This tantalizing headline, from the February 17th edition of The New York Times, led me to further reflection on the role of education in the lives of girls, and subsequently, women.
I was, fortunately, living in New York City at the crest of what we later learned to call “Second Wave Feminism”—it was just the movement for women’s liberation, then, without a past but, we believed, with a long future.
I was married with three small sons then, and the discussions about gender were more congenial to me than the groups that confronted the problems heterosexual relations posed for women committed to some form of the revolution. I didn’t know that later-named “radical feminists”—anyone involved in social change is inevitably a radical—had written that sex took too much time and energy from the cause and was ultimately irrelevant.
I didn’t think it was irrelevant but I certainly knew how profoundly distracting it was. Anyone married with children can’t escape knowing that.
At that point, I wasn’t thinking of the alternative view of a woman’s life that had been shown to me as a schoolgirl. But that alternative view was lodged in my bones. I had seen that single women could be productive, fruitful and fulfilled without marriage and children; I had experienced at firsthand their energy, their zest. It took a while for me to make the connection, but when I did I knew the truth of what Judith Levine called in her 1992 book, My Enemy, My Love, “Man-hating…necessary, liberating and productive—and anyway, irrepressible.”
Those were more free-wheeling times than we have experienced since, and they are not likely to return. Man-hating is not an opinion, or a feeling, or a choice that would be acceptable anywhere and by anyone today. And perhaps that is the way it should be. Although I have for brief periods hated individual men, I’ve always regretted it. And it has never occurred to me to hate all men, which would, of course, have to include my sons.
But there is more to be said. A long-ago published and forgotten novel of mine, Upstate, will be included in a collection of my writing to be published by the redoubtable Sarabande Books in September 2020. This will be the first time I’ve had two books published in the same year, the other being Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke. Doris was seldom able to express anger, except at explosive moments she probably regretted—the fate of all women who suppress what are called “negative emotions.”
The heroine of Upstate suffers from the same far too familiar repression. As a result, her action at the end of the book is so violent and terrifying that a long-ago agent persuaded me to write an afterword showing her going to a psychiatrist to get “straightened out.”
That afterword will not appear in the new edition.