|Born||Naomi Rebekah Wolf|
November 12, 1962
San Francisco, California, US
|Occupation||Author, Journalist, Activist, Public Speaker, Business Owner|
|Alma mater||Yale University|
New College, Oxford
|Notable works||The Beauty Myth|
The End of America
Fire with Fire
Naomi Rebekah Wolf (born November 12, 1962) is an American author and journalist. Since around 2014, she has been considered a conspiracy theorist by multiple media sources.[a] Wolf rejects those claims.
Following her first book The Beauty Myth (1991), she became a leading spokeswoman of what has been described as the third wave of the feminist movement. Feminists including Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan praised the work; others, including Camille Paglia, criticized it. In the 1990s, she was a political advisor to the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Her later books include the bestseller The End of America in 2007 and Vagina: A New Biography. Critics have challenged the quality and accuracy of the scholarship in her books; her serious misreading of court records for Outrages (2019) led to the book's US publication being cancelled.
Wolf's career in journalism has included topics such as abortion and the Occupy Wall Street movement in articles for media outlets such as The Nation, The New Republic, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. She has received criticism for promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories on several topics, such as beheadings carried out by ISIL, Edward Snowden and the Western African Ebola virus epidemic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolf has objected to the lockdowns.
Wolf was born in San Francisco, to a Jewish family. Her mother is Deborah Goleman Wolf, an anthropologist and the author of The Lesbian Community. Her father was Leonard Wolf, a Romanian-born gothic horror scholar at University of California, Berkeley and Yiddish translator. Leonard Wolf died from advanced Parkinson's Disease on March 20, 2019. Wolf has a brother, Aaron, and a half-brother, Julius, from her father's earlier relationship; it remained his secret until his daughter was in her 30s. She attended Lowell High School and debated in regional speech tournaments as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society.
Wolf attended Yale University receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1984. From 1985 to 1987, she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford. Her initial period at Oxford University was difficult for Wolf as she experienced "raw sexism, overt snobbery and casual antisemitism". Her writing became so personal and subjective that her tutor advised against submitting her doctoral thesis. Wolf told interviewer Rachel Cooke, writing for The Observer, in 2019: "My subject didn’t exist. I wanted to write feminist theory, and I kept being told by the dons there was no such thing." Her feminist writing at this time formed the basis of her first book, The Beauty Myth.
Wolf ultimately returned to Oxford, completing her Doctor of Philosophy degree in English literature in 2015. Her thesis, supervised by Dr. Stefano Evangelista of Trinity College, formed the basis for her 2019 book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love.
Wolf was involved in Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election bid, brainstorming with the president's team about ways to reach female voters. Hired by Dick Morris, she wanted Morris to promote Clinton as "The Good Father", and a protector of "the American house". She met with him every few weeks for nearly a year, Morris wrote in his book about the campaign, Behind the Oval Office. Wolf managed to "persuade me to pursue school uniforms, tax breaks for adoption, simpler cross-racial adoption laws and more workplace flexibility." The advice she gave was without payment, Morris said in November 1999, as Wolf was fearful the knowledge of her involvement in the campaign might have negative consequences for President Clinton.
During Al Gore's bid for the presidency in the 2000 election, Wolf was hired to work as a consultant. Wolf's ideas and participation in the Gore campaign generated considerable media coverage. According to a report by Michael Duffy and Karen Tumulty in Time, Wolf was paid a salary of $15,000 (by November 1999, $5,000) per month "in exchange for advice on everything from how to win the women's vote to shirt-and-tie combinations." This article was the original source of the assertion that Wolf was responsible for Gore's "three-buttoned, earth-toned look." Wolf's direct involvement in the Time article was unclear; she declined to be interviewed "for the record".
In an interview with Melinda Henneberger in The New York Times, Wolf said she had been appointed in January 1999 and denied having advised Gore on his wardrobe. Wolf said she had mentioned the term "alpha male" only once in passing and that "[it] was just a truism, something the pundits had been saying for months, that the vice president is in a supportive role and the President is in an initiatory role ... I used those terms as shorthand in talking about the difference in their job descriptions". Wolf told Katharine Viner of The Guardian in 2001: "I believe his agenda for women was a really historic agenda. I was honoured to bring the concerns of women to Gore's table, I'm sorry that he didn't win and the controversy was worth it for me." She told Viner the men in Gore's campaign, at the equivalent level, were paid more than she was.
In 1991, Wolf gained international attention as a spokeswoman of third-wave feminism from the publication of her first book The Beauty Myth, an international bestseller. It was named "one of the seventy most influential books of the twentieth century" by The New York Times. She argues that "beauty" as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the objective of maintaining women's subjugation.
Wolf posits the idea of an "iron-maiden", an intrinsically unattainable standard that is then used to punish women physically and psychologically for their failure to achieve and conform to it. Wolf criticized the fashion and beauty industries as exploitative of women, but added that the beauty myth extended into all areas of human functioning. Wolf writes that women should have "the choice to do whatever we want with our faces and bodies without being punished by an ideology that is using attitudes, economic pressure, and even legal judgments regarding women's appearance to undermine us psychologically and politically". Wolf argues that women were under assault by the "beauty myth" in five areas: work, religion, sex, violence, and hunger. Ultimately, Wolf argues for a relaxation of normative standards of beauty. In her introduction, Wolf positioned her argument against the concerns of second-wave feminists and offered the following analysis:
The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us ... [D]uring the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty ... [P]ornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal ... More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.
