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The Women's Room
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message 1: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) A classic feminist novel from 1977! Who will be reading this with us?

message 2: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I'll be reading! Got my copy from the library. Just can't decide if I'll start with this one or the Sexual Fluidity book once I finish one of my current reads.

Trevor Maloney (criminaltrevor) Already about 150 pages in. Loving it! (I suggest you keep a list of wives & husbands.)

message 4: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
Thanks for the tip, Trevor. Good to hear you're enjoying it!

Natasha Holme (natashaholme) | 281 comments Alexa wrote: "A classic feminist novel from 1977! Who will be reading this with us?"

I read it in 1990 and still remember the odd aspect of it. I'll be following along the discussion, at least.

message 6: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I read this ages and ages ago - I should probably refresh my memory of it. I just remember an overwhelming sense of soap opera.

message 7: by El (last edited Mar 14, 2016 07:44AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I started reading this last night, so I'm not too terribly far along yet, but I am digging it. I mentioned it in another group, and someone mentioned that she was disappointed because while it's an important book, she didn't like the way it was written.

I can see where she's coming from. As she said it's more like a telling of things that happen, rather than an actual story, but personally that's working for me here. It's giving me a chance to really think about Mira's experiences and relate them to my own, or those of other women I've known. I was born in 1978, so I missed out on some of French's experiences, but I'm still finding aspects of the story relevant.

I'm also finding certain statements French made to be very point-blank and powerful. There is absolutely no beating around the bush here. I'll have to back when I have time and find some of them to share here.

message 8: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I'm about 100 pages in now (and understand Trevor's comment about keeping track of the characters), and I still am enjoying it. It can be a frustrating read, I will warn others - we want these women to stand up for themselves, etc, but in the 1950s in America, that wasn't always an option (nor is it always an option today).

Anyone else start yet? Trevor, how's it going for you?

message 9: by Trevor (last edited Mar 20, 2016 12:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trevor Maloney (criminaltrevor) Currently on page 340 (of 526).

I'm not really following your friend on the "not really a story" thing. It seems to me that it is very much a story. Yeah, it's not, like, a introduction/conflict/resolution story line, but it's still a story.

It's the story of Mira's socialization into an oppressed class, her oppression as a member of that class, her occasional (and increasing) glimpses into an oppressive class structure, and her gradual awakening to class consciousness. The litany of daily indignities that Mira and her friends live through, from offhand thoughtless comments from husbands to physical abuse, is heartbreaking.

I'm not sure that I've ever read a novel that focuses so exclusively on the lives of women. This may say a lot about my reading habits, and/or my education, but I think it also says a lot about our culture; that a highly educated man with an at least somewhat refined cultural sensibility can still be a highly educated man with an at least somewhat refined cultural sensibility while not having read a novel that really digs into the lives and psyches of women until he's 36 years old.

Also, how about that 1993 introduction by the author?

"Men can complacently continue to exalt rationality, power, possession, and hierarchy, and to justify domination as a necessary and natural principle, unhampered by the criticism of women or men who entertain a different value system. Men in power do not even hear radical criticism because they have pre-labeled it invalid, soft-headed, or insane. Because the dominant class controls the discourse, only the independently thoughtful even perceive the insanity of our present culture."

May we all be independently thoughtful!

message 10: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
You're still further along in the reading than I am, Trevor. I'm just about 40% of the way through. Sigh. :)

I had to take a bit of a break partly due to life stuff, but also just it's so much to take in. I don't mean that in a bad way at all, though. It's just a lot to process for me. I am still enjoying the book though.

Yeah, when I first commented about what a friend said about the book, I was much earlier on in the text, and I do believe in the beginning as we first encounter Mira and the other wives, it doesn't come across as almost a grocery list of people, etc.

But as the story moves along, it does actually become more... well, an actual story and I find myself invested in each and every one of them.

Without any spoilers, does anyone have any ideas who the narrator is here? It seems to me she's a wife, but I haven't encountered her own story yet, rather just her observations of everyone else. Yet she's omniscient as well because she tells us about every interaction between the women, whether they are public or private.

