The Woman's Room
Author: Marilyn French
Year Published: 1977
Genre: feminist fiction
Published in 1977 at the end of the ‘sexual revolution,’ The Women’s Room sparked outrage for its controversial and forward-thinking ideas on women’s rights and desires (addressing the ‘what women want’ question). Set in 1950s America, The Women’s Room follows the life of Mira Ward, a conventional and submissive young woman in a traditional marriage, and her gradual feminist awakening. Now considered a ‘classic’ piece of women’s literature (although I doubt many women my age would have even heard of it), French suggests in her opening introduction (written in 2006) that it is just as relevant for today’s audiences (think white, middleclass women) as it was 38 years ago. She notes that “despite many easements on female life in the west, the world’s ethos has moved in the opposite direction – toward more hostility between the sexes” (p. xvi). I’m not quite sure this is the case and whether or not The Women’s Room transcends time boundaries in quite the manner French intends (there is a fair amount of material which is concerned solely with issues addressed by second-wave feminism), however I did find this novel much more engaging and interesting than Mary McCarthy’s The Group (1963) which follows a similar coming-of-age, 'awakening' premise.
One of the best things about this novel are the lively discussions French crafts between Mira and her female friends at Harvard. These scenes make you wish you were part of their dynamic group! Underpinning all their debates is, as Val succinctly observes, the issue of equality between the sexes: “The simple truth – that men are only equal – can undermine a culture more devastatingly than any bomb."
Disclaimer: please interpret the nature and aesthetic of this flatlay image ironically.