May 4, 2009

"My goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world."

Marilyn French. RIP.

Did you read "The Women's Room"?
Her first and best-known novel, “The Women’s Room,” released in 1977, traces a submissive housewife’s journey of self-discovery following her divorce in the 1950s, describing the lives of Mira Ward and her friends in graduate school at Harvard as they grow into independent women. The book was partly informed by her own experience of leaving an unhappy marriage and helping her daughter deal with the aftermath of being raped. Women all over the world seized on the book, which sold more than 20 million copies and was translated into 20 languages....

“It was about the lives of women who were supposed to live the lives of their husbands, supposed to marry an identity rather than become one themselves, to live secondary lives,” [said Gloria Steinem.] “It expressed the experience of a huge number of women and let them know that they were not alone and not crazy.”...

Critics accused her work of being anti-male, frequently citing a female character in “The Women’s Room” who declares, after her daughter has been raped: “All men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.”
I didn't read this book, though I read a lot of books in 1977 (the year before I went to law school). I never read novels that weren't considered literary, and I shunned the mixture of art and politics. Nor could I identify with the troubles of submissive housewives and journeys of self-discovery following divorces. I might have read some nonfiction on the subject, but I didn't need an easy-reading novel to get me inside the feeling of a situation that didn't apply to me anyway.

38 comments:

Paul Zrimsek said...

I read it. You haven't missed anything.

Maguro said...

Never read the book but saw a bit of the mini-series. Typical British adult drama with ugly people having lots of graphic sex.

Smilin' Jack said...

Nor could I identify with the troubles of submissive housewives and journeys of self-discovery following divorces.

Well, you can just forget about Obama appointing you to the SC!

Joe said...

What bemuses me about this brand of feminist is just how traditional they really were.

commenter said...

what is a submissive housewife? i was a housewife for 25 years. ask me about submissions, ann, if you could do me the favor. If anything i was more fiery independent than any professional woman that i know or read about for the majority of those years. i think even my ex might even miss that in me now and again.

Joe said...

"with ugly people having lots of graphic sex"

Ah, but that way it's art, not pornography.

(I have nothing against pornography, but it should be preserved the beautiful and, preferably, naturally endowed.)

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Well, I read it. I think it helps to understand where the paleofeminists were coming from. Part of it was like the dark side of Erma Bombeck, not that she shunned the dark side herself all the time.

It's easy to hate on the old-school feminists if you don't know what they were reacting to. Those of us who either came along too late to be hit with all of that, or who were fortunate enough to be raised in more enlightened families, wouldn't have a clue. Maybe I've dealt with a little soft-core sexism in my career ... maybe I'll find that I'm dealing with it now ... but it's nothing I couldn't or can't handle, and I can't get too cocky about that. In a way, I stand on the shoulders of ... not giants, but women who wouldn't shut up and sit down when they were supposed to.

Anyway, you can read that stuff and reject 70% of her philosophy and still come away with a better understanding of where we've been.

RIP, Marilyn French.

Diamondhead said...

So am I supposed to remember that Marilyn French was so wrong on so many levels?

traditionalguy said...

Marilyn invented the point of view that men were the enemy. Men are rapists because they take what women offer. That sort of changes the meaning of rape in the criminal statutes. Of course the word can also mean any sudden taking. All children learn the boundaries, and then they live and take what they want within those boundaries. That goes for females too. It is one definition of freedom. So the war never settled on an acceptable truce line/boundary in Marilynn's point of view. Sad.

Bissage said...

My goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist world.

Whereas my goal in life is somewhat less ambitious.

I just want everybody to change their middle name to “Spoo.”

William said...

Life is full of missed connections and endless waiting for an express bus to oblivion. If you are a white male of sufficient income with no visible handicaps, the world eventually convinces you that your problems are all of your own making. Or worse yet: you come to understand that it was all just crumbs from the beginning and there never was a banquet to miss out on......I read Ms French's obituary. Her last years were painful and difficult. She was a heavy smoker and was fighting esophogeal cancer....She claimed that men mistreated women as a reaction against their own emptiness. I suggest projection. She lit up a cigarette and filled her lungs with smoke in order to fill the vacuity at the center of her existence. She seems to have been one of those unhappy women who marry not in order to escape unhappiness but in order to find someone on whom to fix the blame for their unhappiness....Well, it worked. She inhaled deeply and exhaled forcefully. The smoke wreathed her like an angry cloud and lent weight and substance to her words and presence. Beware of second hand smoke.

traditionalguy said...

