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The Women’s Room: Reprise

I reviewed the book yesterday. This is an encore post. When I first picked up the book, I had no idea who Marilyn French was (I must be living in some remote rock), let alone The Women’s Room is a pioneering, landmark work on feminism. I am not a feminist, but think she really hit home in symbolizing and describing the basic truths of our society. (Yes, even today there exists racial and gender inequality). If some readers comment that the book, published in 1977, is no longer relevant today, my question is: what is relevant today?

But I would have a different slant on things, perhaps, if I were not living in this inconsolable loneliness. And that is an insoluble problem. I mean, you could go up to a stranger on the street and say, ‘I am inconsolably lonely,’ and he might take you home with him and introduce you to his family and ask you to stay for dinner. But that wouldn’t help. Because loneliness is not a longing for company, it is a longing for kind. And kind means people who can see you who you are, and that means they have enough intelligence and sensitivity and patience to do that. It also means they can accept you, because we don’t see what we can’t accept, we blot it out, we jam it hastily in one stereotypic box or another. We don’t want to look at something that might shake up the mental order we’ve so carefully erected. I have respect for this desire to keep one psyche’s unviolated. [iii, 2; 135]

So right on! French addresses the inner loneliness that many women under the accepted norms of a society in which men are dominant. But doesn’t everyone at some point in life feel such inner loneliness? If loneliness is such that a casual company can alleviate, why aren’t people happy after a transient sexual liaison? Why are couples still getting a divorce nowadays? We all long for someone who can see and accept who we are, embracing that bare emotional skeleton that we are, without asking to alter our true selves. Speaking of the mental order, French reminds me to the gay movement. The reason why conservative America couldn’t accept gay marriage, in addition to defending the institution of marriage, is the mental order that has been established so inveterately. It’s the comfort zone from which nobody wants to leave. We don’t see what we can’t accept.

Love, rare thing, when it happens, is a wonderful gift, a toy, a miracle, but we don’t count on it to protect us from future days when it rains and the typewriter breaks and it’s just as well because the words won’t come anyway, and the article has to be written by Monday and mailed, or there won’t be enough money for next month’s rent—you know. Love is a golden rain that comes down when it will, and as it spatters in your open palm you exclaim over its brightness, its wonderful moistening of your dry life, its glitter, its warmth. But that’s all. You can’t hold on to it. It can’t fill all of you. [v, 21; 448]

Nobody should ever count on love and think it is all that is in life.

4 Responses

  1. Well, the dictionary defines relevant as: “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.” I would think that dates have more to do with styles and fads in a particular time rather than the over all relevance of something. And I see a lot of relevance both in the quotes you’ve extracted and in your own commentaries.

  2. Transitory sexual relationships lead to loneliness because the relationships themselves don’t lead to intimacy, which is what treats loneliness. There is definitely more to life than love, and love doesn’t solve all the problems of the world, but life is much better with love than without it.

  3. great article..

  4. This is one that I counted amongst my favourite reads for many years and I agree that it’s a landmark work. I’m not sure that the way I now identify as a feminist aligns with the feminism depicted in the novel (I would have to re-read it, but I seem to remember there being more separatist leanings alongside her desire for equality) but I read it in my university years and it was crucial in helping me define my own stance on the issues. So I still think fondly of it, although I’m not sure I’d call it a favourite novel now.

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