Essay on Failure of Feminism in Zadie Smith’s Novel

Published: 2021/12/02
Number of words: 4600


The study examines the failure of feminism on accounts of avoiding the truth and focusing on novelists figures that emphasize beauty. More importantly, the study dwells on the complexity that feminists have introduced pertaining to the perception of women as objects of beauty and aesthetics. Feminist theorists have had their fair share of criticism with regards to their definition of aesthetics and beauty and how it applies to theory about feminism. Although feminism is highly associated honesty, the connection between realism and theory has proven difficult to establish. Due to numerous complications with regards to defining beauty with respect to feminism, most theorists have recently termed the definition as “a little bundle of lies that become truths.” More importantly, the term realism, which can easily slip into any discussion concerning feminism, has a technical meaning to when used in literary analysis. As such, this is often regarded as a potential danger in philosophical discussions. Another major problem that feminism has faced is how to account for the radical changes in all forms of knowledge. Besides, accounting for the reality needs a great deal of commitment. Therefore, in this regard, Zadie Smith’s novel, “On Beauty” presents important aspects of the flows that the field of feminism has faced historically, more so with regards to aesthetics and beauty.

Failure of Feminism in Zadie Smith’s novel, “On Beauty.”


The novel depicts internal perceptions on gender and envisions racial identity from the cultural perception shown in the book. Feminism is influenced by stereotypes existing in the early 21st century of Western society. Young women are perceived as stereotypes. Internalization is not entirely absolute, relatively lessened, and discarded in matters concerning gender and feminism. The novel depicts a two-fold influence on women who are believed to be equal in their society, presenting a highly realistic existence in real life. There is a lack of character development for female characters that centers on the two academic families. The study evaluates On Beauty through a feminists lens rather than through a realist approach.

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Feminism definition from, “On Beauty”

Smith writes of a moral beauty that informs academic discourses towards Beauty on existing women experiences. Her novel is an ideal feminist realism that is evolved in Beauty and aesthetics. It complicates a woman to a fictional, theoretical and aesthetic conduct who is justified in her existence (Horton, 45). Moral Beauty is characterized by the difference in whiteness and blackness presented in race visibility and general cultural and intellectual capacity. The social power deliberated on women in gendered and radicalized structures diminishes feminism and instead approaches the ideal feminist realism. There is a complicated relationship between the constructions of a woman as authentic in a feminist realist constructed world.

Feminists seem to adopt theories that elevate human capacity to self-dominate as opposed to those of modernism or reductionism. Feminists adopt the opinion that those who have suffered due to the ill effects of science in the past have the highest chances of dominating in future. Feminist sciences value honesty as a form of nontraditional values (Epstein, 121). In attempts to develop theories, a connection has to be made between the real and the theoretical perspectives. One central challenge that feminist theorists have faced throughout history is to create the link between theoretical and real aspects of aesthetics and beauty. Moreover, there is a complex relationship of a woman being theoretical, fictional, and aesthetic construct and a woman being a historical being (Alcoff, 422). Three complications have emerged in the recent past in the quest to define realism with respect to feminism. First, the belief that reality exists beyond language as well as other mediation forms. The second problem pertains to attempts to perceive reality in totality. Finally, the belief that realism achieves the critical awareness of logic.

“On Beauty” presents essential aspects of the flows that the field of feminism has faced historically, more so with regards to aesthetics and Beauty. “On Beauty” is a novel by Zadie Smith that aims at satirizing the academics discourse on Beauty (Arana, 8). Additionally, the book also aims at attacking the inability of such addresses to interrogate the points on which the theoretical and philosophical discussions are based. Although the intentions of feminists seem noble, significant tension between the values that they assign to the concept exhibits a considerable amount of tension (Brand, 24). Most theorists believe that women dominate debates about feminism due to aesthetics and Beauty. The tension regarding Beauty and the aesthetic nature of an educated woman is still unacceptable in a feminine and patriarchal society. The highest domination goes towards support for women’s rights that has redirected to incorporating race, color, shape, and Beauty standards.

