Fire with Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century

Fire With Fire: The New Female Power And How It Will Change The 21st Century
by Naomi Wolf, Random House, 1993, $21.00.

In recent years, feminism became “the F-word” that brought careers to a screeching halt. Women already on the corporate ladder learned, under threat of economic silencing, that “to get along, they had to go along.” So they kept silent. In Fire With Fire, Wolf portrays a besieged feminism, eroded by a general backlash against women’s gains, as well as three antagonistic Republican administrations. She indicts the media as a feminist-bashing collaborator, by its depiction of the movement as hairy, vicious, saggy-breasted, man-hating lesbians.

Wolf says that the consensus—seeking, “thought-police mentality” of the movement turned off many women who felt trapped between caring about men and identifying with feminism. Despite shared concerns regarding pay, opportunities, and health and child care, the chasm between the mainstream and feminism widened. Until Anita Hill.

“American women’s anger had been driven underground…under the weight of the Reagan-Bush years…Anita Hill’s testimony ripped open existing chasms, driving the continental plates of gender against one another, freeing locked-up energy and bringing down landslides,” causing a “genderquake,” according to Wolf. The sight of the white male Congressional panel’s incomprehension and disregard of Hill’s testimony underscored women’s lack of representation. Other in-the-nation’s-face struggles followed: the William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson rape trials, the Tailhook scandal and sexual harassment  mine their lives… and deserve more of whatever they are not getting enough of because they are women: respect, self respect, education, safety, health, representation, money.” In essence, power feminism sounds remarkably like human rights.

Wolf adds a lucid and significant voice to the third wave, by not only redefining feminism, but offering a blueprint for its realization. She acknowledges and builds on the foundation laid by pioneers like Simone de Beauvoir and Emma Goldman, as well as second wave activists including Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.

The 31-year-old writer grew up in a time when the law was on women’s side. Perhaps, like the Hebrews born free after the Exodus, it falls on those who have not known slavery “to overcome the dragons of niceness that stand in the way, and evolve a new feminine psychology in which it is appropriate and sexy, not scary and unfeminine, to walk with an open heart, a generous mind, and a big stick called clout.”

Wolf asserts that history has provided women with an “open moment;” a time to fight fire with fire. She paraphrases Hillel, in concluding with the words, “If not now, then truly, when?”