Christina Hoff Sommers criticized Wolf for publishing the estimate that 150,000 women were dying every year from anorexia. Sommers said she traced the source to the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, who stated that they were misquoted; the figure refers to sufferers, not fatalities. Wolf's citation came from a book by Brumberg, who referred to an American Anorexia and Bulimia Association newsletter and misquoted the newsletter. Wolf accepted the error and changed it in future editions. Sommers gave an estimate for the number of fatalities in 1990 as 100–400. The annual anorexia casualties in the US were estimated to be around 50 to 60 per year in the mid-1990s. In 1995, for an article in The Independent on Sunday, British journalist Joan Smith recalled asking Wolf to explain her unsourced assertion in The Beauty Myth that the UK "has 3.5 million anorexics or bulimics (95 per cent of them female), with 6,000 new cases yearly". Wolf replied, according to Smith, that she had calculated the statistics from patients with eating disorders at one clinic.
Caspar Schoemaker of the Netherlands Trimbos Institute published a paper in the academic journal Eating disorders demonstrating that of the 23 statistics cited by Wolf in Beauty Myth, 18 were incorrect, with Wolf citing numbers that average out to 8 times the number in the source she was citing. For example, Wolf wrote that 7.5% of girls and women have anorexia, the accurate figure is 0.065%.
Second-wave feminist Germaine Greer wrote that The Beauty Myth was "the most important feminist publication since The Female Eunuch" (Greer's own work), and Gloria Steinem wrote, "The Beauty Myth is a smart, angry, insightful book, and a clarion call to freedom. Every woman should read it." British novelist Fay Weldon called the book "essential reading for the New Woman". Betty Friedan wrote in Allure magazine that "The Beauty Myth and the controversy it is eliciting could be a hopeful sign of a new surge of feminist consciousness."
However, Camille Paglia, whose Sexual Personae was published in the same year as The Beauty Myth, derided Wolf as unable to perform "historical analysis", and called her education "completely removed from reality." Her comments touched off a series of debates between Wolf and Paglia in the pages of The New Republic.
In The New York Times, Caryn James lambasted the book as a "sloppily researched polemic as dismissible as a hackneyed adventure film ... Even by the standards of pop-cultural feminist studies, The Beauty Myth is a mess." She called the statistics that Wolf cited "shamefully secondhand and outdated. In contrast, The Washington Post called the book "persuasive" and praised its "accumulated evidence".
Revisiting Beauty Myth in 2019 for The New Republic, literary critic Maris Kreizman recalls that reading it as an undergraduate made her "world burst open." It "remains one of the most formative books in (Kreizman's) life." However, as she matured, Kreizman saw Wolf's books as "poorly argued tracts" with Wolf making "wilder and wilder assertions" over time. Kreizman "began to write (Wolf) off as a fringe character" despite the fact that she had "once informed my own feminism so deeply."
In Fire with Fire (1993), Wolf writes on politics, female empowerment and women's sexual liberation. She wished to persuade women to reject "victim feminism" for "power feminism." She argued for diminishing the issue of opposing men, avoiding divisive issues such as abortion and the rights of lesbians and considering more universal issues like violence against women, pay disparities and sexual harassment. Mary Nemeth in Maclean's wrote that her "central thesis — that when Anita Hill in 1991 accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment she provoked a 'genderquake' that turned American women into 'the political ruling class' — seems grossly exaggerated." Melissa Benn in the London Review of Books described it as Wolf's "call for a realpolitik in which 'sisterhood and capital' might be allies".
The New York Times assailed the work for its "dubious oversimplifications and highly debatable assertions" and its "disconcerting penchant for inflationary prose," nonetheless approving of Wolf's "efforts to articulate an accessible, pragmatic feminism, ... helping to replace strident dogma with common sense." The Time magazine reviewer Martha Duffy dismissed the book as "flawed," although she commented that Wolf was "an engaging raconteur" who was also "savvy about the role of TV – especially the Thomas-Hill hearings and daytime talk shows – in radicalizing women, including homemakers." She characterized the book as advocating an inclusive strain of feminism that welcomed abortion opponents. Feminist author Natasha Walter writing in the London Independent wrote that the book "has its faults, but compared with The Beauty Myth it has energy and spirit, and generosity too." Walter, however, criticized it for having a "narrow agenda" where "you will look in vain for much discussion of older women, of black women, of women with low incomes, of mothers." Characterizing Wolf as a "media star", Walter wrote: "She is particularly good, naturally, on the role of women in the media."
