi Wolf and her never-ending conspiracy theories?
There could be a possibility that she is scared to lose her fame, she is afraid that she will be forgotten and she wants to stay in the limelight almost as much as possible. Who else to target when you want to be have your fifteen minutes of fame, America, American Army and the nexus of evil plot where the Jews control the complete world secretly. Plant some nefarious allegations, have no proof, keep using the social media platform, criticize everyone and everything that challenges you, claim that there are people hounding you and your existence is being threatened, blame the lack of freedom of speech and call every one against humanity who opposes you. Seems like a very good recipe for staying in the mind of people, and needless to say, there are almost seven billion people in the world, if you keep targeting a subject like hate for America, you are bound to get a strong followership. Is it not the same thing that the Jihadi groups do??
For me, I do not know about how to feel, personally despite the fact that I do not agree with most of the things that she says, I have a deep respect for her as an author. Our system needs some people like her, asking the questions that seem too silly to ask on occasions, leveling random accusations against everyone and everything challenging the sanity of the people in power. As they say “absolute power, corrupts absolutely”, it is better to have a system of checks and balances, even if some of the input coming into that system is from people who can be considered borderline “lunatic” (should not be calling anyone like that directly, but still), but still the lunatics keep reminding the people within the system of their sanity. This is definitely a debate, which has no end, we need a world created on transparency, we should never glorify war and there should be peace and prosperity but the passage to such dreams is arduous, long and complicated. There are people who are attention mongers and there are some people who do not crave attention but want people to follow a good path. Differentiating such is hard and complicated and in most cases for ordinary people like us, almost impossible.
Naomi Wolf treads on a fine line, a line between sanity and lunacy; does she cross the line? Too often for my liking towards lunacy – her followers though believe that her courage is exemplary. She challenges us to question, some hard questions, some burning questions and some really innocuous questions that even need no clarity; does our society need her though? She brings with her courage to speak her heart, an ability to stand against conformity, she even provides us with laughter despite not trying to make us laugh (pun intended – possible a bad one), she makes our blood boil with allegations that seem ridiculous, she fights and gets arrested for standing against Wall Street (highly commendable in my eyes), she becomes the voice of Ferguson (no one in their right mind should support a racially biased society – however the jury is still out on how racial stereotyping has hampered our society), she tries to create a bridge between the Muslims of America and other Americans albeit that bridge should not be built on the carcasses of our brave men and women who have given their lives for justice and peace and she tries to fight against state corruption (in her opinion). To maintain balance, we need to know both, the good and the bad, once we know both extremes, we can chose and pick what we feel is right. In short and trying to close the narrative in a single word; yes, we need Naomi Wolf and more people like her to keep our collective conscience in check, we need balance, and we need Naomi Wolf.
Part II – “The Curios Case of Naomi Wolf” – Nadir to Zenith and back again; the origins of the journey to stardom and backwards
“People mature with age, Naomi Wolf has regressed” – Anonymous comment from an internet forum debate
It was evident as soon as her first major book “The Beauty Myth” made its appearance that Wolf was destined for greatness. There was something about the book, it even made critics fall in love with both her and the book and we are talking about people who are extremely hard to please, and rightly so she was hailed as the flag bearer of the third generation of feminism. She did what many of us will never be able to do, no matter how much we dream about it, or how much we try, we will never be able to create as much stir and garner as much attention as she did with her book.
Her book was not a scattergun approach or targeting one and all but it was a systematic take on the system, step by step, she uncovered every single thing that she felt was wrong. Nothing was spared, no leave was left unturned and we had a person with us in which we were supposed to believe. Naomi was in just a few years a best-seller author, a star, a name that would be synonymous with success and hope for women for decades and centuries. Was this not the moment where her story should have ended? Cherished, loved and respected by many, but sadly her story continues to grow.
What we have seen in the last 5 years has been different from what we started. The whole first part of this article is riddle with her conspiracy theories and allegations which she has blurted out faster than we could print but what really happened to her making her change so much? It is hard to recognize the woman protecting Julian Assagne and saying that the rape is a conspiracy and not even a rape to the woman who wanted to make women stand up and get counted, people have asked often about what changed, if you read this Wolf, I ask you as well, what changed? We need to know, we really do, we have a right to know and you have an obligation to fulfill.
Born in San Francisco to a Jewish family (the irony later becomes strong as she becomes a staunch supporter of Palestine and almost an Anti-Israel movement), she was lucky to have parents well versed in modern arts and literature. Scholar and author, people with pedigree, no wonder she manages (or managed, in opinion of some people) to write with an effortless ease and comfort. A Yale alumnus, a Rhodes Scholar her pedigree was already known and in many ways established. Success though, despite the great start to her life was not a given, see, you can try, and do your best but even then in some cases, and you manage no success. She did manage to fulfill her potential, and boy, did she make it large or what.