Still, there are occasions where an "I" creeps out in the text, and I can't quite decide if I think that's actually Mira's voice popping up during those moments or if it's another one of the women, or if it's actually supposed to be Marilyn French herself. I want to say I remember fairly early on the narrator comments something to the effect of how "we" (meaning the wives) felt about a certain situation, or maybe about Mira directly. So that got me to thinking that the narrator is there, a part of it. But I'm intrigued that we don't know her story yet, other than she's highly observant, highly educated, and highly articulate.

Trevor Maloney (criminaltrevor) I'm still not sure who the narrator is either, but I've been assuming it's French herself.

Candace | 35 comments Finished it this morning, and I will try not to spoil the ending for anyone. Initially I wish I, too, had kept a list of all the wives and husbands! French really wrapped up the where the lives of the "main group" of women were at the ending (Iso, Kyla, etc.) but I wish readers knew how Mira's original circle of friends (the "wives) had ended. After I read the Introductions to the story (my book included 3) I was skeptical that this book would apply to the lives of all women; rather I thought this would be another "Feminine Mystique" which, while groundbreaking, has been criticized for speaking only for middle class white housewives versus describing the lives of women everywhere.

While I am interpreting the story from the perspective of a lower class white woman in the 21st century, it does seem to me that "The Women's Room" is able to transcend class and generation. Like someone in another analysis mentioned, sexism today is not as blatant as it was in previous decades. A common theme can be found today (at least in the U.S.) and that is that sexy is the new brand of feminism. Showing off those curves - as long as you're under a size 4 - IS, supposedly, what being a feminist looks like. I'm getting off-topic though. Back to the book!

Someone mentioned that they were not enjoying French's writing style, but I have to disagree. At times yes she does get long-winded but I am able to feel what these women are going through, their pain, joy, struggles, frustrations. That's not something every author can achieve. I wanted a big "win" for Mira at the end of the book but really, what would that have looked like? A happy marriage to Ben? That certainly would not have fit with the idea that marriage as an institution is sexist; I believe it was Val who pointed out that the feeling of happiness and contentment Mira feels when she is with Ben should be enjoyed but it is not really to be trusted. The feeling of being settled cannot last. And sure enough, Mira and Ben come to a point where Mira is balanced on the edge of something. If she had chosen to go with Ben to Africa and make beautiful babies with him, she may have been happy at first but, eventually, would have felt the irons of expectation and regret eventually. As she pointed out, she would have to give up her dissertation, which she had been working towards for the previous 5 years. By saying no to Ben, she found and used her voice.

message 13: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I finished reading this the other day, but haven't landed on a star rating, or written my review yet. I really liked the book - I found it all relevant still (sadly) and powerful. I'm bummed that the male characters were all one-dimensional, really, and there was little that set them apart from one another. The female characters, on the other hand, had more variety for the most part (but I still had trouble keeping some of them straight).

Candace brings up a good point about the original circle of wives - I hadn't realized that we never did hear much more about them once the story progressed beyond those years, and I also would have liked to know how things resolved (or not) for some of them.

There are so many different things that happen in this book that it almost seems overwhelming to read, but the other sad reality is that all of this is our every day lives. Written in the 70s, story starting in the 50s and making it's way through the 70s... so little has changed and here we are in 2016. We've made some progress, but other insidious issues still exist, and I cannot wait until we see more progress. I also agree with Candace that in the US, sexy is the new feminism, and I find that troublesome.

I'm clearly still sorting out all of my thoughts here. I found it hard to put the book down for the most part, though I did get bogged down in the similarities I could draw between these women's lives and the lives of women I have known in my life - even my own life in some cases, though I have chosen not to get married and have children. Sometimes the story hit a bit too close to home. But I think that was French's intention. It was meant to pack a punch.

Has anyone read anything else by her? I feel I want to read everything she's written now.

Candace | 35 comments El wrote: "I finished reading this the other day, but haven't landed on a star rating, or written my review yet. I really liked the book - I found it all relevant still (sadly) and powerful. I'm bummed that t..."

I'm reading "In the Name of Friendship" now, which was written more recently than "The Women's Room." It's quite good so far but I haven't even got into the middle.