Promiscuities (1997) reports on and analyzes the shifting patterns of contemporary adolescent sexuality. Wolf argues that literature is rife with examples of male coming-of-age stories, covered autobiographically by D. H. Lawrence, Tobias Wolff, J. D. Salinger and Ernest Hemingway, and covered misogynistically by Henry Miller, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer. Wolf insists that female accounts of adolescent sexuality have been systematically suppressed. Schools, in Wolf's opinion, should teach their students "sexual gradualism", masturbation, mutual masturbation and oral sex, which she sees as a more credible approach than total abstinence and without the risks of full intercourse.
Wolf uses cross-cultural material to try to demonstrate that women have, across history, been celebrated as more carnal than men. Additionally, Wolf argues that women must reclaim the legitimacy of their own sexuality by shattering the polarization of women between virgin and whore. Partly an account of her own sexual history, she urged women to "redeem the slut in ourselves and rejoice in being bad girls".
Promiscuities generally received negative reviews. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote that Wolf is "a frustratingly inept messenger: a sloppy thinker and incompetent writer" who "tries in vain to pass off tired observations as radical aperçus, subjective musings as generational truths, sappy suggestions as useful ideas". On Wolf's claims about accounts of female sexuality being suppressed, Kakutani wrote: "Where has Ms. Wolf been? What about the raunchy confessions that surface daily on radio and television talk shows? What about all the memoirists -- from Anais Nin to Kathryn Harrison." However, two days earlier in the Times Sunday edition, Weaver Courtney praised the book: "Anyone—particularly anyone who, like Ms. Wolf, was born in the 1960s—will have a very hard time putting down Promiscuities. Told through a series of confessions, her book is a searing and thoroughly fascinating exploration of the complex wildlife of female sexuality and desire." In contrast, The Library Journal excoriated the work, writing, "Overgeneralization abounds as she attempts to apply the microcosmic events of this mostly white, middle-class, liberal milieu to a whole generation. ... There is a desperate defensiveness in the tone of this book which diminishes the force of her argument."
"I feel absolutely staggered by what I discovered after giving birth," Wolf said at the time Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood (2001) was published "Birth today is like agribusiness. It's like a chicken plant: they go in, they go out." she told Katharine Viner. "Pregnancy, birth and motherhood" has "made me a more radical feminist than I have ever been." The book is mostly told through the prism of Wolf's experience of her first pregnancy. She describes the "vacuous impassivity" of the ultrasound technician who gives her the first glimpse of her new baby. Wolf laments her C-section and examines why the procedure is commonplace in the United States, advocating a return to midwifery. The second half of the book is anecdotal, focusing on inequalities between parents to child care. In the section describing being on the operating table having a caesarian, Wolf compares herself to Jesus at his Crucifixion. She outlines a "mothers' manifesto" in the book including flexi-time for both parents, neighborhood toy banks and a radical mothers' movement.
In her New York Times review, Claire Dederer wrote that Wolf "barely pauses to acknowledge that Caesareans are, at times, a necessary and even lifesaving intervention." Wolf completes "her best writing when she's observing her own life" as a memoirist. Dederer believes her work in this idiom is not "self-indulgent. It seems vital, and in a sense radical, in the tradition of 1970's feminists who sought to speak to every aspect of women's lives."
Wolf's The Treehouse: Eccentric Wisdom from My Father on How to Live, Love, and See (2005) is an account of her midlife crisis. She revalues her father's love, and his role as an artist and a teacher during a year living in a house in upper New York state. In "the world of green rooms and TV sound bites, of overnight deadlines and public controversies", she had forgotten "that there could be a world in which people did not have to argue a point, or win, or lose, in order to justify a perception."
In a promotional interview with The Herald (Glasgow), Wolf related her experience of a vision of Jesus: "just this figure who was the most perfected human being - full of light and full of love. ...There was light coming out of him holographically, simply because he was unclouded."
In The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (2007), Wolf takes a historical look at the rise of fascism, outlining 10 steps necessary for a fascist group (or government) to destroy the democratic character of a nation-state. The book details how this pattern was implemented in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and elsewhere, and analyzes its emergence and application of all the 10 steps in American political affairs since the September 11 attacks. Alex Beam wrote in The New York Times: "In the book, Wolf insists that she is not equating [George W.] Bush with Hitler, nor the United States with Nazi Germany, then proceeds to do just that." A month before the 2008 presidential election, she announced her intention to propose means to arrest President Bush. "Americans are facing a coup, as of this morning, October 1st", she said in a radio interview.
Several years later in 2013, Mark Nuckols argued in The Atlantic that Wolf's supposed historical parallels between incidents from the era of the European dictators and modern America are based on a highly selective reading in which Wolf omits significant details and misuses her sources. Writing for The Daily Beast, Michael Moynihan characterized the book as "an astoundingly lazy piece of writing."
The End of America was adapted for the screen as a documentary by filmmakers Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, best known for The Devil Came on Horseback and The Trials of Darryl Hunt. It premiered in October 2008, and was favorably reviewed in The New York Times by Stephen Holden by Variety magazine. Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times saw aspects of it positively, but "What isn’t plausible or reality-related is the conclusion itself. At the door of the Third Reich, Wolf’s credibility collapses." Moynihan described it as being "an even dumber documentary film" than the "dumb book".
