The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
This book puts second-wave feminism into novel form. It begins with repressed housewives and ends with failed student activism. The first half reads like Mad Men: The Novel, and the second half is a bunch of debates about the best way to go about changing the world. Mira, the main character, survives an abusive relationship and rape attempt, a bad marriage to a doctor in suburbia, motherhood, a divorce, Harvard grad school, several intense friendships with other women, and finally, a good relationship that isn’t quite good enough. All of the marriages portrayed are so horribly unfair and unequal that they’re almost ridiculous to someone of my generation, and that’s something I’m thankful for. It doesn’t end happily; the characters scatter and none of them achieve success in both career and love/family. The somewhat depressing conclusion seemed to be that it’s best to embrace the temporary nature of happiness and not expect anything good to last. At a climactic moment, the text approaches and voices some of the most extreme radical feminist ideas, but I believe they are ultimately rejected.
This book made me think a lot, and made me feel like I understood what it felt like to be a woman 40-50 years ago. The issues and problems the women discuss are still very relevant. The Women’s Room describes the connection between the personal and the political, and shows how the characters are shaped by their environments and internalize the messages sent by their culture. For that reason I felt like it made a great argument for why these issues matter in the everyday moments of people’s lives, both then and now.