Hearing that Marilyn French had died I picked up my furled and yellowed paperback of The Women's Room for a re-visitation.
I'd devoured it, age sixteen, as an angry emerging feminist. I can't remember how many times I reread the book, stunned and drowning in the future horrors that might lie in wait for me; drudgery, mopping, unwanted children, denied potential and extreme chauvinism. I looked about me, at the households I knew and saw some great female role models, but mostly I saw housewives, pretty happy it appeared to me on the surface, but, I asked myself, was Marilyn French revealing the murkier truths that would never be shared across the generations or across the garden fence, with a teenager?
Now, it somehow lacks the punch it did then. Once I was enthralled, engaged, furious. Now it has the feel of melodrama and soap. The pages don't turn as rapidly, the impact is cushioned. Is it because the tantrum teenager with fresh ideals is a matured cynical creature? Is it that I look back in almost disbelief at the tiny limiting box described and prescribed for women? I don't think so. I suspect instead that we all know more, have become worldly in what is probably an uncivilising manner, and are therefore increasingly unshockable by the smallness of most lives. And I don't like that. I preferred feeling the raw emotion that cascaded over the sixteen year old and the utter determination that I would never be that trapped in any mesh but that which I created for myself. Whether I avoided the sticky cobweb, who knows?