Interviewed by Alternet in 2010, she compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, believing aspects of the actions of both men were comparable.
Wolf returned to her The End of America theme in a Globe and Mail article in 2014, considering how modern Western women, born in inclusive, egalitarian liberal democracies, are assuming positions of leadership in neofascist political movements.
Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries (2008) was written as a sequel to The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. In the book, Wolf looks at times and places in history where citizens were faced with the closing of an open society and successfully fought back.
Published in 2012 on the topic of the vagina, Vagina: A New Biography was much criticized, especially by feminist authors. Katie Roiphe described it as "ludicrous" in Slate: "I doubt the most brilliant novelist in the world could have created a more skewering satire of Naomi Wolf's career than her latest book." In The Nation, Katha Pollitt considered it a "silly book" containing "much dubious neuroscience and much foolishness." It becomes "loopier as it goes on. We learn that women think and feel through their vagina, which can 'grieve' and feel insulted."
Toni Bentley wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Wolf used "shoddy research methodology", while with "her graceless writing, Wolf opens herself to ridicule on virtually every page." Janice Turner in The Times of London wrote that since Mary Wollstonecraft, female "writers have argued that women should not be defined by biology", yet "Wolf, our self-styled leader, has declared that female consciousness, creativity and destiny all come back" to a woman's genitals. Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum wrote: "By asserting that what’s between a woman’s ears is directly informed by what’s between her legs — 'the vagina mediates female confidence, creativity and sense of transcendence,' Wolf writes — it acts as a perverse echo of Republican efforts to limit reproductive rights." In the book, according to Suzanne Moore in The Guardian, "feminism becomes simply a highly mediated form of narcissism devoid of any actual brain/politics connection."
In The New York Review of Books, Zoë Heller wrote that the book "offers an unusually clear insight into the workings of her mystic feminist philosophy". Part of the book concerns the history of the vagina's representation, but is "full of childlike generalizations" and her understanding of science "is pretty shaky too". In an interview with The New York Times, Wolf rejected claims she had written more freely than her sources could sustain. Nina Burleigh, in The New York Observer, suggested that critics of the book were so vehement "because (a) their editors handed the book to them for review because they thought it was an Important Feminist Book when it's actually slight and (b) there's a grain of truth in what she's trying to say."
In response to the criticism, Wolf stated in a television interview:
[A]nything that shows documentation of the brain and vagina connection is going to alarm some feminists... . ..also feminism has kind of retreated into the academy and sort of embraced the idea that all gender is socially constructed and so here is a book that is actually looking at science ... though there has been some criticisms of the book from some feminists ... who say, well you can't look at the science because that means we have to grapple with the science ... to me the feminist task of creating a just world isn't changed at all by this fascinating neuroscience that shows some differences between men and women.
At a party to celebrate the Wolf's publishing deal for this book, recounted in its pages, the male chef and host made pasta pieces shaped like a vulva, with sausages and salmon also on the menu. Perceiving the experience as a slight, Wolf apparently suffered writers' block for the next six-months.
Wolf's book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love was published in 2019, based on the 2015 doctoral thesis she completed under the supervision of Trinity College, Oxford, literary scholar Stefano-Maria Evangelista. In the book, she studies the repression of homosexuality in relation to attitudes towards divorce and prostitution, and also in relation to the censorship of books.
Outrages was published in the UK in May 2019 by Virago Press. On June 12, 2019, Outrages was named on the O, The Oprah Magazine's "The 32 Best Books by Women of Summer 2019" list. The following day, the US publisher recalled all copies from US bookstores.
An error in a central tenet of the book — a misunderstanding of the legal term "death recorded", which Wolf had taken to mean that the convict had been executed but which in fact means that the convict was pardoned or the sentence was commuted — was identified in a 2019 BBC radio interview with broadcaster and author Matthew Sweet. He cited a website for the Old Bailey Criminal Court, the same site which Wolf had referred to as one of her sources earlier in the interview. Reviewers have described other errors of scholarship in the work.
Wolf appeared at the Hay Festival, Wales in late May 2019, a few days after her exchange with Matthew Sweet, where she defended her book and said she had already corrected the error; however, as of October 2019, she had yet to do so. She stated at an event in Manhattan in June that she was not embarrassed and felt grateful towards Sweet for the correction. On October 18, 2019, it became known the release of the book by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the United States was being canceled, which copies already printed and distributed being pulled and pulped. Wolf expressed the hope that the book would still be published in the US.
A UK paperback edition of the book was published by Virago in November 2020, with the incorrect references to the execution of men for sodomy that were included in the hardback edition removed. Interviewed about the new edition, Matthew Sweet said that the book continues to misread historical sources: "Dr Wolf has misrepresented the experiences of victims of child abuse and violent sexual assault. This is the most profound offence against her discipline, as well as the memories of real people on the historical record". Cultural historian Fern Riddell called the book a "calumny against gay people" in the nineteenth century and said that Wolf "presents child rapists and those taking part in acts of bestiality as being gay men in consensual relationships and that is completely wrong". The Daily Telegraph reported that there had been calls for Wolf's 2015 DPhil to be re-examined, and for Virago to withdraw the book. In a statement to The Guardian, Wolf said the book had been reviewed "by leading scholars in the field", and said "it is clear that I have accurately represented the position". Oxford University stated that a "statement of clarification" to Wolf's thesis had been received and approved, and would be "available for consultation in the Bodleian Library in due course".
