I have an old friend that I write with occasionally. Once in a while, she or I will send the other a line or a theme, or a few lines, or a completed poem, and we’ll each write a poem with our own take on it. Recently, we’ve both struggled to write anything (poetic) on her topic “women hating women.” So when I came across the essay, “Narcissism as Liberation,” I pored over the whole thing immediately, never getting up from the bookcase where I initially located the book of essays I found it in. I did so with the dual purpose of reading for class, and also hoping to get some zesty images to use in a poem to impress my friend. Susan Douglas’s piece is so powerfully rendered, that I can’t bring myself to pull anything from it for not wanting to leave out the rest.
I like powerful writing. I like when an author can take you through multiple sides of an argument and yet stand firmly in her opinion and make you feel strongly. I like that the issue is complex and lasting and that Ms. Douglas has found a view of the issue that I had not thought of previously.
You can’t grow up in the United States without thinking about the media influence on your body image. Any woman with an ounce of serious thought has spent time considering the way media influences women and young girls. I’ve certainly spent time thinking about the infantilizing of women. I’ve thought about the many messages about who it is desirable for women to be: smart, stylish, effortless, selfless, and on and on. I’ve thought about the issue of girls’ starving themselves and the increase in eating disorders, and now recently, cutting. I’ve spent most of my adult life finding ways to avoid the media to hopefully curb some of the image and anxiety issues it presents for women who are healthy and young, much less as we have children and age. It creeps in anyway, but I strain against it.
I like reading articles like this one, even if they present no new information. They support a woman’s effort to be a healthy, well-adjusted, intelligent individual. They support our ability to value ourselves based on something other than our butt skin. And I think it’s important to do something to combat the images we’re inundated with. This article did all that and more. Ms. Douglas’s article not only presented a new angle on an issue of particular interest for me, but it did so while being entertaining, witty, and well-written. As much thought as I’ve given to feminism, I had never considered what stalled the movement. Sometimes there’s momentum and a move forward and just as quickly the momentum slows, I guessed. The concept that it is a media-driven shift changing the focus from a solidarity movement to an individualistic one makes complete sense. It was profoundly interesting to me that the movement became narcissistic. Certainly a focus on the self and pampering that self because as a successful woman beyond the issues of sexism, you deserve it, and that you will further be liberated as a woman by this focus on yourself, is a narcissistic one. The ideas contained in the essay are first and foremost in the reasons that I liked it and the reason it stays with me. The reason the essay is good for rereading and the reason it is an especially persuasive one that I can learn from is the writing.
The technical aspects of her writing completely escaped my notice on first reading. It wasn’t until I really put aside my passion for the issue and reread the essay that I could take notice of the technical aspects of the writing. Something that is effective in persuasive writing when used well is repetition. It is also something I need lessons on. I tend to think I’ve written in a greater amount of detail and repetitions than I actually have. Susan Douglass starts three sentences in a row with the word “Narcissism” on the third page of her essay. She doesn’t do this constantly throughout the essay though, just at the point when she is defining the word narcissism as it relates to the issue of Women’s Liberation. It is an effective use of repetition since it: draws attention to and emphasizes her point, and defines her thesis.
The author uses imagery constantly throughout the piece to illustrate her point. There are literally dozens of vivid images used throughout the piece of women from advertisements lounging in front of pools or on a veranda in France or lying in a mud pool. When she says it, it sounds more luxurious. The number of images lend credibility to her essay since they evidence the quantity of such images in constant use. She deconstructs the images used in advertisement after advertisement.
Just prior to deconstructing the advertisements and their underlying themes, Susan Douglas does something particularly effective in undercutting the most obvious argument she must confront: we all want to pamper ourselves. She takes a brief paragraph to admit that she does indeed “enter” Glamour magazine and is subject to the same desire for perfect, youthful, eternal skin as the next woman. She admits this and then ends the paragraph by saying “I’m here to say that deconstruction can make us strong, so let’s be on with it” (121). Her statement here lets the reader know that she is human, and, of course, wants the nice skin and endless free time and power and all that comes in the advertisements’ images she’ll present. It also undercuts the importance of attaining those images with a bit of levity. That simple sentence says that she is a regular woman AND that it is more important for women to think critically about the advertisements than it is for them to avoid them or deny their wish to be perfect. It entertains the reader and gives her credibility and gives the issue it’s due weight.
There were seemingly endless examples to draw a reader’s attention to the issue. None struck me so much as the product that compelled you to “fill those character lines we can all do without.” Susan Douglas’s reaction was similar to my own. People work for the faces they get as they age. Who could do without their laugh lines? It tells you something about the life a person has led and our experiences are valuable. Shouldn’t the lines on our faces show something of our character? Ms. Douglas states it perfectly “women didn’t dare look like they had any character at all” (122). This image more than any other stays with me.
The final issue that stays with me is the issue of the change in the women’s movement from sisterhood and solidarity to individualism. Ultimately, if we focus entirely on the ourselves as individuals, we will be in competition and will ultimately be “women hating women,” instead of sisters working on a common issue. While still a topic well worth writing a poem about, all I’ve got is a short reaction paper.