Elizabeth Wurtzel’s latest bizarre piece in New York Magazine has unleashed a tremendous and understandably negative reaction in the feminist community. I’ve written critically about Wurtzel before for the LA Times, but today at Role/Reboot, I’m trying for a more sympathetic angle. Here’s A Difficult Woman: Why Elizabeth Wurtzel Is A Narcissist Who Still Matters. Excerpt:
Wurtzel doesn’t repudiate her old call to prioritize autonomy and adventure over security, but she does acknowledge that it has all come at a price. “Convention serves a purpose,” she has decided; “it gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis.” And Wurtzel is in one hell of an ongoing crisis: “I have spent an amazing amount of my life in tears,” she writes. One can almost imagine the glee with which anti-feminists might read that. If it hasn’t been written already, somewhere some pious defender of traditional gender roles is cobbling together a schadenfreude-drenched column in which Wurtzel appears as the ultimate object lesson about the dangers of feminism. Indeed, part of the fury at Wurtzel now is that her self-indulgent train-wreck of an essay provides such an easy cudgel for social conservatives to use against progressive young women.
As exasperating and bewildering and narcissistic as her essay is, there’s a way in which Wurtzel is doing something more important than indulging herself at our expense. Her work is defiantly at odds with the dominant writing today about gender, defined as it is by long Atlantic articles that eventually become books. This is the era where ambitious women are advised to settle for Mr. Good Enough, warned that their own achievements have brought about the end of men, and sternly reminded that they can’t hope to have it all. Yes, it’s an era of incredible feminist activism, but it’s also an age in which even many progressive women’s voices encourage women to diminish their expectations. To Wurtzel, that emphasis on sober compromise is at the heart of what’s led to our “world gone wrong.” She may be more self-absorbed than ever, but she’s also doing what she’s always done: playing the lonely contrarian.