People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Marilyn decided to withdraw from the great game, so she let no man need her. Sad.

rhhardin said...

Did you read "The Women's Room"?

No but I did read Women by Philippe Sollers, which had some nice but malevolent lines about the current state of the feminist world.

The best line in the book turns out to be one I misread, Do you know what Chateaubriand says? `Malevolance and denigration are the two chief characteristics of the French maid.

former law student said...

Did you read "The Women's Room"?


I didn't read this book, though I read a lot of books in 1977 (the year before I went to law school). I never read novels that weren't considered literary, and I shunned the mixture of art and politics. Nor could I identify with the troubles of submissive housewives and journeys of self-discovery following divorces. I might have read some nonfiction on the subject, but I didn't need an easy-reading novel to get me inside the feeling of a situation that didn't apply to me anyway.

I read it: It was sappy and soapy. (It had been lying around our house. From its condition, my sister must have borrowed it from someone. Other books I read of hers included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and Go Ask Alice.)

But the Women's Room was written about Althouse's mother's generation, not hers. Althouse's perception of her opportunities was likely quite different from her mother's. I wonder what her mother might have thought about it. Has the professor ever discussed her mother's life at all?

AJ Lynch said...

Was she buried in the no-men-allowed section of the cemetery?

Seven Machos said...

Where can I find me one of these submissive housewives?

Lem said...

"My goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a Catholic world".

Pst... (whisper) I like this pope.. pass it on.

Lem said...

Did you read "The Women's Room"?.

No, but I did read “The Erotic Silence of the American Wife” where the author promoted adultery. Saying it would be good for the marriage.

Seven Machos said...

Did the room have a green door?

traditionalguy said...

Seven...Today even the friendly ones come with a Pre-nuptial Disagreement contract. The smart women do not trust a mere man to be their only financial support anymore.

Methadras said...

The whole feminist movement is/was a fraudulent joke to begin with.

Smilin' Jack said...

“All men are rapists, and that’s all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes.”

Yes, and since in the feminist view all sex is rape, and since sex is essential to the continuation of society, it follows that feminists should support and promote rape. Yet many feminists speak of rape as if it were a bad thing. They seem very confused.

Novaseeker said...

Another one gone who won't be missed, sad to say.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"...since in the feminist view all sex is rape..."

Well, here's the thing. The "feminist view" to the extent that there is a single view (there's not) is a lot more complex than this statement, which has been associated with only two feminists anyway. See this Snopes article. I don't know whether these women were really quoted out of context or not, but I'm not going to take someone else's word that their thought processes could be boiled down to "all sex is rape" especially if that person is angered or irritated by feminism to start with.

You can reduce complex thoughts that make you uncomfortable to some easily-sneered-at slogan like that, and attach it to feminism, so that you can then dismiss feminism as an eccentric fringe movement that reasonable people don't find relevant. And you'll be in lots of company if you do that. If it doesn't make you uncomfortable, though, to conduct thought-experiments by actually considering the actual expressed thoughts of women who you've been told have such extreme views, you might find it interesting and useful.

And I'll add, that I am irritated as hell by men who make those offhand statements about "who can understand women anyway" and then make no effort to listen to any of us except those of us who hold up the "men are so wonderful" mirror.

Maxine Weiss said...

"I never read novels that weren't considered literary,"---Althouse


Elitist, pedantic snob.

---All the things you claim you don't want to be !

Love,

Synova said...

My mother's generation faced a lot. I don't deny it. I think sometimes that the reason that we don't hear a bit more about being a woman *then* is that it would make it clear that women *now* are insipid whiners.

In my grandmother's generation it was better, I think. People were too poor and worked too hard to worry over much about who did what.

My mother was a child in the 1950's, graduating HS in 1958. There was greater prosperity and people wanted to ape the rich. (Which is my Theory of Everything.) "Civilization" encroached on common sense. Women were supposed to be decorative and useless. Men allowed themselves to be abused in the workplace to support the illusion.

I'm a bit younger than Althouse and simply do not see, in my own life or that of my friends, any way that the patriarchy was holding me back. It's always been that I could do or be anything if I had adequate motivation. There was never thought one that I couldn't "grow up to be President" or be a doctor or astronaut or anything else. The only question was if I wanted to do what was necessary to reach those goals.

The occasional sexist person, and I have met a few, was a shocking anomaly and hardly anything to worry over-much about.