The early 90’s was the changing of guard of the society, old beliefs were being challenged, and new paradigms were being created. There were these people, like Jobs and Gates who were hell-bent in taking their innovations to the next level, in creating a world that they had envisioned years ago, in their garages and after school meet-ups. Technology was becoming cheap, it was becoming accessible, and media had expanded its reach years ago, now it was learning to evolve on taking the cyber world by storm. The dot com boom was in full flow, from San Francisco to Beijing, new billionaires were championing their ideas, proud and confident trying to create a better new world from the old, and the world was ready for the things that were to follow next.
And there was Naomi Wolf, a young author, a woman of substance, a voice of reason, a person who knew she had to stand up and let people know. We are not objects, she said, we need respect, she said and boy, did the world listen. Her book which challenged the norms of the world in no uncertain manner was a rallying call for women which wanted them to stop other people deciding their fate. It asked them to stop trying to attain for standards that are unrealistic and offer nothing for the individual, if the 90’s were challenging the women to become more “plastic”, Wolf gave them hope to stand strong.
Her brilliantly conceived “iron maiden” pressurized by society through work, violence, sex, religion and hunger had to be the epitome of hope and strength. The pressure was not about conforming anymore, it was about standing out, and it was about being true to your own self. She was hailed by the feminists, who showered her with accolades and many of them termed the book as “the must read book for the modern women”. There were critics, definitely a lot of them, New York Times, probably sowed the seeds of their later contempt that has lasted to this day (as we mentioned in Part 1 of the article) and some of the critics were justified. There were few errors, semantic and quantitative errors that corroded some of the impact of the book (the book contained Anorexia related death figures which needed to be retracted later) and other things which rubbed some people in the wrong places.
The success though just kept coming, to the part that she was being hailed as an important and key protagonist leading the third wave of Feminism. Comparisons were made with Betty Friedan (responsible for leading the second wave of feminism in United States) and it seemed that her story was destined for nothing other than greatness.
Twenty years on, people are debating her mental health; she is being labeled as a “softy who loves to hate America” and a person who lost every ounce of credibility in a span of few years. Ah, how the mighty fall.
Was the success real?
When it comes to early success of her book, we need to go in-depth and see how real the success was. There was this brand new media, wanting to put their weight behind a personality with Charisma, the publishers need to find a face who will sell them books, media hype machines are ready to create hype, invent reason, create value and ultimately cash on the success. Years earlier, I had learned in school that success is half hard work and half projection. Here was a young woman being hailed as a feminist leader, a person who was helping the President of United States, a known charismatic figure, a strong voice and in all honesty an attractive face. It seemed like a band wagon that could be followed; “if you package it well, people will fall for it”, a mantra rings in my ears, this came from a real estate salesperson who taught me some very basic life lessons while I was in between jobs (frankly looking for work to keep the house running, out of money, in debt and with almost nothing to go back to – but something that I will only admit happily now).
Was Naomi Wolf’s success result of media propaganda? She was claimed as someone similar to, if not more than Betty Friedan after just one book. Now I do not want to be too judgmental, especially after the recent spate of controversy after controversy that Wolf has served us up but let us check some facts and achievements of Friedan. Friedan’s book (1963) The Feminine Mystique by common perception and expert opinion is termed as the rally point and in some ways the starting point of the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century, pretty much very similar to Wolf until now. In 1966 Friedan founded National Organization for Women (NOW) a platform with the objective of bringing American women in the mix of mainstream society as equal to me, equal rights, and equal responsibilities. Her popularity among the women circle ensured that she was selected as the first president of NOW, an achievement that Wolf did not manage to replicate in the three years after her land mark book. Friedan showed she was not power hungry by stepping down from her post as NOW’s president and went on to organize a nationwide strike – an act of defiance in total humility. It was the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the constitution of United States, an amendment that granted women a right to vote 50 years ago. In seven years, she had risen from an author to a leader – a much vaunted leader that could shape lives and create hope; has Wolf managed to replicate such success within the 07 years of her career, let me think but nothing major comes in the mind. The national strike created waves and ripples bigger than even expected, New York City where Friedan led the march, alone manage to attract over fifty thousand people (both men and women), giving legitimacy to a movement that was only beginning to gather foothold.
Her successful career does not end here; she managed to gather leading feminists at a single platform (National Women’s Political Caucus) and was a strong support of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment which was passed by both houses under immense pressure from women activist groups. Her views on feminism did not entitle to hate, in fact, her book The Second Stage (1981) was critical of feminism extremism.