Beauty is a form of art, and life was looked at in feminist lanes. It is a right to belong rather than the ideal primary battle. On Beauty focuses on beauty ideals whose narrative follows Kipps and Belsey’s family on academic feuds. Beauty plays an excellent role in the story (Zapata, Beatriz Pérez, 180). In all distinctive manners, a highly influenced family imposes norms on conscious girls and women. It is viewed as a humane novel devoid of the structure of feeling in a complex multicultural world where feminism is not perfect. The book draws attention to a contemporary feminine approach bringing women at the center stage at a postfeminist paradigm. The social change reflected in the novel points at the disabling aspects of all feminist ideologies and problematized individualistic notions as the failure of responsibility.

On Beauty is a confirmation of fiction in a modern second generation of feminists. There is the revelation of two families revolving among two biracial females. It’s a story of skillfully woven women on Beauty that encompasses urban dialect with seriously flawed yet well cared for characters. Over the decades, feminists have succeeded in finding a considerable amount of legal equity for women (Taylor, 64). Although there were numerous changes witnessed in the 1980s, the introduction of the paradigm of neoliberalism stalled most of the social progress that had been started. The reason for this was the introduction of market models (Burkett). The social focus then changed from progressive social changes to individualized market success and market choices. The market competition is known only to reward the materialist view of essential matters. As a result, this formed the beginning of the failure of feminists. The collective social roles forming part of the social structures that have been feminized are considered private concerns and thus devalued.

The gap between what we think we now vs. the case of feminism in, “On Beauty”

Feminist theory constructs itself in historical, national, geographic, and social standards that fight for women’s rights in informing women’s experience in a just manner. The colonial power structures in Beauty naturalizes socially in a patriarchal society such as the one Smith portrays. The logic of the status quo in the academic families characterizes a political and economic system upon a limit of imaginary that is constructed. Feminists in practice evolve towards support for antiracist, anti-capitalist movements and are necessary for reality. The beauty feuds in an academic world are a constructive social contingency and patriarchal realism inevitable in real life (Small, 40). Smith’s feminism in respect to Beauty shapes women’s experiences related to their bodies objectified by society and history. Exploring a modern woman in On Beauty presents a tension towards feminism, subjecting one to feminist realism.

Modern feminism is evidenced by ensuring women are actively involved in society misunderstood by man-haters to be concerned with only empowering women. Feminism is drawn towards the fight for women’s rights that modern’s feminism has made radicalized towards the scenic view of women empowerment. There is a minimal gap in the case of contemporary feminism to that related to the feminism in the novel. The feminist aspect of the book is centered on grace, Beauty, and conflicts arising from liberal and conservative values. Beauty influence is subjective through a feminist lens where female oppression and gender disparity are illuminated and challenged. Nonetheless, attempts to find social equity has been stalled for several reasons (Cox). As a result, there is a great need to plan and discuss the ways to revalue essential things and eliminate gender-balanced dominance.

On Beauty demonstrates a modern multiracial and multicultural society where women’s engagement is subject to race, class, culture, national identity, body size, and age. It redirects feminist aesthetic in natural women’s experiences where they are subject to aesthetic contemplation. Kiki is an African-American woman defined by her “sphinx expression,” resulting in her being considered more “exotic provenance.” Her visual representation represents her political and harsh feminist in the modern world that contradicts the nineteenth-century feminist representation. There is a dynamic of visual and authentic transformation by Smith in the objectification of Kii to the materialistic demands of the viewer.