If we talked about the world that early feminists were reacting to we'd have to also talk about how what was wrong was fixed. And that simply wouldn't do. It wouldn't do at all.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Hm.

Well, I think if you're going to talk about the early feminists at all ("sex is rape") then you do have to talk about the world they reacted to.

I graduated from high school in 1978. I can tell you two things that I remember, and perhaps you can extrapolate from there.

1 - The science teacher would have boys come to his house in the country on clear nights, where he had his telescope set up, to look at planets and galaxies and things. He was a married man and his wife was right there. It never OCCURRED to anyone that a girl might want to do that. I asked to, and was utterly ignored - it was like I was speaking greek or something totally incomprehensible.

2 - We sent delegates to "Boys' State", whatever that was. I totally accepted that there would be a "Boys' State" and not a "Girls' State" because that fit with my other observations. Was very surprised to find out that there was a "Girls' State" when I met some girls in college who'd been. I suppose the district didn't want to spend the money to send both a boy and a girl and so obviously it would be the boys who would go. Obviously. Why even discuss it.

This is how I grew up in Mississippi. When I went to college, at Mississippi University for Women, majoring in chemistry and math, it was a total life-changer for me. We couldn't defer to the male students - there weren't any. (There are now.) Everything the school had to offer was for us girls. We were expected to excel, even in the sciences. I can compare the preparation my classmates and I got there with that of both men and women I've worked with over the years who'd been to other schools, and I can tell you that it measures up; not only the knowledge, but bringing out leadership and being encouraged to express ourselves without waiting for a man to say something so we could echo it.

I'm thrilled for women who do their thing and don't think feminism helped them at all. I'm not there. As a pro-life conservative, I wouldn't get the time of day from most feminists. I'm still grateful for them.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Synova and Laura. Good comments.

I think that feminism has obviously changed over the years but also that it depends on a person's economic status, geographic location and ethnicity as to how relevant the feminist movement is/was.

It seems to me that the militant, all men are rapist, feminists come from wealthy and urban/suburban roots who have the time to navel gaze. Poor women and men don't have the luxury of worrying about it. Same thing for rural families. In Laura's case being from Mississippi, people would tend to be a geographicly more conservative demographic perhaps compared to women and men in say, California at the same time.

I'm of the same age as Ann and my mother (born in 1932) was a working woman, who worked in what was basically a man's profession at the time right along with my father. They were both union printers, linotype operators and ran several small town papers and did the printing, even using a platen press at one point. We didn't think anything of it. To us it was normal that both parents worked. It seemed strange that a woman would be home all day.

There was certainly no subserviant housewife syndrome or hatred ofmen in our home. There was no such thing as feminism when my mother was "doing her thing".

Eric said...

Where can I find me one of these submissive housewives?

No kidding! Most of the married guys I know may as well have gone to boot camp. The other day a colleague at work was complaining her husband doesn't do things as quickly and correctly as she expects once he's been told what to do.

If submissive women ever existed I missed 'em.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Between submissive housewife and overcontrolling bitch, there actually is an entire middle ground. Don't you think?

Eric said...

Between submissive housewife and overcontrolling bitch, there actually is an entire middle ground. Don't you think?

That's the hope that keeps me getting out of bed in the morning, though it hasn't been my experience so far.

Synova said...

Laura, I wasn't arguing that feminism didn't help my generation. I'm arguing that it did. A whole heck of a lot.

I'm not even suggesting that the world isn't unfair. It most certainly is. And it will continue to be.

It's sort of interesting to me to look at my mother and aunts... and it never occurs to me to use my father's sisters as examples, which I'm just realizing is odd. My mother's family is mostly college educated with a large number of PhD's and such things, University instructors and a few that attended Ivy League. In my father's family only a couple of the boys went to college at all, (grandpa forbade my father)and my grandfather was considered snooty by his brothers for making sure all nine of his kids finished 12th grade and not just 10th.

You'd think that the farmers would be about traditional status-quo and the side of the family with more education would be more egalitarian... and it seems the opposite to me and I think that it's because no one on my Dad's side cared about marrying "up" or fitting into society. (And *none* of those 9 siblings ever divorced.) My Mom's family (grandma!) was more about conformity and society and while all three of the girls (no sons) went to college they weren't there to please themselves. Except for my mom who quit and married my dad, they ended up with degrees that weren't what they wanted and husbands (with advanced degrees) that they didn't like. And while I sympathize a whole lot for the decisions made by 20 year olds, the fact is that no one forced them to change a major to something more seemly for a young lady, and no one forced them to choose the mate with the letters after his name.