El also commented that the male characters were one-dimensional which was something I noticed too while I was reading it, and I have to say that I enjoyed it. Well maybe "enjoyed" is too strong of a word, but I chuckled. Have any of you ever read books by male authors that feature female characters (not a lead female character, of course). To me, they always seem one-dimensional and I can honestly say that I have NEVER been able to identify with a female character developed by a male author.

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
I just started this last night. I'm playing a lot of catch up from March! I'm trying not to read too many comments so I don't spoil anything for myself, but very early in and I find the writing really absorbing and easy to read.

I agree with you El in that I also want these women to stick up for themselves, but that just isn't really done... I've had a couple of moments already in which I actually felt horror at the thought of being purposefully kept ignorant as a young girl; or raising my daughter to be ignorant (and/or ashamed) of her own body. There are long term and lasting consequences to that kind of thinking!

I haven't really read all your comments, but I'll keep a careful note of husband and wives, thanks Trevor!

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
I'm not going to lie, Part I (which I just finished, so still under 100 pages here) was pretty depressing. I felt like I was watching Mira's potential, and life, be squashed out by society and everyone around her. The injustice of the way women are viewed in her college years (sorted by relationship status), with Lanny and "all the guys" really hit me hard and personally. I can't even get in to how crappy it is that she can't even have a good time without having to be always concerned with what everyone else thinks. And even if she says IDGAF what people think, people will still think something, i.e.- "she's easy," and treat her accordingly. Unfortunately, we don't all have Biff's looking out for us all the time.

I thought there might be a renewed breath of life within her, and the story, once she had her first son (and I really love how the author/narrator interrupts with the group of them arguing over the idea that motherhood makes a woman complete and happy because even though I have kids, I very much believe that they are not the beginning and the end for all/any/many/most women), but then the book delves in to a pretty drudging overview of how full Mira's day is of dirty dishes and diapers... Although it's a pretty relevant description of how many women might enter unhappily and un-readily into motherhood, and the mental and emotional toll. I read this as a subtle nod towards the importance of women's health rights, but so far only prevention has been discussed by the author or characters.

Maybe I find it depressing because I know it is the story of millions of women past and present, and I hate reading a first hand account of Mira's erosive ruin by society. I sure hope there are some brighter perspectives coming up.

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
Just finished part II and I mostly feel like I'm talking out loud to myself here, but I'm finding that French has a pretty great storytelling ability. She's pulling Mira and the reader through time and circumstances to discuss many topics of the patriarchy as a constant societal pressure on women. Following Mira in life and upwards mobility is a good way to tackle different issues that effect different hierarchies of class, although (so far) not race. Although we're learning that dancing is apparently something that will always get a woman (at least Mira) in trouble...

It's nice to see into so many different women's lives in one story. Even though they are quite similar in some ways, they are also each living through their own circumstances. It's a great reminder that everyone has their own crap to deal with. It hurts to watch them suffer through life in which life=husband and husband=life. Bliss really took the most realistic approach for this by critically choosing her husband, although she ends up in a passionate affair with Paul. Which leads me to the less dimensional husbands.

I don't quite see them as one dimensional though. Even though we don't read from their perspective, I think French offers a pretty good look at each of them. Surprisingly, at this point, I think Norm is the least developed husband in the group! Now Mira is moving up and away, just in time as she's been labeled a cheater again, and we'll see what happens now...

Although I'm really enjoying reading the book, I've got to admit it's surprisingly heavy throughout. Still holding out for those brighter moments.

message 18: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I've been reading your thoughts, Anita, so you're not talking quite to yourself. :)

What struck me about this book (the more I think about it) is the relationships between the women primarily. I feel this is an area in literature that still doesn't quite measure up. This book shows the complicated nature of female friendships - it's not all rosy (no relationship or friendship ever is, male or female), but it's not all cattiness either. I feel this was one of the most realistic portrayals of how women interact with one another that I've read in a long time, and I found that refreshing. And then the different ways they reflect on or react to the patriarchy and societal pressures on women is fascinating. Some are more aware of what is going on than others, which, again, I feel is terribly realistic.

