Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Women's Room by Marilyn French

When I picked up the Women's Room for the birth year reading challenge, I did not realise that it was a feminist classic. I selected it because it was in the top 15 bestsellers the year I was born. The Women's Room narrates the story of Mira growing up in fifties in a predominantly white middle class background in U.S. and follows her life from teens to forties. Mira is an ambitious, intelligent teen who desires to do something with her life. After a near gang rape incident, she feels marriage is the only way she can feel secure and get away from unwanted advances.

"It was not her virginity she treasured, but her right to herself, to her own mind and body."

She gets involved and marries Norm, a medical student. She funds his education by working. All their plans go awry when Mira finds herself pregnant. With the help of Norm's family, they tide over financially. Within few years, Mira has two boys. Her life involves looking after them. She realises that

"Her life, from pregnancy on, was owned by another creature."


"When your body has to deal all day with shit and string beans, your mind does too."

Her life involves cleaning, cooking, looking after the kids. Norm finishes his course and becomes a doctor. Her social circle involves women in her neighbourhood with kids.

Marliyn French now decides to give an insight into lives of all Mira's friends, the drudgery they face. Their day to day lives. Mira is not happy with her life. And years roll on and dear Norm, decides to divorce Mira. He is having an affair with somebody. She is enraged with the help of a friend she finishes school and gets admission to Harvard, which was predominantly male before.

She finds a great friend in Val and admires her free spirit, her ideals, ideas and all. While the university life looks like ideal, it is not. Mira has a second chance at love. But she realises love is not all. Val is shattered after her daughter is raped and decides to shun all men and live in an all female community. You can shun all men, even husbands, what about sons? That probably is the reason Mira does not join her.

This is not fast read. I probably read 20 or 30 pages a day. But read every word, some even twice. How can you write page after page of drudgery, yet keep the readers attention! French does it quite well. We don't get the male side of the story. How does Norm feel? What do the men think? Why are they so selfish?

Written in 1977, is it still relevant? Some things are not going to change, are they? I am talking about pregnancy and childcare. There maybe changes in western world in some areas but childcare is essentially female responsibility all over the world. There are some men who get actively involved in childcare, take a year break and look after the kids, but they are an exception rather than the rule. As French points out, as long as men don't take an active role in childcare, this imbalance is going to sustain. This is about the Western world. In the developing countries, survival itself is a question. I am talking about female foeticide that is prevalent in urban and rural India.

Here are some quotes:

"And there are so much easier ways to destroy a woman. You don't have to rape or kill her; you don't even have to beat her. You can just marry her. "

Pregnancy is the greatest training, disciplining device in the human experience.

You had to act the way they expected you to act or they could keep the child of your own body and your own pain from you.

Her experience with cleaning was that it grew in direct parallel with wealth, and the only way to avoid it is to be born male or pay another woman to do it.

She hated this time of the day, she hated to cook. For herself, she would have been content with a cheese sandwich.

One thing that makes art different from life is that in art things art things have a shape; they have beginnings, Middles, and endings. Whereas in life, things just drift along.

....In life one almost never has an emotion appropriate to an event. Either you don't know the event is occurring, or you don't know it's significance.

Sometimes I get as sick of writing this as you may be at reading this.

The problem with the great literature of the past is that it doesn't tell you how to live with real endings.

What actually happens is that you do get married or you don't, and you don't live happily ever after, but you do live.

She felt she had won the battle but lost the war.

1 comment:

J.G. said...

This is on my TBR list as a leftover from college. I remember at the time not feeling it was relevant to me (ah, youth!). But I think when I do get around to it, I will understand it better than before. These issues have a certain timelessness.

Thanks for your review and taking part in the Birth Year Reading Challenge. I'll be in touch soon about your prize for completing it!