Her famous work “The Feminine Mystique” was ground breaking as she challenged Freud and his works and asserted with authority that women can work along with men as equals in society in almost any profession possible. There is no divide, there is no limitation and certainly there is no dearth of talent among women as compared to men. The book culminated as a springboard to bigger things, not the biggest thing in her life. Her political activism, her radical ideas, her consistent work and her larger than life personality made her a role model, an icon if I dare to be more precise.
Her work on issues concerning women rights was prioritized scientifically; she despite the fact of being in her own words “uneasy with homosexuality” chose to keep the issue of lesbianism in the back burner. She did state that over time she became more understanding about the issue, but her movement was about equality and not sexuality of women. Yet whenever the issue came up, she supported the lesbian movement, rising above her beliefs – a trait of true leader who can look at the bigger picture rather than massaging their own ego by forcing their own beliefs on others. Her opinion on abortion is similar, she wanted to have a broader picture, feminism is a movement about equality, not a comprehensive discussion on narrow issues, if you get equality in bigger terms; smaller issues will automatically get solved, in her view. She did though protest against war and agreed to not pay taxes during Vietnam War.
Do I see such this attributes in Wolf as well? I am not sure as I know her through the eyes of media but I can say that comparing both people, it is hard to see how Wolf matches her contemporary. Friedan led a movement, a movement that could have been lost in obscurity and reinvigorated it. The struggle eventually resulted in unparalleled success and ultimately the betterment of society. Her literary work too, has stood the test of time much better than Wolf’s work. Friedan also rarely had to resort to sensationalism to get media attraction; maybe she wanted to hog the limelight as well but lived in a time where such was not possible.
Wolf on the other hand rose to brilliance in an instant, from one day being a “no body” to the next day being the Messiah of the next generation. There was no void in politics for her to have her gradual ascension, all the spots are taken and so he had to find a pedestal of her own, an identity that would have made her less of a heretic and more of a reformer. She had credibility; she just lacked an opportunity to carve her name in history. By going against the state and becoming conspiracy theorists, she managed to not only lose a lot of credibility but also is stuck in a corner with almost nowhere to go.
If you have not seen the movie “The Curios Case of Benjamin Button”, maybe you should watch it to see how aging affected Benjamin Button (will not give more spoilers, it is definitely not a plug for the movie). Similarly, in case of Naomi Wolf, rather than moving on in the world of feminism, after her entry she has regressed backward. Her next works have failed to capture the imagination in the same way, her activism has stalled and her intellect has been lost somewhere between paranoia and reality. Maybe, she never deserved to be on the pedestal of history that she was so immediately thrust upon, maybe like the controversy theories that she so regularly propagates; her rise was a conspiracy in itself. An attempt to create an icon when there was little substance, an opportunity taken by some marketer’s to create the next big brand.
Her success, her stardom, her failures and her delusions, could all be part of a bigger plan. For the moment we do not know it. This current phase could very well be a transitional phase, of self-exploration, of cancelling out the options before finding the right one. Her success prompted her to reach a throne which she barely deserved, Betty Friedan; the original queen that she replaced was far too deserving, too humble and too brilliant. A comparison between the two at the current moment will be unfair to Wolf, more so it will be humiliating for Friedan; she deserved the throne, stood for it, battled for it, tried for it and eventually won it. Naomi Wolf got the throne thrust upon her, a success that she barely deserved at the spot of her career. True to her inexperience, she proved in more than one ways, inept for it.
For Friedan, it was a story of progress, from a student to a scholar, from a worker to a leader and from an author to visionary – for Wolf, it has been a story in total reverse – the sad part is, she does not realize this yet.
Part III – Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
What do you think about the Irish Referendum? I asked the guy who I had managed to coerce to talk to me, a staunch Wolf supporter who covets her as his leader, the young guy from Pakistan wanted me to keep his name anonymous. “If Naomi says that there is something wrong about the referendum, than I am sure that there were some problems with it”. I was unable to understand his emotion behind it, this was supposed to be a Facebook chat, and there was no way of understanding the tone and behavior of the person.
“But there is no semblance of proof about any such event” I quizzed him again
“Well there is, there are so many people who received empty ballots. There are questions about the voting by mail process and so many other irregularities” was his reply.
“So what is your stance on feminism” I changed the subject, albeit a bit surprisingly, wanted to see his reaction on a pretty touchy subject in many Muslim countries.
“I believe that every woman should have rights and they should be treated equally in every society. This, may I add has nothing to do with Naomi, I believe in woman as my religion has told me about it”
“But how are women equal to men if they have to take a veil over their face while men do not?”
