This is feminism?

I’m real­iz­ing more and more that read­ing at all is an act of defi­ance. Hav­ing an opin­ion and express­ing it even more so. I want to com­ply, to blend, to fit. Yet, when I read books of sub­stance, I’m con­front­ed with actu­al ideas and must take respon­si­bil­i­ty for first hav­ing exposed myself to them and sec­ond for my reac­tion to them. To some­one who still holds on to car­ing what oth­ers think, this is a dan­ger­ous endeavor.

To this I must acknowl­edge that car­ing what oth­er peo­ple think is a defect of my char­ac­ter, a flaw wor­thy only of extraction.

Book #5 of my [50bookchallenge]( is *The Wom­en’s Room* by Mar­i­lyn French. It’s a reread, first read when I was 14 or 15 years old. My moth­er gave it to me and told me that I might learn some­thing from it.

I did. Two decades lat­er, I decid­ed to reread this book to see what I learned. It was a hazy, half-remem­bered ghost in my con­scious­ness, but the more friends of mine like [dracunculus]( have asked me why I hate women (despite my protes­ta­tions), the more I’ve want­ed to know what the hell is wrong with me.

I earnest­ly wish to avoid demo­niz­ing this book; I think to do so would be to make the same mis­take Mar­i­lyn French made when writ­ing it. What’s the point of putting out a fire with lamp oil?

Yet the more I read this, the less respect I had for the noble cause of fem­i­nism and the more I want­ed to retreat to the moral high ground of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Fem­i­nists often talk of fem­i­nism being the same thing as egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, and for many I’m sure it is. But to French and her crowd, those who call French a fem­i­nist «leader,» there can be no peace between men and women, ever. 

Let me admit now that this is a work of fic­tion. But in no way is it por­trayed as dystopic. French, I believe, is try­ing to tell it as it is. And shuf­fling a set of beliefs off on char­ac­ters is no excuse. She pro­vides not just an audi­ence of her char­ac­ters’ ideas to the read­er, but it’s not dif­fi­cult for a read­er to pick up on moral under­tones and over­tones in lit­er­a­ture. Some ideas are always pre­sent­ed with a coun­ter­point and oth­ers with con­tex­tu­al sup­port. To cry that French was not push­ing any agen­da is plain­ly dis­hon­est. One can­not draw the com­par­i­son between women and Jews in a nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp in a nov­el large­ly filled with exam­ples of women sys­tem­i­cal­ly being oppressed by men and then hide behind the skirts of «the opin­ions expressed were not nec­es­sar­i­ly those of the author.» Give me a break.

Fur­ther, the nar­ra­tor of the book is not shown to be a char­ac­ter in the book until the very end, and even then there is some room to sug­gest that per­haps the nar­ra­tor is not who I take her to be. So the first-per­son edi­to­ri­al­iz­ing takes on stronger mean­ing. The nov­el is struc­tured as a series of essays inter­spersed with nar­ra­tive. It’s only in the last pages that we dis­cov­er (even though we should have sus­pect­ed) that these essays were «only» the opin­ion of the pro­tag­o­nist of the novel.

Speak­ing of dis­hon­esty, French caught my atten­tion by describ­ing a pas­sage from Vir­ginia Woolf’s [*A Room of One’s Own*]([canonical-url:node/661]) that was, at the very least, a gross exag­ger­a­tion of the point that Woolf made:

> «But Shake­speare’s sis­ter has learned the les­son all women learn: men are the ulti­mate ene­my. At the same time she knows she can­not get along in the world with­out one. So she uses her genius, the genius she might have used to make plays and poems with, in speak­ing, not writ­ing. She han­dles the man with lan­guage: she carps, cajoles, teas­es, seduces, cal­cu­lates, and con­trols this crea­ture to whom God saw fit to give pow­er over her, this hulk­ing idiot whom she despis­es because he is dense and fears because he can do her harm. So much for the nat­ur­al rela­tion between the sex­es.» —pg 41, *The Wom­en’s Room*

Although I could go into much more detail, right now I don’t care to. This sums up my prob­lem with the book, and my prob­lem with myself: I allowed myself to believe a lot of what I read and grasped on to it as a tool for becom­ing what I «should» be in the eyes of my moth­er and of women at large.

Based on the above for­mu­la, by virtue of being male, I should nev­er trust a woman. A woman will see me as the ulti­mate ene­my and try only to con­trol me. If a woman behaves in a trust­wor­thy fash­ion toward me, sure­ly that’s evi­dence that she just does­n’t have a clue.

There are so many more ideas found in this book, ideas that I retreat to in the depths of my depres­sion. They res­onate so deeply with my pat­terns of self-hatred that I must accept or reject them:

«Label­ing and cat­e­go­riz­ing is, by itself, wrong» —pg 5

«Men are the infe­ri­or gen­der, or at least a right-think­ing woman should believe so.» —pg 15

«Male atten­tion is nat­u­ral­ly unwel­come to a woman.» —pg 21

«A woman enjoy­ing sex is a rar­i­ty.» —pg 147

«A man who can be described as humane is cer­tain to be gay.» —pg 285

«Sui­ci­dal thought is an indi­ca­tion of per­son­al depth.» —pg 391

Per­haps I can be for­giv­en for such depen­dent think­ing at the age of fif­teen. At thir­ty-five, how­ev­er, it’s past time to dis­pense with such non­sense. And of course, bad ideas like­ly don’t come from just one book.

I would not rec­om­mend this book, not to any­one I liked. I’m glad I reread it, though. It feels like progress just to put a name to some of the poi­son in my soul.

3 Replies to “This is feminism?”

  1. Hope­ful­ly as a pre­tender to
    Hope­ful­ly as a pre­tender to the title of ‘adult’ now, I’m not quite as sus­cep­ti­ble to tak­ing on new tox­ic ideas about myself. Still, I’ll play it safe and take your advice.

  2. “Male atten­tion is nat­u­ral­ly
    “Male atten­tion is nat­u­ral­ly unwel­come to a woman.”

    Like hero­in is unwel­come to a junkie. 🙂

    Actu­al­ly, this one is with­in me, and it’s why online per­son­als are my sav­ior. At least with those, I know the women WANT to be approached.