My father's sisters seem to me to be uniformly strong willed and self-determined (and the ones who married strong willed men, doubly so,) every one of them intimidate me, who raised a bunch of girls who pretty much expect to run things.

They also grew up with a couple of Aunts of their own (among many), the generation before, who were single ladies of determination who traveled to far and exotic lands as missionaries. Lady adventurers... without men.

And at least one who ran off to New York and became a Rockette.

My mother's sisters (now very old ladies) are bitter about the decisions that a sexist culture imposed upon them. Very much liberals, both, and very much feminists, and very much looking for someone to blame... their dysfunctional parents (who were supposed to fight in front of them, supposedly, but didn't) or whatever fad is popular today.

In the end, it wasn't a white patriarchy that convinced them to try for the man with a "future" and attend college because it was what was expected of young ladies of their station. It was their mother. It's not that other options weren't available to them. It's not that they couldn't have made other choices. It's that they didn't *want* to make other choices. And it wasn't their fault. Who was there to tell them better?

And I think of that when I think of the first wave feminists sitting at a kitchen table with her friends, talking about how oppressive their lives are, with the sound of the maid doing laundry in the back-ground.

The maid.

And I can be grateful that some very unfair things have changed, laws about property have changed, opportunities have changed. And I can thank those women from the bottom of my heart.

But it doesn't change the fact that the lives they were living were first and foremost unnatural and would drive any thinking human being stark raving mad.

Synova said...

Re: Submissive Housewives.

I try to be supportive and cooperative, which is what I consider "submission." I freely tell him "no" though, so I'm not sure it counts for other people's definition.

I suck at house-keeping and I suck at getting my husband to follow any sort of instructions whatsoever. Likely those two things are related.

So try finding a woman who isn't compelled to control every atom of dust in her home, every hair on her head, and every scuff on her shoe, and she probably won't try to control you either. ;-)

AJ Lynch said...

Synova:
Great comments- you are on a roll.

I especially liked your phrase "my theory of everything"!

I suspect many of us have one of those too.

pj (lowercase) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kentuckyliz said...

There's a long line of high achieving women (married or spinster) in my family, so I just didn't know the desperate housewives Marilyn French apparently wrote about. I have a great picture of some great aunts, proper English ladies wearing neck to ankle wool suits, in the African bush, in the heat!, leading artist tours. Women in my family owned businesses and property before it was legal for them to do so. They had the first car in their town.

My mom was a very powerful and self-possessed lady. She didn't seem content with the domestic routine and went back to work when I started high school. Her career decisions ultimately influenced mine.

I guess a multigenerational history of sassy women made me full enough o' piss and vinegar that I was just going to lead the life I wanted, period. And that's exactly how it has worked out.

When you decide to be the author of your own life, you gotta grab the pen and start writing it. That's more responsibility than some folks want.

And yes, the web of laws can still work against women. In the next county over, the men got together and elected the family court judge that wouldn't hold them accountable for domestic abuse and make them go into counseling. Back-slapping good old boys that think it's perfectly fine to smack yer bitch up. Will NEVER live in that county. At least not without a good hefty cast iron skillet nicknamed "The Equalizer."

commenter said...

i've never read any feminist book. I have written my views on this on the internet many times in the past 12 years. Some guy told me he has a copy of everything i wrote of such. Spooky, huh? to be saved on someone else's hard drive unvoluntarily like that.

When i felt love became a submission, i ended that relationship. it's not good for either side. probably confused the heck out of my family. Now with the eleven people directly involved with my kids (and grandkids) I am the only one not gainfully employed. i still do stuff for love, but if my being very flexible in time allotments compared to their under time pressure and stress is being used as getting free submissions for stuff, they know fooling me on such matters usually doesn't end in a very nice situation.

don't fool with good nature, female or male.

Richard Fagin said...

“My goal in life is to change the entire social and economic structure of Western civilization, to make it a feminist [socialist] world....”

News flash - that's been the goal of EVERY gender feminist since the whole movement started in the wake of WWII. Gloria Steinem said about the same thing.

Fortunately, enough women are rising to the top of the economic and social structure of Western civilization that the geneder feminists' goal is going to become less and less appealing.

Either that or the jihadists or the Chinese will overthrow Western civilization and the whole thing will be moot.