Enlightening, empowering

Chika Anene found herself frowning, smiling, sighing with the protagonist in The Women’s Room.

The Women’s Room by Marilyn French is nothing like the books I have ever read. I found myself frowning, smiling, sighing, sympathising with the protagonist with each turn of the page.

French sheds light on some of the main issues which used to — and which still — dominate our society. Among these, the most-hated words for feminists: ‘patriarchy’ and ‘chauvinism’.  Following the life of the main character Mira and her circle of friends, readers are given an insight into the struggles of women, who despite education and university degrees, are treated like slaves in their  homes, at their workplaces, and in the society.

As Mira’s life advances, she discovers, through close contact with other women who face the same issues she does, that the world she thought she was living in — a world where women are in complete control of their own lives — doesn’t exist. Instead, women are subjects of blame. Mira is forced into an early marriage, forced to build a life where she is neither mentally nor sexually satisfied because of society’s pressure. Because of this, Mira becomes convinced there is something wrong with her. She describes her sexual deprivation as a turn on for her husband, as she believes men’s satisfaction is built on women’s dissatisfaction.

What makes Mira’s character so relatable is the fact that she is constantly trying to please everyone but herself, telling herself that if anything is wrong, it is her fault.  I identify with her character as I was once a person trying to avoid coming to terms with ‘reality’. I lived in denial of the things I was being confronted with, and pretended they simply weren’t there. Much like Mira, I would frown and feel uncomfortable about discussing certain things I knew were issues that needed to be dealt with.

One of the women Mira meets during later years — Valerie (Val) — tries to persuade her to accept that society is, and will forever be, against women. Val, who most of the females in Mira’s group of friends looked at as quite outrageous (mostly because she was so direct in her speech), seems the type who many are able to identify in their group of friends. What I like to think is that there is always one Val in any circle of friends; a strong individual who is very opinionated and independent, who is unafraid of speaking her mind, and who will not take ‘crap’ from anyone.

What made the women’s room so different from the others books I have read is the fact that it painted society in a whole different way. It was a society where what Val said was absolutely true, where society had no regard for women whatsoever and where women were left to fend for themselves. Although things have changed much since ‘the age of patriarchy’, there are still many places around the world where females are still looked down on. This discrimination is depicted in news such as that of a young girl who was shot by the Taliban as a result of wanting to attend school.

The reason behind the popularity of The Women’s Room is the fact that it addresses issues that society might think it is rid of, but in fact exist. It teaches readers to acknowledge the facts, but to become empowered by them, and to fight for the respect which so many women in the society deserve. The book teaches of women’s fears, anxieties, hopes, dreams, happiness and thoughts.  Even though many tend to ignore or forget that countless women still face oppression from the opposite sex, The International Day for eliminating violence against women approaches on the 25th November. Much like French’s book, it is meant to alert people about the issues of violence which thousands of women around the globe face daily, and to make it known that it is not acceptable.

The Women’s Room is a great read, with funny, sad and serious moments. Apart from being unable to keep track of all the names of the characters in the book, and the repetitive use of the ‘N’ word, I found it to be one of the most educative and entertaining books I’ve read in a while — a book that seeks to enlighten and empower female readers.

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