“What are we supposed to do? . . . About the way it is . . . the way it feels. Things like misogyny, which seems to be everywhere, kind of wallpapering the world, you know what I mean? It’s still acceptable in the twenty-first century, and why is that?”
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Published by Riverhead Books, 2018
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: It’s possible to read this one again, though I’m not sure I will.
Reviewed by Indiana
Meg Wolitzer tackled a lot in this novel. From intergenerational feminism to sexual harassment to corporate cronyism to relationships and death. There was also this crazy pressure on the book to shout out the zeitgeist of the moment for us, especially those living in the United States.
While I’m not sure it quite got to that level, I’m not entirely sure one book could really do that.
It follows Greer Kadetsky, who starts out as a quiet college freshmen, and Faith Frank, an older and rather famous feminist.
Greer is attending her “safety college” because her parents didn’t complete the financial aid forms needed to get her into her school of choice, which is much closer to where her boyfriend, Cory attends. So there’s a bit of bitterness there.
During her first frat party, Greer is assaulted in the most typical way possible by a frat guy and then insulted when she tries to fend him off. After she reports it, many other reports come out and it seems like this guy is an serial harasser. Greer and her faithful friend Zee, who has activist roots, protest the ruling against the harasser after he’s let off and told to just see a counselor. Their protests do nothing so when the pair hear that Faith Frank is in town, they run to see her. Well, Zee runs, Greer has to Google the woman before going to find out the basic facts of what she’s done for the feminist movement.
When Faith asks for a question, it’s Greer’s hand that shoots up into the air, asking “What are we supposed to do? . . . About the way it is . . . the way it feels. Things like misogyny, which seems to be everywhere, kind of wallpapering the world, you know what I mean? It’s still acceptable in the twenty-first century, and why is that?”
That question frames much of the story, as it does the minds of many women (and probably quite a few men) today.
What are we supposed to do?
Greer eventually gets the chance to work with Faith at a feminist-focused foundation in New York City. It’s backed by a corporation that’s done some slimy things in the past, but without the funding, the foundation wouldn’t function so they all deal with it.
Faith becomes a mentor to Greer, helping her to develop her voice and become more comfortable using it and challenging herself. It’s the sort of relationship many women want with their boss or with another woman in their life.
As all this is going on, Cory is dealing with a family crisis where he has to quit his high paying job in the consulting sector and care for his mom. He takes over her job as a cleaning woman and becomes her full time caregiver, spending his days with her and rarely, if ever, complaining about it.
It shatters his relationship with Greer, not so much that he’s taking care of his mother, but that he gives up on the idea of their relationship and needs space.
In a way, it’s a shining example of feminism there, as Wolitzer later points out. He’s not too proud to take over his mother’s old job as a cleaning woman and he never questioned whether or not he should do anything else besides take care of her.
Then there comes the story of Faith.
She sort of grew into the feminist movement, as many in the “second-generation” wave of feminism did. Growing up, her brother was allowed to go to college wherever he wanted. But she had to stay behind and live at home and abide by a strict curfew all throughout college.
She was expected to settle down after that, but instead she went to Las Vegas and worked as a cocktail waitress with her friend Anne.
Unfortunately, Anne gets pregnant and has a dangerous abortion that makes her hemorrhage.
At the hospital, she’s treated like dirt by the nurses and doctors for having an abortion and for having sex when she wasn’t married. She internalizes it and eventually becomes a politician working to dismantle Roe v. Wade, while Faith uses it as fuel to help fight for women’s’ right to access safe abortions and birth control.
Yet, even after she finds fame in the feminist movement, she struggles with leading a foundation funded by a corporation devoid of the best of intentions. When Greer finds out that the corporation lied about a mentorship program they said they were serving in Ecuador, and fundraising for, she immediately tells Faith. Greer expects her to do something dramatic like breaking away from the company. But Faith has no such plans and the two part ways on not the best of terms.
Like I mentioned, Wolitzer gets into a lot of issues.
I only gave the book a 3.5 rating because I felt like there were opportunities to explore those issues more clearly and bring in others, especially when it comes to women with skin colors other than white.