Feminism: It's All About Me!

Want to know what today's chic young feminist thinkers care about? Their bodies! Themselves!

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The most fussed-about young poet of the moment is Deborah Garrison, whose new collection, A Working Girl Can't Win, revolves around a quintessentially self-absorbed postfeminist. Again we get a picture of a career woman in her 20s who doesn't feel pretty enough and who fantasizes about life as a sexpot. "I'm never going to sleep/ with Martin Amis/ or anyone famous./ At twenty-one I scotched/my chance to be/one of the seductresses/of the century,/ a vamp on the rise through the ranks/ of literary Gods and military men,/ who wouldn't stop at the President:/ she'd take the Pentagon by storm/ in halter dress and rhinestone extras," Garrison writes in "An Idle Thought." (It could be retitled "Oh, How I Would Have Put You to Shame, Monica Lewinsky.") Garrison's efforts won her a book blurb from feminist columnist Katha Pollitt, who described the poems as "brave, elegant, edgy."

Even those feminists who don't necessarily embrace Paglia's world view seem to have inherited the postfeminist tic of offering up autobiography as theory. A 1995 anthology of young feminist thought, To Be Real, compiled by Rebecca Walker, is a collection of airy--sometimes even ludicrous--mini-memoirs meant to expand our understanding of female experience. She introduces the material by explaining that she first felt guilty about putting together such an introspective, apolitical book. But, Walker says, she resisted the pressure "to make a book I really wasn't all that desperate to read." An essay by Veena Cabreros-Sud tells us how empowering it can be to have random fistfights with strangers. And there's the interview with model Veronica Webb titled "How Does a Supermodel Do Feminism?," in which she explains that while the fashion industry may make women feel inadequate, there is a physically deformed little girl she knows "who actually has more self-confidence than I do."

Feminist author Naomi Wolf's most recent book, 1997's Promiscuities, draws on what she and her friends experienced growing up to make the point that female longing is dangerously suppressed in our culture. She argues that the world would be a better place if we celebrated women's sexuality the way so many ancient peoples did. "Confucius, in his Book of Rites," she writes, "held that it was a husband's duty to take care of his wife or concubine sexually as well as financially and emotionally." It seems to have eluded Wolf that ancient Chinese women might have aspired to something better than life as a concubine.

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