(This article appeared in the Retriever Weekly on April 4, 2007.)
Naomi Wolf spoke on Wednesday, March 14 at UMBC as part of the University’s annual Humanities Forum speaker series. Wolf began her lecture by urging women to recognize their numerical superiority, take control of the government and use their power to advance women’s issues. In addressing this unity of purpose, Wolf assumes that all women agree on the issues, which might be seen as a condescending view of women voters. She followed this up by claiming that women were afraid of power and craved the approval of others, to the detriment of their own advancement.
The topic of Wolf’s lecture was the search for ethical leadership, featuring the “seven building blocks of ethical leadership”, which she claims to have “discovered”. These “building blocks” are supposedly based on elements common to every major world religion; unfortunately, Wolf offered little in the way of evidence to support this assertion, and Islam, the world’s second largest religion, was barely mentioned.
Much of what Wolf proposed was little more than an idealistic vision of an “ethical” society where leaders deny the principals of human nature and the power of realpolitik. The process by which leaders are elected and reelected seemed of no concern to Wolf, who insisted that leaders should always be guided by altruism and karma, regardless of the temperament of their constituencies.
To demonstrate her points, Wolf often relied on dubious cause and effect scenarios, apples-to-oranges comparisons, and exaggerations. For example, Wolf attributed concrete political gains by women during the Clinton administration to sexual harassment charges leveled by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas during Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing. She also claimed that the 1993 Oslo accords were a direct result of a visit by the late King Hussein of Jordan to an Israeli citizen hospitalized after a terrorist attack, which she became aware of after having seen a photograph. No record of any such visit exists. She may have been thinking of a much-photographed visit Hussein paid to former Israeli president Ezer Weizman in 1997 as he lay dying of pneumonia.
As she spoke, she sprinkled in fun tidbits such as: the middle class intentionally keeps the lower class poor, people who “care” shouldn’t work for pharmaceutical companies, and all unethical people are secretly miserable. She also recounted the story of an African woman who escaped her sexual slavery by fleeing across the “tundra”. This is apparently a part of the African continent with which I am unfamiliar.
Wolfe also urged the audience to contact elected officials to demand ethical leadership, and advised that when they do so, audience members should lie about their political affiliation, in order to make the greatest impression. Yea, ethics.
While taking questions after her lecture, Wolf avoided complex issues by saying she had no real experience in “process”, repeatedly describing herself as a “generalist”. Having listened to her speak for two hours, I now understand the term “generalist” to mean “possessing superficial knowledge only; lacking depth”.