The book has been used as an example in university teaching about the danger of misreading historical sources. In March 2021, Times Higher Education reported that Wolf's original thesis remained unavailable six years after it was examined. Oxford doctoral graduates can request an embargo of up to three years, with the potential for renewal. A representative of Oxford University told a journalist from THE that a "statement of clarification has been submitted, reviewed and approved" which "will be available with the thesis for consultation in the Bodleian Library in due course".
In an October 1995 article for The New Republic Wolf was critical of contemporary pro-choice positions, arguing that the movement had "developed a lexicon of dehumanization" and urged feminists to accept abortion as a form of homicide and defend the procedure within the ambiguity of this moral conundrum. She continued, "Abortion should be legal; it is sometimes even necessary. Sometimes the mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die."
Wolf concluded by speculating that in a world of "real gender equality," passionate feminists "might well hold candlelight vigils at abortion clinics, standing shoulder to shoulder with the doctors who work there, commemorating and saying goodbye to the dead." In an article for New York magazine on the subtle manipulation of George W. Bush's image among women, Wolf wrote in 2005: "Abortion is an issue not of Ms. Magazine-style fanaticism or suicidal Republican religious reaction, but a complex issue."
Wolf suggested in a 2003 article for New York magazine that the ubiquity of internet pornography tends to enervate the sexual attraction of men toward typical real women. She writes, "The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as 'porn-worthy.' Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, according to Wolf, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention." Wolf advocated abstaining from porn not on moral grounds, but because "greater supply of the stimulant equals diminished capacity."
Wolf has commented about the dress required of women living in Muslim countries. In The Sydney Morning Herald in August 2008, she wrote:
The West interprets veiling as repression of women and suppression of their sexuality. But when I traveled in Muslim countries and was invited to join a discussion in women-only settings within Muslim homes, I learned that Muslim attitudes toward women's appearance and sexuality are not rooted in repression, but in a strong sense of public versus private, of what is due to God and what is due to one's husband. It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channeling – toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.
In the January 2013 issue of The Atlantic, law and business professor Mark Nuckols wrote: "In her various books, articles, and public speeches, Wolf has demonstrated recurring disregard for the historical record and consistently mutilated the truth with selective and ultimately deceptive use of her sources." He further stated: "[W]hen she distorts facts to advance her political agenda, she dishonors the victims of history and poisons present-day public discourse about issues of vital importance to a free society." Nuckols argued that Wolf "has for many years now been claiming that a fascist coup in America is imminent. ... [I]n The Guardian she alleged, with no substantiation, that the U.S. government and big American banks are conspiring to impose a 'totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent'."
Vox journalist Max Fisher in October 2014 urged Wolf's readers "to understand the distinction between her earlier work, which rose on its merits, and her newer conspiracy theories, which are unhinged, damaging, and dangerous."
Charles C. W. Cooke, writing for National Review Online in the same month, commented:
Over the last eight years, Naomi Wolf has written hysterically about coups and about vaginas and about little else besides. She has repeatedly insisted that the country is on the verge of martial law, and transmogrified every threat—both pronounced and overhyped—into a government-led plot to establish a dictatorship. She has made prediction after prediction that has simply not come to pass. Hers are not sober and sensible forecasts of runaway human nature, institutional atrophy, and constitutional decline, but psychedelic fever-dreams that are more typically suited to the InfoWars crowd.
Under the headline "Naomi Wolf Went Off the Deep End Long Ago", Aaron Goldstein wrote in an October 2014 article in The American Spectator: "Her words must be taken not just with a grain of salt, but a full shaker's worth." In the same month, Sarah Ditum wrote in the New Statesman, "Perhaps it's not that Wolf is a feminist who's degenerated into conspiracism, but instead that she's a conspiracy theorist who happened to fall into feminism first. The Beauty Myth is a conspiracy theory of a sort, and sometimes conspiracies are real: the self-replicating power structure of patriarchy is one of them."
Shortly after the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in 2010, she wrote in an article for The Huffington Post that the allegations made against him by his two reputed victims amounted to no more than bad manners from a boyfriend. His accusers, she later wrote in several contexts, were working for the CIA and Assange had been falsely incriminated.
On December 20, 2010, Democracy Now! featured a debate between Wolf and Jaclyn Friedman on the Assange case. According to Wolf, the alleged victims should have said no, asserted that they consented to having sex with him, and said the claims were politically motivated and demeaned the cause of legitimate rape victims. In a 2011 Guardian article she objected to Assange's two accusers having their anonymity preserved. In response, Katha Pollitt wrote in The Nation that the "point is a little bizarre: doesn’t Wolf realize that anonymity applies only to the media? Everyone in the justice system knows who the complainants are." British feminist Laurie Penny wrote in the New Statesman in September 2012 that "Wolf has done great damage by using her platform as one of the world’s most famous feminists to dismiss these women’s allegations."
