“Marriage accustomed one to the good things, so one came to take them for granted, but magnified the bad things, so they came to feel as painful as a grain in one’s eye. An open window, a forgotten quart of milk, a TV set left blaring, socks on the bathroom floor could become occasions for incredible rage. And something happened sexually in marriage–the swearing to forsake all others, despite its slight observance, had a profound effect. Some people felt trapped by it, impelled to assert what they called freedom. Some accepted it like a rein, and in the effort to avoid pain in the form of hopeless desire, cut off occasions of desire, avoided having long talks at parties with attractive members of the opposite sex. In time, all feeling for the opposite sex was cut off, and intercourse limited to the barest politenesses…. But something happened to you when you did that, a kind of death seeped up from the genitals to the rest of the body, till it showed in the eyes, the gestures, in a certain lifelessness.”
-MARILYN FRENCH, The Women’s Room
My class on sex and gender has taken me over a diverse and contemplative road. French’s book, The Women’s Room, was new to me, and required reading for the semester. Published in 1977 it somehow bypassed my tentative awareness of feminist anger at the time and yet remains a pertinent and interesting read. Within the early chapters I clearly saw aspects of my first marriage and the expectations imposed upon me as a woman.
On the one hand I was a homemaker, mother, and sexually available wife. I did all the childcare, cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, canning, lawn mowing, grocery shopping, and cheerleading. I didn’t have regular hours of work and leisure; I was expected to be there day and night for whoever needed me. On the other hand I was judged negatively by members of my then-husband’s family for staying at home. “Why don’t you get a job and contribute so he doesn’t have to work so hard?” I was asked this in various ways but always with the same condescending voice. I felt like nothing… and was valued at exactly that.
Despite the endless jobs I was doing as a homemaker, it was assumed I had nothing but free time. “Since you don’t work, can you pick up Dad?” “You’re at home all the time…can you watch our child for a couple of days?” And so it went. Until I left the marriage.
French’s fictional story walks a similar path to mine except her women characters became angrier over time. They too, ultimately left husbands and lover’s and came to rely on themselves. What I struggled with most was the caricatures of the men. Not a single man in the book escaped being selfish, deceptive, or dismissive, and I don’t believe that is true in reality. There are men who are loving and faithful, but for some reason or other relationships still fail. There are also women who are selfish, deceptive and dismissive.
French’s women were sex-maid-mothers easily disposed of once careers took hold and younger lovers appeared. And although I had a taste of that, I was strong enough to move on when enough was enough.
I was judged harshly by others for leaving my marriage, but I had to live in my own skin. I had two young children watching me navigate adulthood and I had no intention of letting them see me crumble. It wasn’t a male or female thing, it was a being responsible thing.
I asked my friend Claudia if she had read the book, and she said she had. “It was a time of women’s anger,” she said. Through Claudia’s insights I came to realize we need authors to shake up the status quo from time to time, to be the voice of the silent, and to shed light on cultural norms that are harmful. I would guess there are a lot of Baby Boomer women out there who have stories echoing those in The Women’s Room, and others who shrugged off society and cut their own path in this world. I would love to hear from you. Really.
I think that being angry when you discover an injustice is “normal” and understandable. I think staying angry can be an excuse. As long as a person stays angry, the need to change is not there, because, “I’M ANGRY!”
Anger is the most energizing of emotions and if we can learn to channel that energy into change . . . . the anger is used in the best possible way. There’s a Buddhist saying that I’m sure I will mangle, but it goes something like, “Hanging onto anger makes as much sense as hanging on to a burning coal to punish someone else.” I choose to drop my coal and sometimes that is work, but the alternative is not OK with me.
I totally agree. Anger eats the owner. Have you ever known people who get almost addicted to being angry? Or addicted to drama? I have. Everything in their lives revolves around the high emotional rush and the attention it brings. A person with chronic anger or drama is not one I enjoy being around. I prefer to be with people who have a positive energy and view.
The book was important in that it lanced a social boil and, as I said, I did see myself in some of the characters. As I was going through my divorce (in the 1980’s) I kept hearing that a woman with two children and a high school education wasn’t going to make it without a man, and what man would want a woman with two children? I was encouraged to either go back to my unhappy marriage or go on welfare. That only made me more determined to prove I could stand on my own. Anger wasn’t a part of my determination, but fear was. I needed to move on because I refused to fail my childern. Being a single mom was hard, but it was good too.
I really do believe that type of anger in a woman can be very developmental. If you feel nothing in the face of injustice . . . .?? The question then becomes what do I DO with this anger. You can spend your life holding the burning coal or use it for something good and healing.
I too felt that anger when a professor told me my goal of a Ph.D was a waste of time and I would be better served to get my Mrs. degree. It took me weeks to realize he didn’t know me, and, if he didn’t know me, why give him that power? That incident changed me for the good!
Don’t go to bed Angry and your relationship will thivre . Yeah, and what happens when you don’t get any sleep, because you’re always trying to resolve some issue that can wait? Going to bed Angry won’t kill you or your wife, but not getting any REM sleep will!