Wolf did not choose this word arbitrarily. She is well aware of it portents and the fact that it is loaded with meaning for women, albeit unconsciously for many. It is guilt she is attempting to highlight for them, and guilt that she attempting to free them from by pointing out that its source is both external and patriarchal. Ironically, she adds yet another layer of guilt whilst doing so - Are you doing enough to be free of the patriarchal clutches? Have you realised that the world is yours for the taking? The sleight-of-hand of her prose is as illuminating as it is frustrating; Wolf wants women to free themselves from media-inspired guilt by loading themselves down with the guilt of not reacting enough against what she claims are aggressors and inhibitors of strength, peace and health. That she was successful in this endeavour is self-evident; the book's sales figures point to just how much she manages to speak to women in a language to which they respond, not just on an intellectual level, but a gut level. It is interesting to posit, however, that her choices of language fused with her over-arching message may be inspiring as much guilt in women as that which she is attempting to flay bare for them - patriarchal imagery and control.
The passage speaks of magazines as a guide for women, cementing Wolf's notion that women use publications such as magazines to direct and control their self-image and as a benchmark to measure themselves against. That Wolf consistently refers to such images as troubled, maddening and challenging underpins her message to women: that these self-styled guides are taking women down paths they should not be walking. The split personality of which Wolf speaks is that of the culture women are forced into - beauty - and the culture which they ignore in pursuit of it - the self, the realistic and the accepting. That the magazines are dazzling, Wolf does not gloss over. Choice of the word dazzling suggest that Wolf thinks women are stunned into complicity by the images they are presented with and told they should admire and seek to emulate - dazzled like a rabbit in the headlights. This image is a strong one that can be seen as a metaphor for women. It is even more apt when it is considered that women are not forced to read women's magazines. Women chose to and become dazzled, much as a rabbit is attracted to the headlines that stun it. This illustrates Wolf's effectiveness at weaving her point into her writing throughout her arguments.
The next passage that will be considered is one that presents the place of women in society and suggests that women are trapped within society. Wolf describes this with the following statement:
Possibilities for women have become so open-ended that they threaten to destabilise the institutions on which a male-dominated culture has depended, and a collective panic reaction on the part of both sexes has forced a demand for counter-images. The resulting hallucination materialises, for women, as something all too real. No longer just an idea, it became three dimensional, incorporating within itself how women live and how they do not live: it becomes the Iron Maiden. The original Iron Maiden was a medieval German instrument of torture, a body-shaped casket painted with the limbs and features of a lovely, smiling young woman. The unlucky victim was slowly enclosed inside her; the lid fell shut to immobilise the victim who died either of starvation or, less cruelly, of the metal spikes embedded in her interior. The modern hallucination in which women are trapped or trap themselves is similarly rigid, cruel, and euphemistically painted (Wolf 17).
Wolf's use of emotive language in this passage is extreme; it contains fear imagery, shock imagery, provocative statements, inflammatory language, dream language and victim language. When speaking of destabilising institutions, one is left with the images of buildings falling, of rack and ruin and undermining from within. It is a powerful image which Wolf uses deliberately to suggest the scope and authority of women who stand up and reach for what the male culture...
It also, however, parlays directly into the intrinsic female fear of change - what Wolf refers to elsewhere in the text as latent apprehension - the fear that women have of going too far and removing not only the domination and control of men, but the protection with which this provides them. Wolf posits that women are taught to seek protection, not to thwart it or shun it. Thus, the imagery involved in destabilising institutions could work either as a motivator or a threat to female readers. Either way, it is a powerful language choice.
When describing the Iron Maiden, Wolf appropriately uses victim language - enclosed, immobilise, trapped, rigid, cruel - both to paint the torture device for what it is, and to compare the plight of women controlled by an ideal to being caught in its vice. The comparison is apt, though some might think somewhat overwrought in its execution. It is likely that female readers will respond strongly to this image, both its undertones and its bald comparison to their existences. Feeling trapped is an emotion that persons of both genders experience often, although for women, Wolf claims it is of particular resonance; they are trapped in their roles, they are trapped in the system of living up to an impossible ideal, they are trapped by a gender construct that does not allow them the freedom and opportunities of their male counterparts without exacting a cost in self-recrimination, guilt and their internal sense of themselves. The dream language of this passage is transparent: hallucination, counter-images. The sense of these words underpins the falseness of that which Wolf states women are told to strive toward: an image of self instead of a real or whole self, a hallucination of what should be, rather than what is. With word choices like this, women are directed, consciously or otherwise, to examine their own notions of what in their existences is false and what it is that really matters.
The final passage that will be considered takes a similar tact. It describes the caricature of The Ugly Feminist with the following words:
Another hallucination arose to accompany that of the Iron Maiden: The caricature of The Ugly Feminist was resurrected to dog the steps of the women's movement. The caricature was unoriginal; it was coined to ridicule the feminists of the nineteenth century. Lucy Stone herself, whom supporters saw as "a prototype of womanly grace... fresh and fair as the morning" was derided by detractors with "the usual report" about Victorian feminists: "a big, masculine woman wearing boots, smoking a cigar and swearing like a trooper." (Wolf 18).
When Wolf references The Ugly Feminist, she does so with vitriol and contempt. Use of words like resurrected, denoting an unstoppable force which will rise again and again, hallucination denoting its fleeting grasp on what is actually real, caricature, meaning that which is over-the-top and not to be relied upon for truth. The Ugly Feminist is a Victorian construct which persists today - the stereotype of the brash, masculine woman who brays for equality - and more. The Ugly Feminist backlash continues. Feminist is a dirty word in 2006, and there are few young women who are willing to claim it. "I'm not a feminist, but..." says the university-aged young woman, who then goes on to espouse clearly feminist principles. "It's not that I'm a feminist or anything, but..." says the high-school aged teenager who then asks why her male classmates are treated differently, and why the rules are different for her. Wolf discusses this phenomenon to great effect, with continual use of angry and inflammatory language. The reader immediately understands her frustration at the stereotyping of the feminist as ugly and undesirable, and, what is apparently worse in a modern woman's eyes, unfeminine. Wolf accurately describes how this image prompts women to distance themselves from the feminist movement and their own feminist leanings, and how men are handed a useful catch-all insult to use when they are threatened by a female who seeks equal standing - an insult almost guaranteed to stop most women in their tracks. Feminist is a powerful word, and Wolf embraces it as much as she decries what it has come to mean.
Another interesting choice of language in the short passage above is that of the word dog. Though the phrase, 'dog the steps of' is almost cliched, and in this case dog does function as a verb, there are numerous other ways Wolf could have expressed the same sentiment. By evoking an image of an animal dogging the steps of the women's movement, Wolf suggests the relentless forces that were arrayed against them - tracking…
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