It is a heavy read throughout, Anita. I hate to break it to you. There are some brighter moments, so don't lose hope. But it's a heavy read, I feel. I don't think it's for the faint of heart. :)

message 19: by Alexa (new)

Alexa (AlexaNC) I read it too long ago to be able to intelligently comment (although after everyone's reactions I'm now regretting that I didn't read it again) but I'm really enjoying reading your updates Anita, as well as everyone else's comments! Thank you all so much for the conversation and wonderful insights! Do keep us posted as you progress - it's a great substitute for rereading it!

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
Lol, thank you El and Alexa. I love discussing books in this book club, it's probably one of the few places I feel like I can really have a good discussion without trolls derailing my thoughts with irrelevant b.s. Which leads me to what a great point you made, El, about the book focusing on the many intricacies of relationships between women (although I am not suggesting that I don't love conversing with everyone in the group regardless or sex or gender).

I totally agree that it is not organic and natural enough in many of the books I read, and it definitely isn't viewed appropriately in the real world, with the whole girl v. girl mentality. I hate that women can't be seen to disagree about anything without someone on the outside making a frickin' catty noise or blowing it up into some personal nemesis creating encounter. We are allowed to disagree about things (like drapes, or presidential candidates) without starting a blood feud!

I'll keep reading and posting, and maybe spark a comment here or there. Thanks for the fair warning about the heaviness throughout El :)

Candace | 35 comments Love the comments! Going off of what Anita and El were talking about.... honestly, can you name more than 5 books featuring female friendship and not as a foil to a romantic plot? I mean obviously there are many books where the main female character has a female friend, but has anyone else noticed that most of the conversations between them are centered on men? Sure I get that the author is using them as a tool to further the plot but come on....can't we read one conversation where they are simply friends discussing OTHER friend stuff?

I know there's a name for this...I think it's the Bechdel test. Can anyone verify?

message 22: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El | 756 comments Mod
I was thinking about the Bechdel test too, Candace, but didn't stop to think too much if it worked here, since a lot of the conversations the women in this book have revolve around men in some manner. I think it still passes, though, because of the nature of their discussions - and there's still the incredible level of connection between the women that exists outside their relationships with men.

message 23: by Anita (last edited Apr 11, 2016 12:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 377 comments Mod
I kind of just kept reading after I finished Part III, and then IV.. and now here I am almost finished. I think, El, that you're absolutely right in the representation of all the friendships between the women. I can't think of a single book that I've read that has so realistically and thoroughly depicted the many degrees of friendship and love that can be shared between women of all sorts. Ever since your comment, I've been reading the book with eyes open to this, and I think it's added a lot of enjoyment to my reading experience. So really, thanks for that! Like Candace suggested, I'm having a very hard time coming up with books that do.

As I wrap this book up, a few thoughts that stuck out were how happy I was for Mira to end a chapter of her life on a happy note with Ben (end of Part IV), especially when she ended the previous with Norm telling her he wanted a divorce. I was just thinking how nonchalant the housewives were about cheating around with the husbands as long as it remained casual v. an affair. The thought had just crossed my mind that they weren't thinking at all of the cheated upon housewife. Not in a hateful way, but that they were so quick to dismiss her existence and in doing so they were continuing to dismiss their own existence and value.

There was a passing comment in which Mira commented on how Norm always came to her bed for sex, and then returned to his. This stuck out because I thought that was not a true representation of American marriage in the 50's, but rather an adopted one for television as it was considered lewd? Did anyone else catch that, and does anyone know why the author would have slipped it in? My dad, born in the 50's, assures me this wasn't the case in his parents' house, but did Mira and Norm maybe reach a social economical elevation that gave them separate rooms?

And also, as for the sexuality, I think the greatly explored topic must have been a large proponent to the book's social splash. I'm ready to finish it and see how it goes for Mira in the end. I'm happy about her developing, honest relationship with her boys.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I missed the read along (most of the time I have to put books on my TBR list and get to them later) but I'm about half-way through this book and Marilyn French has become my hero. I'll write up a review on Goodreads when I finish but it is up there with one of the most important books I've ever read.

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