Role of Feminism by Kiki

Kiki, in the novel, is an African-American married to a white man that is viewed as a female figure of empowerment. Kiki sighs at the paragraph depicting the differences in their opposites of prose and passion. Kiki is a feminist representation of rebellion against passivity and revenge against love and even jealousy or Beauty. She is confronted with dilemmas in her self-discovery (Quabeck, 465). Her feminist struggles are seen through a painting that is seen conflicting between his husband’s betrayal and the strong black woman she is expected to be. Kiki’s space for female friendship is a female empowerment move ‘there’s shelter in each other.’ It is an indication of the female journey that has been vindicated in the cultural and feminine lenses.

Kiki’s personhood is defined by the complex distinction of violent and exploitive history where she records her ancestors. The standardization of white Beauty is governed by skin color, body shape, and even hair texture. The juxtaposition of the existence of feminist aesthetics Kiki faces is portrayed by the modernist feminist aesthetics needed in the aesthetic autonomy expected in the modern world’s social, political, and historical context (Horton, 49). The female subjectivity to Kiki is seen through her imagery in ‘an extreme neat waist tight denim’ about Kiki’s appearance establishes the demand for beauty and body standards. The realist feminist view that embodies Kiki portrays a degree of personhood in her definition of personality, sense of self, and even desire.

On Beauty, satire is directed towards Beauty and aesthetics that informs academic discourses towards Beauty and radicalized social power rather than philosophical and theoretical encounters of the literary world. The complicated relations between Kiki and her white husband are an aesthetic construct that relates to the radicalized social power in the modern world. Gendered preferences are based on art and beauty. The standard for feminine beauty is characterized by color, moral Beauty rather than equality, and women rights that the 19th-century feminist activists fought for. Today, gender and racial dynamics have been transformed in the United States (Gorham, 102). Certain criminal undertakings can be identified when some of the whites lose control over authority. Most analysts of works of art who happen to be feminists focus on things that are not important and thus leave the most important questions unanswered. As a result, they have failed the movement as they have neglected their social responsibility.

Kiki as an African-American woman who is middle-aged, is well and fully aware of the power structures in the 21st century. Black feminist that connects to Kiki is the idea that women of color have been oppressed by sexism and racism and have no movement to take on these issues. Turning a light of truth on the right wrong is the foundation of black feminism. Kiki is much aware of norms, and her identity developed and is grounded in these beliefs. In contrast to Victoria and Zora, who drops her idea in western standards on gender and race. Claire notices Kiki as proof that a new type of woman has come into this world. A black feminist is a vision Kiki portrays that identifies with her identity. Kiki wants to buy jewelry in a black man’s stall, and a black feminist wants to promote her culture and belief. Kiki is well aware of her body and Beauty that defines her personality in her acceptance of what is. Kiki is a black feminist as she plays her role in understanding her role and place among black feminists.

Critical analysis of the text

Feminism realism ought to consider the complex dynamism between the visual, realism, and the aesthetics. However, feminists seem to have deviated from this as their main focus seem to be anesthetization of women’s bodies. Smith quotes in her book that one of her acquaintances referred to her as “Picasso’s chubby water-carriers” (Martin, 585). Therefore, this suggests one of the instances where feminists presented inaccuracy in their comparison. Additionally, it also helps amplify the main theme of the study, “a little bundle of lies that become truths.” Historically, women seemed to bend from this belief although men still subscribed to it (Moya, 22). Noteworthy, this practice was more sexual as sex was just one of the elements that formed it. For instance, size was used to define sex whereas skin color also played an important role. In case a woman was white and had a small body size, both sex and race played an important part in describing her (Walters, 130). Women’s bodies gave off huge signals beyond their control. Some of the signals popularly used include sassy, confronting, motherly, sisterly, among others.

The personality, desires, and own-self of women were defined by their bodies. In addition, such elements were also intersected by other characteristics including race, feminity, nationality, and age (Taylor, 61). Women are at times compared to beautiful work of arts which lowers their value. Most researchers have spoken candidly about the dynamism that has presented itself when it comes to feminism. One such writer is Jennifer Moses who stated that “I don’t like what feminism has become.” (Moses, 1). In her article in Time magazine, Moses acknowledges that feminism has done a lot in exposing women like her from a narrow confines to a broader perspective. At the same time, she states that she hates witnessing most women discussing why they are unable to achieve the desired professional success. Comically, this has been the discourse for most women who regard themselves as feminists. Therefore, for writers who have experience in such issues, they often urge women to take the bull by horns.

