I know that women are more likely to get pregnant after falling in love, and that they are less likely to find satisfaction with their sex lives than men, but, nay. I never considered this, until I came upon this scenario of the great feminist intellectual Joan Didion:
I never considered that my destiny was to become a feminist.
Please note that she never considered not becoming a feminist in response to discovering that her destiny was to become a feminist. Instead, Didion decided, NOPE,
I would become a feminist.
She never gave serious thought to what this might mean in terms of romance.
Not because her passion for literature and nonfiction in the arts were not sufficiently diversionary to interest her, but because her life was too reserved and her inhibitions were too universal to complicate matters. She never admitted to any particular attraction to good men, though she did remark that “there is a certain symmetry of reason [with most of her men] who are thoughtful and loving – although they are not complete aesthetes. They are kind and sympathetic, and until very recently they have been lucky in their timing.” She never confessed herself jealous, angry, hungry or possessive. She was never in pain.
When she did write novels, her characters were women who had made a brave decision to renounce old habits and embrace new ones. She never referred to feminism as some powerful male movement, although in retrospect, she could see that she influenced a generation of women through her characters and ideas. Some of the characters in her novels appeared to have been specifically named after famous feminists – Connie Mackney, for example, in The Group.
An example of her use of politics as a sexless trope: Connie Mackney hated women, but she fell in love with the absolute and absolute power that came from being a mayor. What the hell, Maggie Hirschtag’s friend in the novel was really Connie Mackney, the politician, but the official rumor was that she was related to Maggie because her mother married Maggie’s father. Today, this kind of canard would earn the woman an imprisonment term, but in her time it was just old-fashioned white feminism.
I used to think, like Didion, that keeping a level head in a romantic drama was all that was needed to gauge a women’s success or failure. We can count on them to have a sense of decorum, not to say propriety. Okay, OK, I’m just imagining all this, so please forgive me. But I recently read a piece in which the distinguished anthropologist Mary Beard revealed that she was absolutely revolted by popular rock ‘n’ roll music. She then proceeded to compare all rock bands to rapists. Which is to say, she chose her words very carefully. These are powerful and well-educated women who are condemning all men to an existence in prison simply because they’ve chosen music to sing.
This story sits right in the middle of a much larger conversation about freedom and men and feminism. Go back to the Didion v Freud essay and its quip about men being allowed to dream about cheese on toast and not have to be reminded when their mother took him out for one too many pints. It seems to me that, in terms of denial of human agency, it’s impossible to go far beyond giving excuses. What women and men don’t seem to have in common is the sense that deciding on your own terms means you might have learned something from a life with far more freedom than an unsatisfactory marriage.