brilliant feminist theorist, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Women's Room
, died this weekend. She leaves a breathtaking body of work: novels, history, literary criticism, political theory.
The best obituary
I've read so far is in The Guardian.
I read The Women's Room at seventeen. I came across it on the bookshelf of a family friend. In the paperback cover pictured here, it looked pulpy, sensationalist. I thought it would be a titillating drama. The last thing I expected was a mindblowing polemical dissection of gender, power, marriage, academia, in 1970s USA. It knocked me off my feet. I devoured it clandestinely, when I was meant to be studying for exams. The Women's Room offered language and frameworks that my struggling, inarticulate feminist consciousness was ravenous for.
French is one of the writers I most admire, even when I disagree with her. Both for her productivity, and her courage. She took on huge projects, like a four-volume History Of Women In The World
, and completed them. She voiced, repeatedly, unpopular truths about gender, misogyny, and patriarchy, and did it brilliantly.
It irritates the hell out of me that some of the obituaries quote the line that was repeatedly taken out of context and used against her by anti-feminists. In The Women's Room
, a character called Val says to a friend, in grief and rage:All men are rapists.
She says that after
the man who raped her eighteen-year old daughter, at knifepoint, is acquitted. After months of battling the misogyny and indifference of the police and judicial system towards rape, and survivors of rape.
Any Kenyan woman in an IDP camp
would agree with her 200%.
It is a line spoken by a character in a novel
. It is repeatedly attributed to Marilyn French, without any contextualising information.
Oddly, none of the critics who take issue with this line ever quote from the passages on love in French's books. Powerful, visceral love between men and women. Depictions of erotic intimacy, emotional and sexual passion, that shock in their naked honesty, their vision of equality grounded in heart and body.
Her statement on pleasure and power
is one I quote with incredible frequency.
I am sad that I will never meet her in person.
Thank you, Marilyn. With all my heart.