The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
This book is a novel about one woman, Mira Ward. But it is almost like two separate stories involving many women.
Mira grows up in the 1950’s in a typical American household, in a town with typical cultural standards. Men were the bread winners, the caretakers, and the primary decision makers. Women were the childbearers, the housekeepers, and usually (for the most part) subservient to their husbands. Mira married young and moved to the suburbs with her new husband with the full intention of living up to the expected social standards. She settled into the routine, had children, and made neighborhood friends.
The first half of the book is the 15 years of Mira’s married life. It is also the story of several other women who became Mira’s dearest friends during those years. It is a heartrending, emotional narrative of the ordeals these women suffered–unhappy marriages when divorce was still an unacceptable solution, too many children when birth control was not yet available, unfulfilled ambitions, smothering social standards, and insensitive demanding husbands. It is the most honest, impassioned, comprehensive book I can recall ever reading about women in the 1950s.
The second half of the book is life for Mira after the divorce. It is now 1960-1970. Everything is changing. Mira is now a divorcee college student adapting to the campus life and making new friends. New environment, new priorities, new social standards! This half of the book was a little too over the top for me. The women Mira chose to befriend ranged from crude and obnoxious (foul language and poor parenting) to whiny and ineffectual. The main theme seemed to center upon hatred of men, and hatred of the social structure designed by men.
Personally, I know that a whole generation of women was struggling to liberate themselves. I was there and lived through it myself. And fortunately, I managed to find a happy balance. But these women were the extreme of radical conduct, from cheating on their husbands (with a lesbian), to physical violence. Perhaps the author’s intention was to show that Mira’s bad experiences with her friends in the first half of the book affected her so seriously that she went to the opposite extreme in choosing friends in the second half. I don’t know.
Overall, the book conveys an important message, and documents a historical time; the metamorphosis of the traditional American wife to the liberated independent woman.
Rated 4.5 Stars.
All contents © 2014 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.