For centuries, women have gone to extreme measures to please men. Women seek acceptance and respect from men. One method used by women to obtain this respect and acceptance is narcissism. Adrienne Rich s essay When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision as well as Susan Douglas essay Narcissism as Liberation discusses women s narcissistic attempts to become liberated. Rich s essay deals with woman writers and their attempts at becoming liberated while Douglas essay focuses on the media and women. Both essays show that liberation through narcissism is ineffective.
Narcissism can be defined as the excessive interest in ones appearance or image. In both essays, the women described by both authors engage in this self-interest in attempts to be accepted and respected by men. These excessive interests in ones appearance, for women, are efforts to become the ideal woman in the eyes of men; They were self-satisfied and self-assured, yet their value came from male admiration and approval (Douglas 129). This is an example of why liberation can t be achieved through narcissism. One might assume that by focusing on one s self, a person could achieve liberation, one would be completely independent and free of control. In reality these narcissistic women are dependent on the male approval, therefor they are not liberated.
Adrienne Rich gives examples of this type of narcissistic behavior in her essay When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision. Rich along with many females believe that men set society s standards and expectations, and that women must adhere to these expectations in order to gain acceptance, respect and acknowledgment in any given area of society. Man s power to dominate, try-annize, choose, or reject the woman (Rich 551). Rich uses the woman writer as an example, stating that women writers must be conscious of their writings because, their images as writers are assigned to them by men. Women writers feel that they must write to the approval of men in order to gain respect and acknowledgment as writers
should sound. (Rich 552)
Adrienne Rich goes on to describes how women writers are so self-conscious, in their writings that they forget to whom they are writing; Rich states
The liberated woman is self-satisfied, self-assured however their value comes not from man but from within them selves. Self-value is gained from self-understanding, an aspect lacking from narcissistic women. Because narcissistic women need male admiration and approval they try to take on the identity and mirror the image of the ideal woman , as best possible, and in the process they loose touch with their own identity. Adrienne Rich states,
Adrienne Rich, at one time, also acquired her self-value from men as she perused acceptance and approval from men. However as a result of Re-Visioning Rich became truly liberated, as a writer.
The term re-vision, as defined by Rich, is the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction (Rich 550). Re-visioning is the process of taking a situation and utilizing another view in attempt at a different understanding, possibly a better understanding. Rich felt that she was not honest with herself and that she was writing to the approval of men and against what she believed herself; Until we can understand the assumptions in which we live we cannot know ourselves. (Rich 550)
Like Adrienne Rich, Susan Douglas also relates the narcissistic ways of women in today s society. Douglas describes the struggles that women face and their efforts to become accepted in her essay titled, Narcissism as Liberation. Unlike Rich, who s main concern was women writers, Susan Douglas concerns focus on women, their bodies and today s media. Douglas accuses the male run media of the 80 s for the narcissistic behavior of women. Douglas believes that the ads found in the media during the 80 s taught women that beautiful, successful, independent, and liberated women were narcissistic. Susan Douglas speaks of these ads, Break free from the old convention, the ads urged, and get truly liberated: put your self first. Douglas continues,
Narcissism was more in for women than ever, and the ability to indulge oneself, pamper oneself, and focus at length on oneself without having to listen to the needy voices of others was the mark of upscale female achievement. (Douglas 118)
This type advertisement became highly effective and had women believing that if they used the same products as the models in the ads then they too could become beautiful, independent and successful; a liberated woman. The ads were so effective that massive amounts of women began to exercises and uses the advertised products, not to become healthier but to obtain the figures like the ones the viewed in the media; the figures of beautiful, successful, independent, the so-called liberated women.
Why did these narcissistic women go through such extreme measures? Because, like everyone else, women want to be successful accepted and most of all liberated. For some reason people associate success with liberation; it s true that liberated individuals are successful however successful people may not be liberated. The key to this concept is how one person defines success. Narcissistic individuals need for society to affirm their success while liberated individual s success is affirmed within them selves. Therefor-true success is not decided by society and wealth, class, and occupation have no bearing in deciding success.
The self-interest inflicted upon women is the interest to be accepted acknowledged and respected. Women sought male approval because without it women could never become independent or successful; without male approval and admiration, they would not have the acclaim on which narcissistic self-esteem rest (Douglas 120). Because narcissism is interest in one s self, women tended to alienate one another, being accepted by man was more important than being respected by other women; being envied, for example had become infinitely more important than be admired or respected (Douglas 119). Women in seek of liberation might want follow the ways of Adrienne Rich and use Re-visioning, as A radical critique of…how we live, how we ve been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, to become truly liberated (Rich 551).