Whose Life Work Are You Destroying?
Things were going well for me at Oxford. As I wrote to my mother, “I have been nominated as one of four graduate students to sit on the Joint Hebdomadal Council, which is a body composed of all the headmasters of the various colleges and twenty of the senior faculty members. This body is similar to the body called “Regents” at an American university. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to say much about what the council does because virtually all material covered at the meetings is confidential. Many of the matters deal with pending legislation in Parliament and sensitive university affairs.” It was at this point that I began to think of myself as an “insider” at Oxford.
Financially, things were also improving. I finished editing my first manuscript for Oxford University Press (Dinah Birch’s Ruskin’s Myths) on May 6th, was tutoring one student who was interested in learning about James Joyce, and still doing after school child-minding for the Goldeys. As I informed my mother, “I have been nominated for an Overseas Research Student scholarship for next year. There is an 80–90% chance that I will get it. That means I will be paying about $2,500 less tuition next year.”
Rhodes House Garden Tea
Moses invited me to the Rhodes House Garden Tea. I had not been inside Rhodes House, so he showed me around the building. I remember large quantities of gold in the interior (but I can’t find any pictures of the interior that match my memory of it).
Out on the lawn, I saw Naomi Wolf (Rhodes scholar, 1985–87). She was a beautiful woman. I knew her because she was a fellow student in the English Faculty and through friends at New College. I casually asked her how her dissertation was coming along.
“Not very well,” she replied candidly, “I keep thinking about Beauty and the Beast.”
“Right,” I thought to myself.
In the pause, two male admirers jumped in to speak with her, while I slipped away to find a serious academic conversation.
Wolf had a difficult time at Oxford. She claimed to have experienced “raw sexism, overt snobbery, and casual antisemitism” at Oxford, which was not at all my experience. Wolf’s “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 writing at this time formed the basis of her first book, The Beauty Myth.”1 I don’t know which dons were telling her that feminist theory did not exist. I attended Terry Eagleton’s lectures on Critical Theory during Trinity term and one entire lecture was devoted to Feminist Critical Theory.
By 1991, Wolf had become the spokeswoman for third-wave feminism, as a result of her book The Beauty Myth, now an international bestseller. It was named by the New York Times as one of the seventieth most influential books of the twentieth century and received accolades from both Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem. Her influence has been widespread though the quality and soundness of her books have been questioned from the very beginning. She returned to Oxford in 2015 to complete her doctorate. Her book Outrages, based on the dissertation, had serious errors in scholarship and was recalled from publication.
Wolf is now a leading conspiracy theorist.2 Her Twitter account was suspended in June 2021 for spreading false information. I could say much more about Naomi Wolf, but I refer you instead to Wikipedia. She is rich, famous, and influential . . . and I talked to her briefly one sunny afternoon at a garden tea in Oxford.
End of Story
I am not a feminist (I didn’t need to be). The mistake that I made is that I did not anticipate the amount of damage the feminists would inflict. I spent many hours of my life becoming an expert in a subject, which by the time I graduated from Oxford in 1994, was no longer valued—the writings of a dead, white male.
“Naomi Wolf.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Wolf#cite_note-Nuckols-74.
Mark Nuckols, “No, Naomi Wolf, America Is Not Becoming a Fascist State,” The Atlantic, January 9, 2013.