Power feminism: Who has the right to say you can overcome?

Naomi Wolf

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Does sharing womanhood give these women the right to say how other women should think?

  • Sure
  • No
  • It depends
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Have you ever heard of power feminism? Two women, Katie Roiphe and Naomi Wolf, say that society doesn't oppress women because women are powerful enough to control their fates. Women who don't have the mindset of a victim, and they need to get over that mindset and take charge.

This is a very controversial form of feminism because of the criticism surrounding Roiphe and Wolf, who are upper-class, white, well-educated women... critics say it's easy for them to say how to overcome trials.

Certainly to represent a group of people, one must have an understanding of that group that generally only inclusion can provide. To support this statement, I bring up Standpoint Theory, which focuses on how different aspects of identity affects one's place in society and the experiences he or she has. The only thing all women share are that they are all women, but much more contributes to one's "standpoint" in society, including gender, race, and class. Lower-class women do not have the same experiences more financially privileged women have, as white women do not necessarily undergo the same treatment as Hispanic women may. With that said, not even all Hispanic women experience the same things, as different levels of class and other characteristics exist within that group.

Wolf and Roiphe are white, upper-class, successful, and well educated. This most likely means that they can only credibly speak for other women who fit that narrow, particular profile. To be fair, these two women may have come from lower-class backgrounds, which may have provided them greater insight into how such women may think and feel. Where they lived, being white may have meant they were the minority. However, their "standpoint" still limits their ability to truly understand how all women live and the resources available to them. Probably no one can have such ability because no one can understand what everyone women of every profile experiences. That is why so many feminist (and anti-feminist) groups exist; no one size fits all.

At the same time, I suppose it depends. There are certainly white, upper-class, educated women who have been raped or discriminated against, and perhaps they believe in power feminism. I can't really speak to the validity of this form of feminism because I haven't really encountered anything to make me feel like a victim for being a woman.

I'd love to hear what other people have to say about this.

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Comments 8 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Glassvisage, I am not familiar with these particular "power feminists", but I've got to tell that I think Standpoint Theory does a great deal more harm than good. Who invented StandPoint Theory? I have no idea, but I bet you it was a bunch of liberal white intellectuals.

Let me share an experience here. In 1998 I was interviewing for a teaching position at a college whose student body was primarily African American and blue collar. The position was for someone to teach creative writing, linguistics and general composition. I gave a talk about the works of Fanny Burney.

In case you don't know who she is, here is a link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Burney

The white, liberal member of the faculty asked me: "Why should someone who is African American care about an Englishwoman who was born in the eighteenth century. How could they possibly identify with her?" I was so dumbfounded by this question that it didn't even occur to me to point out that I am neither an Englishwoman, nor a native speaker of English, and that clearly I wasn't born in the 18th century, either, and yet I found her interesting.

I didn't get the job. The sole black member of the faculty, an African linguist (from Africa, not the U.S.), was the only one who was hoping I would get hired. He was hoping this, because nobody else was a speaker of anything but English, and nobody else showed any interest in either linguistics or his native language.

I then got a job in Taiwan, where nobody was a native speaker of English, and yet nobody questioned why they should be interested in Fanny Burney. They understood that the quest for excellence means stretching a little.

Middle class whites may not know it, but they are trying to keep blacks down. Minority politics is all about handicapping. We may not all have been born under the same circumstances, but the only way to gain equality is to hold ourselves to the same standards. This goes for women, too.


kerryg profile image

kerryg 7 years ago from USA

Interesting hub. I think to a certain extent what Robie and Wolf say is true, but that circumstances vary too widely to say it's completely true.

I, for example, have never felt victimized by society in my life, and do approach life with an attitude that would make it difficult for me ever to feel so, but that doesn't mean what there isn't genuine discrimination in the world, even potentially against an educated, white, upper middle class American like myself. My aunt is a lawyer who's been involved in the fight to get birth control covered by insurance companies, for example, so I know first hand that vanity (mostly) drugs like Viagra are covered by many insurance plans that do NOT cover the Pill. I, too, enjoyed the spectacle of John McCain putting women's health in air-quotes the other night when discussing late term abortion. That same aunt is a cancer survivor who might have had to choose between her own life and the life of her child if her cancer had recurred during her pregnancy. The government has NO RIGHT to make that decision, and the fact that McCain and Palin think it does makes me madder than almost anything else about them. Things like these do, in my opinion, genuinely devalue women's lives.

And that's just in America. Robie and Wolf are almost completely off-base in terms of countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is true that women in those countries are often complicit in their own oppression, but they are also getting killed for daring to empower themselves. (Google Malalai Kakar for one of the most recent examples.) It will be decades, if not centuries, before they can legitimately be accused of behaving like victims when there is no real victimization going on.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

This is a truly interested topic and something all women's studies courses should touch upon.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you all for your comments. Aya, your example perfectly suits this topic; it's the reason why I hate affirmative action (I even wrote a Hub about it...)

Kerry, your connection of this to the current election is also suitable, and the reason why a lot of women were/are angry at McCain.


C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 7 years ago from NW Indiana

The struggle for power is and always will be a driving force within any and all living organisms. It is the ultimate energy that keeps all forms of life as we know it going strong. In fact I believe that the power struggle is the one thing that weeds out the weak and lame in every living situation. That being said, I would have to continue that all power struggles are instinctual.

Feminism is but a minuscule part of the entire picture, almost unimportant but truly the strongest representation of any and all life forces. None of us would be here if not for the female sector. Women truly have most of the power and control if only they would flex the muscle of it.

The problem is that ego interferes with the truth of most matters and men and women alike, get caught up in their own agenda forgetting the importance of basic survival. What is right is that all living organisms have rights defined by the simple fact that they coexist. We humans have decided that we are the ones to control everything. When in fact, true power is in the hands of God, or Mother Nature if you will.

Cancer does not discriminate, nor does the power of a tornado. I often wonder who do we humans really think we are? Much of what we do and try to force on others as factual is so far from the realities of life that it all seems very crazy to me.

The most important thing is that we need to learn how to coexist on this planet and treat all living organisms with respect and consideration. Life is a chain and survival is only as sure as the weakest link. Why we allow discrimination is a very geographical and cultural situation and there is no quick fix for any of it.

One brick at a time, one grain of sand at a time, That is what I believe it will take to fight the battles of discrimination. We all must search our hearts and decide what is right and what is wrong. The answers are within us all if we are willing to look deeply into ourselves. We each need to do what we can to make this world a better place for all. Gender has nothing to do with any of it unless we allow it to. Feminism could be just another distraction from truth.

Just my opinion, C.S.

 


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California Author

Hi C.S.,

I think your comment is valid; I don't believe in feminism because I personally don't feel the need. I agree that we should all work together, although I suppose many feminists believe they need to be recognized and respected to a greater extent in order for such equality to come to fruition. Thanks for speaking up :)


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

I don't think much of the standpoint theory, either.

It doesn't allow for empathy, or the commmon human experience.


JC 5 years ago

Get back in the kitchens where you belong.

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