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“The Womens Room” (1977) by Marilyn French. More Questions Than Answers

If you are looking for a good read, with an easy engaging style which keeps you interested in what happens next, laced with funny observational passages then “The Women’s Room” fits the bill. 

But the book is much more than this due to the over arching theme; the experiences of women in a Capitalist and therefore patriarchal Society. 

This is where my own confusion about gender politics comes to the fore. On the one hand it’s pretty obvious that women are second class citizens in our set up, and that life is a piece of cake in comparison if you are a man. But why does this state of affairs exist, and what do we do to change things? 

On the one hand there is the pro active approach where you look at weighting things, albeit temporarily to even the numbers up e.g. in Parliament with women only short lists, or in the workplace where you could actively aim to recruit more women, especially in Management positions to encourage more females to go for the top jobs as everyone could then see that gender is no barrier to progress. 

But on the other side it could be said that this just produces resentment, and in itself is a patronising form of discrimination. 

Witness a senior Labour Party Officer’s reaction when asked to be in a photo shoot aimed at women voters. She was horrified. I could see how passionately she objected to being asked such a thing. She has spent her life in politics wanting to be accepted and listened to for her ideas and opinions in an equal setting, not because she is a woman. The flip side being that the member concerned was genuinely aiming to make the Labour Party attractive to women who may be put of by the machismo surrounding politics. 

This book left me feeling rather depressed about the lot of women as the author seems to define every aspect of a woman’s life against the expectations of men, be it choice of partners, how daily life rubs along, how women dress right down to their sexual fantasies, it’s all about men. 

Maybe there is a reason for this. Maybe expectations in the lives of women are conditioned by men. Thus the woman who stays at home to raise the kids is only doing so because Society deems that this is the best way. I don’t know. 

French, I think has a very low view of men and indeed on page 216 when she admits; “It is difficult for me to call others bigots, when I am one myself… men are rotten and women are great”. She later goes on the rampage by declaring that, “All men are potential rapists”, and insists that us lads only look at our relationships with women at all levels through the lens of how much we want to penetrate them (her words). 

And yet the characters are not dungaree wearing, de odorant avoiding hairy lesbians. The one problem with all of them, however is that we never get to hear them without it relating to men. Infuriating. 

Nevertheless, despite raising more questions than answers, at least The Women’s Room encourages reflection on the status of women in Society, and because the narrative is so well written it’s well worth a read just for the story.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


One thought on ““The Womens Room” (1977) by Marilyn French. More Questions Than Answers

  1. You say “it’s pretty obvious that women are second class citizens in our set up,”

    Can you back this up as I disagree.

    Posted by Richard | March 27, 2011, 6:37 pm

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