Back in the 1960s, feminist movements focused on equal opportunity especially in the education sector. Nevertheless, with the bunch of discourses coming from such movements today, it is obvious that feminists are simply championing for their own sakes. Nowadays, some of the loudest voices cannot be heard. Feminists, therefore, tend to focus on issues that do not matter such as beauty (Ziarek). Whenever people identify women with objects such as beautiful works of art, the value social of women tend to increase. Some of the measures that have been adopted to describe beauty by feminists including the white American standard of beauty. The artistic and social value of this description emanates from the institutionalization of processes including social construction of taste. In other words, the liking of beauty to such works of art, for instance, makes realism to gesture towards the object being represented as opposed to the representation itself. As such, such representation perceive the subjects as social forms. Realism is thus criticized for merely reproducing ideology in feminism.

In case we consider the role of feminism in terms of honesty without considering relative or absolute honesty, then we can understand how feminism brings it new knowledge without the use of any single truth. Women might seem to be marginalized in the discussions about feminism but they are completely present. Another example provided by Martin is about a poem by a female writer. The person responsible for analyzing the poem sums it up in one word. However, since the portrait of the poet has been included, the analysis dwells more into it as opposed to the poem itself. The analysis focuses on the aspects of the portrait that makes it beautiful. Therefore, this ends up affecting the social value at the expense of identifying women with aesthetics. The writer’s entire creative work of intelligence is reduced to mere aesthetics as she is described as a young woman. The wound of beauty is described as affecting even the beautiful (Moya, 5). Even the poet herself seems to be affected by aesthetics. She describes the sin of beauty and presents a beautiful picture taken while she was still young. However, since she has come of age, she has cut her hair. As a result, she can no-longer be referred to as beautiful woman.

Some literary analysts have gone to the extent of supposing that there ought to be an academic censure of all discourses relating to beauty. The reason is that playing the part of a beautiful object is believed to be destructive. In most poems, the reader is capable of getting the description of beauty of a character through the eyes of other characters. In other words, it is commonplace to find a situation in which all or most of the characters believe that another character is beautiful. The act also reveals one of the biggest failures that feminist movements are faced with currently (Bindel). The reason is that literature, especially the use of poems, was a common tool that feminists used to present their grievances. The novel carries descriptions of the beauty of one of the characters in such a way that captivates the reader. For example, words such as “due to her beauty, her portrait would be difficult to paint without distortion” are used. The use of such words to describe aesthetics form part of the key theme of the study “a little bundles of lies that become truths.” In other words, words that are used to describe beauty of women in such works are exaggerated to a greater extent.

What Black Feminists can connect with Kiki

Black feminists in the modern 21st century portray advocates for civil rights and women’s rights movements in a patriarchal society barring justice and equality imposed on them. Anna Julia Cooper is an activist and advocate for black women. Her fight believes that a stand against solidarity for humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnatural nature of injustice in special favoritism, whether on sex, race, country, or condition, should be stopped. Kiki is subjected to matters advocated by black feminism, but she overcomes them (Quabeck, 460). Black feminists as Mary Church Terrel advocate for the uplifting of women since the world cannot move ahead without women’s share in the movement. Kiki shares her part in the fight for her culture, race, and belief, all that defines her as a black woman earning her place among black feminist activists. Their bodies expressed the personality, desires, and own-self of women.

