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Women. “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf

In contradiction to the theory that feministic movement was successful and, therefore, is not needed anymore, the Third Wave of feminism appeared at the beginning of the 1990s, in the era of post-industrialism (Ampofo et al. 907). Naomi Wolf is an American writer, journalist, and representative of third-wave feminism. She became famous after her The Beauty Myth appearance. The book was published in 1991 in New York: Morrow. In the chapter, dedicated to women in the workplace, Wolf discussed the significance of women’s appearance for her successful career. She did not just describe the current situation with working women but also analyzed it and explained causes and mechanisms of the existing beauty myth. For expressing her view, Wolf appealed to the logic, using facts and figures and impressive analyze of courts proceeding, as well as to the reader’s emotions, causing astonishment, resentment, and laugh.

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In the chapter Work, Wolf described current situation with the dependence of women’s employment on their appearance. According to the author’s point of view, confirmed by the statistics, literature and evidence analysis, to get a job woman must match to the particular standards of the beauty. Moreover, the higher her holding post, the stricter demands to her appearance, figure, and style of clothes. Wolf pointed out that a lot of jobs are inapproachable for women, who are not beautiful, but, actually, there are no existing beauty standards. Thus, an employer could refuse to hire a woman or even fire her, relying on his notion of beauty (33). Another problem is women’s age. According to Wolf, women reach the particular age and then just disappear from such job positions as TV commentator, stewardess, waitress, and others (35). To be successful, women should spend the huge amount of money on cosmetics, skin-care products, clothes, and even plastic surgery (52-53). The author stated that this problem would exist until women continue under-estimate themselves, trying to match artificial standards, created by popular women magazines and television (42). At the end of the chapter, Wolf proposed the possible solution for the problem: women should consolidate and continue to fight with the current situation. Women’s self-estimation and self-consciousness are also important. To resist the beauty myth, women should understand their value as workers, as personalities, not just pretty dolls (55–57).

The Beauty Myth was written by the woman and for women. It represents the common for the writers of the third wave feminism tendency to simplify their writing, make it less academic and more comprehensible for women from different social classes with the different level of education. It could be stated that the primary purpose of feministic journalists and writers is to reach all women and first of all women with middle and low income as the most vulnerable class (Mann 61).

Wolf’s book, in particular, chapter Work has a well-organized structure. The chapter has four named subparagraphs, placed with the logical order, which makes the text easier and comprehensible for readers. The author described the current situation (The Professional Beauty Qualification (27)), provided historical background for its inception (The Background of the PBQ (31)), supported her point of view with the court trials data (The Law Upholds the Beauty Backlash (37)), proposed a solution, and made some prognosis (The Social Consequence of the PBQ (48)). In her work, Wolf used metaphors, for example, the metaphor of women’s beauty as a transformer (20–21) to illustrate her statement. It is also significant that she used a non-typical for women technical metaphor, which is more common for men. It is possible that by preferring it, Wolf underlined women’s ability to understand and use traditional men’s terminology.

In her book, Wolf appealed to logos, illustrated her point of view with facts and statistics. Each of her statements is supported by the particular evidence. Wolf gave different statistics data: the information about percentage of working women in the United States, Sweden and French (21), data about women’s salary in comparison with men’s (23), the amount of the household work, done by married women (24), number of women with the qualified jobs (25), and other important and impressive data. This information supports the idea that after the 1970s the number of female workers is growing, however, they still have to do almost all household work and care about children.

The author used statistical data to illustrate her point of view that women work hard; however, their work is underpaid (49). All data are appropriate and highlight Wolf’s statements. Statistics, which she used, underlines the value and the incidence of the discussed problems. However, Wolf provided data mostly from the United States and Great Britain. She claimed that the discussed problem is widespread, but did not give enough of statistics to support her claim. It could be considered as the minor minus of her work.

Except for the statistics, Wolf used data of courts proceeding, supporting her claims. Wolf chose trials and other public cases, which illustrate the significance of women’s appearance in her professional life. As a support of her statement, the author cited data about St. Cross case (she was fired from a position of a Playboy Club waitress because she looked not good enough (32)), Christine Craft trial (Christine lost her job as an anchorwoman because of her age (35)), Hopkins case (Ms Hopkins did not get a partnership because was not feminine enough (39)), and other trials. In addition, Wolf provided information about two cases, as an example of general tendency:

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…the court in another case, Barnes v. Costle, concluded that if a woman’s unique physical characteristics—red hair, say, or large breasts—were the reasons given by her employer for sexual harassment… (38).

But since 1977, M. Schmidt v. Austicks Bookshops, Ltd. has been broadly interpreted to make it legal for her to be hired or fired generally on the basis of physical appearance (39).

The author gave these contradictory trials with the purpose to show the irrationality of the current situation. On the one hand, a woman could be fired because of her age, weight, and clothes style, in general, because she does not look sexy and feminine enough. On the other hand, when a woman looks sexy and feminine, it could be considered as a reason for the sexual harassment at the workplace. Wolf summarized ironically:

Unfortunately for them, working women do not have access to legal advice when they get dressed in the morning… Their neuroses don’t arise out of the unbalanced female mind, but are sane reactions to a deliberately manipulated catching in the workplace. Legally, women don’t have a thing to wear (42).

In her text, Wolf not just described the situation but explained it to her readers. It could be assumed that this explanation was the primary purpose of writing The Beauty Myth. Wolf’s statements are reasonable and do not demand any further clarification. The author appealed directly to the logic of her readers, structurally describing the problem, explaining its reasons, and proposing a solution.

As well as appealing to logos, Wolf used pathos appeals. She expressed her emotions and wanted her readers to feel the emotions too. The imagine dialog between a woman and her style council causes a sad smile, because “it would be funny if it weren’t true” (Wolf 39). Facts, she gave, caused the readers’ feels of sadness, resentment, and aspiration to change the current situation. She did not directly encourage her readers to make changes, however, her statement that situation is unacceptable and should be improved is evident.

Wolf used emotionally charged words such as “feel” (36), “funny” (39), “pretty” (40), “vulnerable” (43), “trouble” (44), “suffer” (45), “demand” (48), and others instead of neutral vocabulary. The author also used italics to highlight cruel words in her text, putting semantic accent, which makes the book more emotional and less monotonic. These instruments make the book more comprehensible and easier for reading and – which is the most important – accepting the author’s ideas.

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Thus, in The Beauty Myth Wolf explicitly postulated her point of view and described the connection with the appearance problems women face in their professional life. She used facts and figures, convincing statistics to illustrate her thesis and to underline the abundance of the problem. To make her work understandable and close to all women, Wolf appealed to readers’ emotions, used bright vocabulary and caused different emotions. Her well-planned book became a world bestseller. In the 1990s it was considered to be one of the symbols of feministic movement, and it remains central in the present times, while the importance of working women increases and feministic movement becomes widespread.

Works Cited

Ampofo, Akosua Adomako, et al. “Feminisms and Acculturation around the Globe”. Wright International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, edited by James D. Wright, Elsevier, 2015, pp. 905–911.

Mann, Susan Archer. “Third Wave Feminism’s Unhappy Marriage of Poststructuralism and Intersectionality Theory.” Journal of feminist scholarship, vol. 4, 2013, pp. 54-73.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. HarperCollins, 2002.

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