Naomi Wolf, heir to the Gloria Steinem “foxy feminist” mantle, is at it again. Four years after having persuaded Al Gore to become an “Alpha Male” clothed in earth tones (she insists she was an advisor on “women’s issues”), she has resurfaced in the pages of New York Magazine to comment on the “iconography” of this year’s election.
Wolf clearly prides herself on upending the stereotype of feminists. Despite having written a 1990’s book The Beauty Myth, which decries the unrealistic standards of feminine beauty to which ordinary women are compared, she certainly cultivates her own looks. And she is determined not to come across as a man-hater. In an appearance last week on “The O’Reilly Factor,” she kept appealing to the host by softly insisting that he was “too intelligent to believe” one thing or another. Naomi Wolf displaying honest admiration for Bill O’Reilly’s intellect is about as likely as Sinead O’Connor expressing profound veneration for the Pope — but it’s clear she is trying to portray herself as a “different kind of feminist.”
And in the New York Magazine piece, how she succeeds! The feminist movement, however misguided it might have been in many particulars, did have one valid critique: It was wrong to discount and disparage women’s intelligence. But now, ironically, Naomi Wolf commits precisely that offense.
According to Wolf, women are supporting George W. Bush this year in large numbers because the Bush team has succeeded in “manipulating the images of the women around” the President. They are being swayed by “carefully stag[ed] scenes in which a seated W. is listening attentively to a standing Condoleezza Rice.” Likewise, Wolf notes darkly of the Bush Administration, “Suddenly they all used the words — sensitive, comfort (or comfortable) and appreciate” (italics in original). And — of course, we’re back to colors with Wolf — “the jewel tones on Laura Bush and other women associated with the Administration” also are working to undermine the Democrats’ traditional advantage among women. (But wait — isn’t it earth tones that voters prefer, or was that just in 2000?)
Of course, appearances and images can be important. But Wolf’s message would be insulting if it weren’t so profoundly silly: Women are being fooled by code words, colors and pictures into voting against what she deems to be their best interests. It’s not that women have made decisions based on the issues — no, they have been taken in by appearances (you know how those women just love pretty colors!).
But perhaps it’s not fair to expect “feminist and social critic” Wolf to be in touch with the average American woman. Witness polls which, in the last five years, have found that fully 70% of women believe there should be more restrictions on abortion, or which have found that, if given the choice, more than two-thirds of women would rather stay home and raise their children than work. These, clearly, are issues upon which ordinary women and the Wolf-style Manhattan literati-glitterati completely disagree. So why should she be considered a reliable interpreter of women voters’ psyches when she’s completely out of step with the women themselves?
Here’s a reality check for Naomi Wolf: Women are simply voting their interests — as they define them. In a post-9/11 world, women are going to support the candidate whom they believe is least likely to let terrorists take over our schools, or bomb our cities, or terrorize our people. And they are going to stand by the man who liberated thousands of oppressed women living under both the hob-nailed boot of the Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan, and the regime of a dictator who officially sanctioned rape in Iraq. Women don’t need to agree with President Bush on everything — but they know his convictions are firm, and that he goes to bed each night and awakens every morning working to make sure that our children and our families stay safe. He’s not wringing his hands about a “quagmire,” he’s taking names and kicking terrorists’ behinds.
If, through the use of some of the imagery Wolf discusses, the Republicans have simply found an appealing way to solidify the support of women who already agreed with their policies, good for them. It’s about time.
But more than anything, it’s time for Naomi Wolf and the rest of the feminist elite to come to grips with one key fact: In Election 2004, women aren’t being deceived by pretty colors and nice words. We know what we believe. And it’s not what you tell us it is.