On October 18, 2011, Wolf was arrested and detained in New York during the Occupy Wall Street protests, having ignored a police warning not to remain on the street in front of a building. Wolf spent about 30 minutes in a cell. She disputed the NYPD's interpretation of applicable laws: "I was taken into custody for disobeying an unlawful order. The issue is that I actually know New York City permit law ... I didn't choose to get myself arrested. I chose to obey the law and that didn't protect me."
A month later, Wolf argued in The Guardian, citing leaked documents, that attacks on the Occupy movement were a coordinated plot, orchestrated by federal law enforcement agencies. Those leaks, she alleged, showed that the FBI was privately treating OWS as a terrorist threat, rather than the public assertions acknowledging it is a peaceful organization. The response to this article ranged from praise to criticism of Wolf for being overly speculative and creating a "conspiracy theory". Wolf responded that there is ample evidence for her argument, and proceeded to review the information available to her at the time of the article, and what she alleged was new evidence since that time.
Imani Gandy of Balloon Juice, wrote that "nothing substantiates Wolf's claims", that "Wolf's article has no factual basis whatsoever and is, therefore, a journalistic failure of the highest order" and that "it was incumbent upon (Wolf) to fully research her claims and to provide facts to back them up." Corey Robin, a political theorist, journalist, and associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, stated on his blog: "The reason Wolf gets her facts wrong is that she's got her theory wrong."
In early 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing the Global Intelligence Files, a trove of e-mails obtained via a hack by Anonymous and Jeremy Hammond. Among them was an email with an official Department of Homeland Security document from October 2011 attached. It indicated that DHS was closely watching Occupy, and concluded, "While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure." In late December 2012, FBI documents released following an FOIA request from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund revealed that the FBI used counterterrorism agents and other resources to extensively monitor the national Occupy movement. The documents contained no references to agency personnel covertly infiltrating Occupy branches, but did indicate that the FBI gathered information from police departments and other law enforcement agencies relating to planned protests. Additionally, the blog Techdirt reported that the documents disclosed a plot by unnamed parties "to murder OWS leadership in Texas" but that "the FBI never bothered to inform the targets of the threats against their lives."
In a December 2012 Guardian article, Wolf wrote:
It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall —so mystifying at the time—was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves—was coordinated with the big banks themselves.
How simple ... just to label an entity a 'terrorist organization' and choke off, disrupt or indict its sources of financing.
[The FBI crackdown on Occupy] was never really about 'the terrorists'. It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens—it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.
Mother Jones claimed that none of the documents revealed efforts by federal law enforcement agencies to disband the Occupy camps, and that the documents did not provide much evidence that federal officials attempted to suppress protesters' free speech rights. It was, said Mother Jones, "a far cry from Wolf's contention."
In June 2013, New York magazine reported Wolf, in a recent Facebook post, had expressed her "creeping concern" that NSA leaker Edward Snowden "is not who he purports to be, and that the motivations involved in the story may be more complex than they appear to be." Wolf was similarly skeptical of Snowden's "very pretty pole-dancing Facebooking girlfriend who appeared for, well, no reason in the media coverage ... and who keeps leaking commentary, so her picture can be recycled in the press." She pondered whether he was planted by "the Police State".
Wolf responded on her website: "I do find a great deal of media/blog discussion about serious questions such as those I raised, questions that relate to querying some sources of news stories, and their potential relationship to intelligence agencies or to other agendas that may not coincide with the overt narrative, to be extraordinarily ill-informed and naive." Specifically regarding Snowden, she wrote, "Why should it be seen as bizarre to wonder, if there are some potential red flags—the key term is 'wonder'—if a former NSA spy turned apparent whistleblower might possibly still be—working for the same people he was working for before?"
She was accused by the Salon website of making factual errors and misreadings.
In a series of Facebook postings in October 2014, Wolf questioned the authenticity of videos purporting to show beheadings of two American journalists and two Britons by the Islamic State, implying that they had been staged by the US government and that the victims and their parents were actors. Wolf also charged that the US was dispatching military troops not to assist in treating the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, but to carry the disease back home to justify a military takeover of America. She further said that the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, in which Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom, was faked. Speaking about this at a demonstration in Glasgow on October 12, Wolf said, "I truly believe it was rigged."
Responding to such criticism, Wolf said, "All the people who are attacking me right now for 'conspiracy theories' have no idea what they are talking about ... people who assume the dominant narrative MUST BE TRUE and the dominant reasons MUST BE REAL are not experienced in how that world works." To her nearly 100,000 Facebook followers, Wolf maintained, "I stand by what I wrote." However, in a later Facebook post, Wolf retracted her statement: "I am not asserting that the ISIS videos have been staged", she wrote.
