Two smart, super successful women recently wrote books about women that were not exactly well received by critics. Both books sparked national debate in the US. Both can be viewed as feminist manifestos for the new woman, whoever she may be. One focuses on the workplace, the other on the vagina. One’s premise was that women can shatter any glass ceiling if they just make the effort. The other’s premise was that women can boost their self-confidence and unleash their creativity by understanding their vagina.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, one of the world’s most powerful women (but not someone who has previously been associated with the idea of feminism), said she wrote Lean In for women who wanted to increase their chances of making it to the top of their field. Her book was over-annotated, critics said. There are 36 pages of overenthusiastic references for 185 pages of text. Perhaps it was a case of performance anxiety. Maybe she was worried about what the F-set would think of her and wanted to back up as many ideas and opinions as she possibly could. Surely you’ve heard of Imposter Syndrome where successful women often feel like phoneys.

Naomi Wolf, well-known feminist, whose 1991 The Beauty Myth was once key to surviving your 20s, wrote Vagina: A New Biography to help women discover their inner goddess through their vagina. In other words, multiple orgasms come only to the transcendental woman, so embrace your inner mystical self. As part of the global inner F-circle, she probably had less peer anxiety. She also didn’t worry about what experts would say when she cited every pop scientist’s favourite neurotransmitter—she calls dopamine the “ultimate feminist chemical".

Sandberg tells women it’s okay to cry at work. She says we need to speak up more, negotiate better, that we shouldn’t worry about being liked, we shouldn’t call our daughters bossy, we shouldn’t mute our achievements, we should take more risks, grab every opportunity that comes our way and not worry so much about how that decision will shape our work-life balance in the future. Common sense advice you could probably read in a women’s magazine. And easy enough for a top paid executive ($26.2 million, or around 149 crore, last year) to hand out, critics argued. Why not emphasize that companies need to change their attitudes and understand their female employees better?

Wolf tells us what we know about female sexuality is out of date, that in the West there is an epidemic of female sexual suffering characterized by lack of desire—she calls it vaginal depression. The way to awaken your inner goddess and fix this modern-day malaise lies in tantra and the Taoist sexual texts, she concludes. She believes “the quality of women’s orgasms is measurably affected by lighting and by the ‘coziness’ and beauty of the surroundings in which they are making love". “Aesthetic preparation" is key to an intense orgasm.

Yes, both books are flawed. But who’s the bigger feminist? The one who tells you to make your daughter a leader, or the one who advocates tantric sex by candlelight as the path to true happiness? You decide.

Close