Elements of race, feminity, nationality, and age (Taylor, 61).in women are at times compared to beautiful works of art, which lower their value. Most researchers have spoken candidly about the dynamism that has presented itself when it comes to feminism. One such writer is Jennifer Moses, who stated, “I don’t like what feminism has become.” (Moses, 1). In her article in Time magazine, Moses acknowledges that feminism has done a lot in exposing women like her from narrow confines to a broader perspective (Horton, 45). At the same time, she states that she hates witnessing most women discuss why they cannot achieve the desired professional success. Comically, this has been the discourse for most women who regard themselves as feminists. Therefore, writers who have experience in such issues often urge women to take it as it comes.

How Kiki’s Feminism comes to light

Kiki’s feminism comes to light in the complexity of the multicultural world she finds herself in. A black woman married to a white man who ignores her in a white academic community, Kiki achieves a counter-interpellation by her friendship with Carlene (James, David,32). The feminist demeanor Kiki portrays is expounded by her embrace of a culture where she does not lose her identity in the process of struggle.

Betrayal to Kiki compels her to leave, and she fights a legal battle to pave the way for what is hers as she inhabits the painting. Feminists fight for women’s rights, and women like Kiki portray strength in overcoming and their continued efforts to fight for justice and journey to freedom. In the 1960s, feminism focused on equal opportunities such as education. However, the 21st century has evolved in objectification and social stratification that has compelled a shift in the fight for a feminist voice (Hale, 102). The realist state of modern feminist is that Beauty, color, shape, and standards define a woman and limits her in all manner possible. The criteria for a white American woman are different from that of a black African-American woman, thus the ideal perception of feminism.

Kiki undergoes a journey of culture and feminity that modern feminists struggle with. Her journey of Beauty, love, joy, and genuine freedom meets social constructions and troubling relativity, and forces feminists have awarded Beauty with regards to women are provocative. Most feminists tend to identify Beauty with film stars, musicians, models, among others (Brickley, Briana, 62). More importantly, such Beauty is described in a manner suggesting that only young women are beautiful. Therefore, this presents another major problem regarding social impacts with older women being marginalized due to their age. The practice has led to a significant failure on feminists as it deviates them from their initial intentions, such as liberating women of all ages. Besides, racial dynamics are also often witnessed when they attempt to make such comparisons.

Today, gender and racial dynamics have been transformed in the United States (Gorham, 102). Certain criminal undertakings can be identified when some of the whites lose control over authority. Most analysts of works of art who happen to be feminists focus on things that are not important and thus leave the most important questions unanswered. As a result, they have failed the movement as they have neglected their social responsibility to conform to social standards. Kiki is multidimensional rather than simplistic. She is assertive rather than passive and, as a black woman, is formed by characterization of aesthetic shapes in standpoint and perspective. The 1900s feminist ideologies include the lesser extent of a woman’s feminist realization in the modern world (Beens, 13). However, the subtle exotics of friendship between Kipps and Belsey restructures a woman’s struggle in the contemporary world.

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In conclusion, feminism has changed and evolved from the 19th century to modern feminist realism. On Beauty is a representation of the contemporary feminist dilemma. Color, race, shape, and body size have shaped women’s struggles, and female empowerment has become more of a standard beauty preference than a fight for women’s rights and a place among men. Social equality in the modern feminist world needs social equity. In a gender-balance dominance, the feminist approach in On Beauty attempts to liberate women in an ironic feminist process through Beauty and authenticity evidenced in the modern social standards.

As analyzed from the text, most analysts seem to focus on the faces of characters presented in novels as opposed to digging deeper to find the real substance. Zadie and other like-minded writers seem to bring back to life the marginalization that women have faced for several years. The irony is that they identify with the feminist movement which has been championing for liberation of women. Glorification of beauty and aesthetics does not provide the solutions needed to liberate women in rural areas of developing countries. Available texts suggest that the world has become materialized such that those women who are in high positions have forgotten the noble course that was started by the feminists of the 1960s and 70s. To revert this, feminists should look back in history and acknowledge that although some achievements have been made, more can still be done.

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