I certainly sincerely apologize if one of my posts was insensitively worded. I have taken that one down. ... I am not saying the ISIS beheading videos are not authentic. I am not saying they are not records of terrible atrocities. I am saying that they are not yet independently confirmed by two sources as authentic, which any Journalism School teaches, and the single source for several of them, SITE, which received half a million dollars in government funding in 2004, and which is the only source cited for several, has conflicts of interest that should be disclosed to readers of news outlets.
Max Fisher commented that "the videos were widely distributed on open-source jihadist online outlets" while the "Maryland-based nonprofit SITE monitors extremist social media." Wolf deleted her original Facebook posts.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, following the election of Joe Biden as US president, Wolf tweeted on 9 November 2020: "If I'd known Biden was open to 'lockdowns' as he now states, which is something historically unprecedented in any pandemic, and a terrifying practice, one that won’t ever end because elites love it, I would never have voted for him". In February 2021, Wolf appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, where she said that government COVID restrictions were turning the U.S. "into a totalitarian state before everyone's eyes," and went on to say that "I really hope we wake up quickly, because history also shows that it’s a small window in which people can fight back before it is too dangerous to fight back."
In an interview for Sky News Australia in early March 2021, Wolf claimed that lockdown policies are an "invention" of Chinese leader Xi Jinping. She also claimed that "Every human right in law is being violated", that Australians are being "lied to over and over", and that Australians are being psychologically tortured.
On April 19, 2021, Wolf alleged that Dr. Anthony Fauci "doesn't work for us," asserting he had loyalties to Israel which interfered with service to public health. Fauci was a key U.S. government official addressing the pandemic who had served as advisor to every U.S. president since 1984. Wolf pointed to $1 million she said Fauci had received from the state of Israel. It was actually the Dan David Prize, a prestigious private award that Fauci received in 2021 for public service.
Wolf's first marriage was in 1993 to journalist David Shipley, then an editor at The New York Times. The couple had two children, a son and daughter. Wolf and Shipley divorced in 2005.
On November 23, 2018, Wolf married Brian William O'Shea, a disabled US Army veteran, private detective, and owner of Striker Pierce Investigations. According to a New York Times article published in November 2018, Wolf and O'Shea met in 2014 following threats on the internet made against Wolf after she reported on human rights violations in the Middle East and contacts recommended O'Shea.
In 2004, in an article for New York magazine, Wolf accused literary scholar Harold Bloom of a "sexual encroachment" in late Fall 1983 for touching her inner thigh. She said that what she alleged Bloom did was not harassment, either legally or emotionally, and she did not think herself a "victim", but that she had harbored this secret for 21 years. Explaining why she had finally gone public with the charges, Wolf wrote,
I began, nearly a year ago, to try—privately—to start a conversation with my alma mater that would reassure me that steps had been taken in the ensuing years to ensure that unwanted sexual advances of this sort weren't still occurring. I expected Yale to be responsive. After nine months and many calls and e-mails, I was shocked to conclude that the atmosphere of collusion that had helped to keep me quiet twenty years ago was still intact—as secretive as a Masonic lodge. Sexual encroachment in an educational context or a workplace is, most seriously, a corruption of meritocracy; it is in this sense parallel to bribery. I was not traumatized personally, but my educational experience was corrupted. If we rephrase sexual transgression in school and work as a civil-rights and civil-society issue, everything becomes less emotional, less personal. If we see this as a systemic corruption issue, then when people bring allegations, the focus will be on whether the institution has been damaged in its larger mission.
In Slate magazine around the time the allegations against Bloom first surfaced, Meghan O'Rourke wrote that Wolf generalized about sexual assault at Yale on the basis of her alleged personal experience. Moreover, O'Rourke commented, that despite Wolf's assertion sexual assault existed at Yale, she did not interview any Yale students for her story. In addition, O'Rourke wrote, "She jumps through verbal hoops to make it clear she was not 'personally traumatized,' yet she spends paragraphs describing the incident in precisely those terms." O'Rourke wrote that, despite Wolf's claim that her educational experience was corrupted, "(s)he neglects to mention that she later was awarded a Rhodes (scholarship)." O'Rourke concluded Wolf's "gaps and imprecision" in the New York article "give fodder to skeptics who think sexual harassment charges are often just a form of hysteria."
Separately, a formal complaint was filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights on March 15, 2011, by 16 current and former Yale students—12 female and 4 male—describing a sexually hostile environment at Yale. A federal investigation of Yale University began in March 2011 in response to the complaints. Wolf stated on CBS's The Early Show in April: "Yale has been systematically covering up much more serious crimes than the ones that can be easily identified." More specifically, she alleged "they use the sexual harassment grievance procedure in a very cynical way, purporting to be supporting victims, but actually using a process to stonewall victims, to isolate them, and to protect the university." Yale settled the federal complaint in June 2012, acknowledging "inadequacies" but not facing "disciplinary action with the understanding that it keeps in place policy changes instituted after the complaint was filed. The school (was) required to report on its progress to the Office of Civil Rights until May, 2014."