“Well, it is because men are supposed to protect their eyes; you cannot go about looking, staring and ogling people. We can go in much detail about this subject but I do not want to discuss the religion over here. Was this discussion not more about Naomi and less about Islam?” I could see that the guy was more witty and sharp than I had expected.
“So what about Ebola than, do you think that this has been a disease created by the CDC and spread on purpose in West Africa to create grounds for more policing around the world?”
“Could be, why not, how many times have we been totally surprised by the things that the power hungry do to oppress the weak. I could give you countless examples of the mighty doing major things to get minor benefits”
“Give me one”
“Well, in my country alone, the politicians keep the sectarian wars going to keep the innocent people busy, the Great fire of London was a convenient way to create a lot of space for people who wanted to live better. Our society has so many secrets buried in closets that just even finding the cabinets will take years”
“Tell me what Naomi Wolf’s mission is?” I moved on knowingly, following a pattern of questions where the maximum impact was to offer less judgment and not go in debate
“I do not know, I think, it is about letting people know about the other side of the world. I do know that not everything that she says is true, but she gives us options to explore. Much like George Galloway, she does not pick against one particular race or one particular mission, but I believe that to me, her humanity appeals to me, I have read her books, to me I disagree with her on many things, but I believe that there is much to like and much to share. For the people like me, who believe that we have been deprived for long, she gives us a glimmer of hope and for me, for the ones like me, who are stuck and clutching at straws, that is plenty”
We chat more, about other things, the eloquence, the ability to articulate, the “to the point” nature and the brevity all impress me. It impresses me that a world almost opposite of her, Naomi Wolf has hit a cord and made people rally behind her. Her almost 100K followers on Facebook are all interesting people, I have had the privilege to read the regular comments and must I say that there is some diversity.
Building a new future:
Wolf is elegant, beautiful and has a beautiful smile. She exudes energy while she talks; there is passion in her words and you can see why she has served two United States president candidates as their counsel. You can feel that despite the often barbs against her of selling her soul she stands by things that she says even if they appear immature and nonsensical. For every person that she offends, she speaks the tune of some person’s heart. Her soft corner towards Islam is a known, a contradiction to very much that she initially preached and believed in (she even covers her heard while visiting Islamic Centers – a sign of respect to the religion). Her posts often have an intro in four or five languages, Arabic and Hebrew often included.
People like her believe that they are building a better world for the next generations; I am not sure whether they are building a better world or are they are just having hallucinations. You and I, we are not the true judges; we suffer from limited vision and rational shallowness, history, that is the true judge. History defines, segregates and highlights the ordinary from the great and its judgment stays eternal. We the mere mortals with limited wisdom stand no chance against the might of time.
Her vision of America is a strange one to accept or understand; seriously sometimes I fail to understand what she actually wants. Is she a true activist who realized that media was poisoning the world and took a bold step risking all that she had gained in her life or is she just trying to sell more books in newer markets, markets that would have had little or no interest in books about feminism?
Researching for this has made me read more about Naomi Wolf than I would have wanted (an honest admission is always great). I am not against feminism but the point of media people going rogue always make me cringe a bit. Here is a person who made a name from the media, who is standing on the same walls of the fort against which he or she is campaigning, a person chiming against freedom of speech using the same mass media channels and expressing hate against a country where they were born, educated and got all the benefits from. There is a tinge of hypocrisy, actually there is more than a tinge of hypocrisy; it feels a bit wrong, a bit unethical and in more than one ways a bit unrealistic.
For Naomi Wolf is not going to be Betty Friedan, this we concluded a while ago. Is she going to be able to create a niche for her as a feminist turned activist? Has she burned enough boats and has reached a point of no return. The people that she has talked against are influential people, will they forgive her if she wants to ever have a re-think, like when she takes her Facebook posts down. I do feel though that Wolf was a victim of her own success, a success that created an unreasonable expectation in her head and success that led her to hallowed turf, a turf that she had not proved herself worthy of. There are many of us who will fall in love with her work, there will be, there are thousands of people who love a good conspiracy and there will be countless of “haters” as well, after all there are numerous reasonable and logical people in the world as well.
There is a future for Wolf; there definitely is a place in our society for not just her but people like her. Whether she keeps true to her persona of an activist (conspiracy theorist) or tries to come back to her roots as an author and feminist.
While Naomi Wolf keeps singing to the tune of “Haters gonna Hate” and keeps going on her business, a serious thought hits my mind. What if the things she says are true are actually true? I shudder for a bit, I do it really is scary. I would not be able to last long if I had to live with her thoughts …
Your head is a very scary place Naomi, and for that I salute your courage …