Rereading the Second Wave
Naomi Wolf's anger is animated by the question: how much more could talented, ambitious women achieve, if they could only free themselves from the chains of beauty?
We're all empowered now... or are we?
In the late 80s, a new theorist emerged on the scene. She was called Judith Butler, and she was to revolutionise gender theory so fundamentally, that to write a paper on gender in the 21st century that does not at least reference Butler, is to almost place yourself outside of theoretical intelligibility.
The Andrea Dworkin I discovered when I read Intercourse is not the cold and closed figure of liberal myth whose massive shadow squats in judgement over all our pleasures. She's angry - but also incredibly warm.
Luce Irigaray's public image consists largely of the fact that she once said something unfathomably silly about E=mc2 being a "sexed equation". But there is far more to her than that.
As a black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde fought both white supremacy in the feminist movement, and misogyny among civil rights campaigners.
Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex was a bestseller; an almost unimaginable feat for a book that called pregnancy barbaric, childhood a segregationist institution and heterosexual love “the pivot of women’s oppression”.
Marilyn French’s novel The Women's Room is a frank and unflinching portrayal of the violence done to women in a society that doesn’t value them as fully human. Forty years on, that violence still exists.
While it might do so through the filter of middle-class angst, The Feminine Mystique provides a blistering critique of the ways in which female subordination and lack of choice are marketed to women as their very opposite.
The Second Wave is often dismissed by today's feminists as offensive, outdated and obsessed with middle-class white women's problems. A new series of essays on the NS website will ask: is that fair?