In January 2018, Wolf accused Yale officials of blocking her from filing a formal grievance against Bloom. She told The New York Times that she had attempted to file the complaint in 2015 with Yale's University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, but that the university had refused to accept it. On January 16, 2018, Wolf said, she determined to see Yale's provost, Ben Polak, in another attempt to present her case. "As she documented on Twitter," the newspaper reported, "she brought a suitcase and a sleeping bag, because she said she did not know how long she would have to stay. When she arrived at the provost's office, she said, security guards prevented her from entering any elevators. Eventually, she said, Aley Menon, the secretary of the sexual misconduct committee, appeared and they met in the committee's offices for an hour, during which she gave Ms. Menon a copy of her complaint." This was reported and confirmed by Norman Vanamee who apparently met Wolf at Yale on this morning. In Town & Country magazine in January 2018, Vanamee returned to the story and wrote, "Yale University has a 93-person police department, and, after the guard called for backup, three of its armed and uniformed officers appeared and stationed themselves between Wolf and the elevator bank."
During an interview for Time magazine in spring 2015, Bloom denied ever being indoors with "this person" whom he referred to as "Dracula's daughter."
Naomi is so enmeshed with conspiracy theories that she even questions whether ISIS is a true threat.
[I]t is important for readers who may encounter Wolf's ideas to understand the distinction between her earlier work, which rose on its merits, and her newer conspiracy theories, which are unhinged, damaging, and dangerous.
So Naomi Wolf thinks that the Isis beheading videos may not have been genuine. In a series of Facebook posts over the weekend that also included theories about an Ebola-driven military quarantine of US society and fake ballots in the Scottish referendum, she crossed over into conspiracy territory.
Perhaps it’s not that Wolf is a feminist who’s degenerated into conspiracism, but instead that she’s a conspiracy theorist who happened to fall into feminism first.
Wolf’s path from respectability to conspiracy theory isn’t uncommon.
She is furthermore a serial espouser of mad conspiracy theories, insisting on their plausibility in the face of overwhelming evidence.(subscription required)
In 2014 she spread conspiracy theories including the belief that the beheading of two American journalists by ISIS was faked and staged.
'Chemtrails' are what conspiracy theorists, including the author Naomi Wolf, call the contrails of jet planes: rather than being harmless water vapour, they think they are deliberate sprays of noxious chemicals into the atmosphere, for reasons unclear.
I can see this progression of Wolf’s thinking in every Trump- and COVID-era conspiracy theorist, from Stop the Steal to QAnon, who, like Wolf, seems to favor a 'natural order' where their particular problems rank first. It goes from 'this sucks so much' to 'someone is surely pulling these strings' to 'guys—I found the someone!'
The frenzy about Naomi Wolf began in the pages of Time. On Sunday morning, October 31, just four days after the jeering of Gore, the magazine released a news report headlined, 'GORE'S SECRET GURU.' (The report appeared in Time's new edition, dated November 8.) In the piece, Michael Duffy and Karen Tumulty reported an underwhelming fact: Author Naomi Wolf, the 'secret guru' in question, was advising the Gore campaign-had been doing so since January. Within days, this underwhelming piece of news had turned into a major press frenzy. For the next month, Gore and Wolf would be relentlessly trashed, in ways which were often remarkably ugly and often profoundly inane.
Time was elliptical about Wolf’s own contribution to the story; the magazine said only that she had declined to talk about her role 'for the record.'
Her 2001 book about motherhood, Misconceptions, in which she compared herself on the operating table getting a caesarian to Jesus on the crucifix, did not connect in the same way as her first book.
I want to summarize why I believe we are facing a real crisis. My reading showed me that there are 10 key steps that would-be despots always take when they are seeking to close down an open society or to crush a democracy movement, and we are seeing each of those in the US today.
Wolf’s path from respectability to conspiracy theory isn’t uncommon.
Obama has done things like Hitler did. Let me be very careful here. The National Socialists rounded people up and held them without trial, signed legislation that gave torture impunity, and spied on their citizens, just as Obama has. It isn’t a question of what has been done that Hitler did. It’s what does every dictator do, on the left or the right, that is being done here and now. The real fight isn’t left or right but between forces of democracy across the spectrum and the forces of tyranny.
That came to mind when I read the Washington Post's Outlook section this weekend, and looked over Naomi Wolf's piece about how young people don't understand capital-D Democracy. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 47 percent of high school seniors have mastered a minimum level of U.S. history and civics, while only 14 percent performed at or above the 'proficient' level.
It’s unclear whether Outrages will also be recalled in Britain, where it was released in May by the publisher Virago.
When she went on BBC radio on Thursday, Wolf, the author of Vagina and the forthcoming Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, probably expected to discuss the historical revelations she’d uncovered her book. But during the interview, broadcaster Matthew Sweet read to Wolf the definition of 'death recorded,' a 19th-century English legal term. 'Death recorded' means that a convict was pardoned for his crimes rather than given the death sentence. Wolf thought the term meant execution.
It’s been painful for me to watch the people of Australia being lied to over and over and tortured there psychologically.
... for his exceptional contributions to HIV research, being the architect of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, heading NIAID, fighting for the recognition of novel approaches such as mRNA vaccines and “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging Covid-19 crisis.”