Rating: 3 1/2 stars
|Picture from Goodreads|
I had a hard time getting into this book. Even after about 100 pages, I kept thinking...jeesh...300 more pages to go? Couldn't someone have edited this down some? But then things started to get interesting for me. While sometimes she'd be way over the top and I'd roll my eyes...other times she would hit upon parts of her life that resonated with me. I loved the stories about how she wanted to be a feminist but she was still learning and struggling with what that all entails. She wrote about always believing that girls were just as good as boys...chanting on the play ground from a young age "Girls Smart, Boys Fart." She also "made a point of reading hundreds of biographies of famous women, then sprinkled my dinnertime conversation" about them. Then she would hit up her dad for money and not understand the ironies of that. She writes that her dad told her "I just think it's cute how you call me a patriarchal oppressor, then fifteen minutes later, you hit me up for money so you can go to the movies."
One of my favorite bits was about her first job as a coffee barista. Her boss was always giving the girls advice on how to get married. In one story she faced the idea of hairy legs..."I was chewing over the remark about 'hairy-legged women's libbers.' I'd always shaved my legs, and what did leg hair have to do with wanting equal treatment under the law, anyway?" I loved the moments in the book that were like that. Moments that really illustrate how a girl wanting to be a feminist suddenly is struck with the idea that she might be doing something wrong! Or just not understanding at all what something like a hairy leg might imply or symbolize. Gilman also tends to exaggerate and be over the top with things so some of the stories or moments of enlightenment are quite funny.
I also think that her struggle with becoming engaged and married were interesting. So many of the women lit that I've read in the past all have to do with women shedding the confines of marriage. Stories where the women can't breath or can't be herself because of the social constrictions on who a woman can be. While reading those stories as a young woman, I just assumed that I wouldn't ever get married. I've always been rather stubborn and not always the most "think of the other person before you" person so I figured I just would go solo through life. It seemed easier almost. But things turned out a bit different for me when my boyfriend at the time went away for a semester to another country and I was stuck behind...absolutely MISERABLE. I didn't want to live apart from this guy, this best friend of mine ever again. As I grew up, matured, and learned more about who I am...I realized that marriage did not have to be a box that I had to contort myself into. It could actually be more freeing. BUT it still was strange for me to suddenly be talking about weddings, dish sets, and linens. And Gilman does an excellent job on telling that side of things. She writes, "But as a feminist, nothing was as daunting to me as getting engaged. Because as soon as Bob slipped the ring onto my finger, it was as if we were instantly catapulted back into 1956. Virtually overnight, people stopped treating us like individuals and began relating to us instead as a traditional Bride and Groom--sex roles as shallow and reductive as the symbols on public restrooms."
She also tells the hilarious story about how much she resisted the white wedding dress...until everyone twisted her arm and guilted her into trying one on. So she goes into David's Bridal...puts one on and refuses to take it off because it makes her feel so good. She writes, "As I stood there, something else occurred to me: why did it take so long to have this experience? Every woman should have this experience--and not only if or when she gets married. Every woman should see herself looking uniquely breathtaking, in something tailored to celebrate her body, so that she is better able to appreciate her own beauty and better equipped to withstand the ideals of our narrow-waited, narrow-minded culture."
I gave the book a 3 1/2 overall...but I think I'd give it a 4 1/2 for the last 150 pages or so. I think she really hit her stride there---or maybe I was just able to connect more with it.
One last part I loved...she wrote about how she felt when her and her husband move to Switzerland. While I didn't move abroad...I did recently move 2000+ miles from my family and friends so I feel like its another country. She says..."Funny how glamorous stories about people going abroad always conveniently seemed to leave out this part--the unnerving schizophrenia of arrival--the panic you can feel in a strange city when you realize: whoa. This is it. You're not going home next week with a bagful of snow globes to hand out."
Lessons from this book: Embrace the contradictions! Don't be afraid to get everything right the first time. Be a life learner! (Insert other cheesy, motivating sayings!)