Book Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

Your twenties were a time when you still felt young, but the groundwork was being laid in a serious way, crisscrossing beneath the surfaces. It was being laid even while you slept. What you did, where you lived, who you loved, all of it was like pieces of track being out down in the middle of the night by stealth workers.

Featuring the coming-of-age of a group of young people, predominately Greer and to a lesser degree her boyfriend Cory and her college friend Zee, The Female Persuasion highlights the myriad ways in which our experiences, both solitary and shared, influence the construction and cementing of our value systems, our world views and our authenticity.

Greer tried not to pay too much attention to her own femaleness; the world would do that for her. But her breasts did exist now—she was no longer boobless, as she’d been called outside the KwikStop—along with a tapering waist, and a vagina that menstruated in its secret, brilliant way each month, observed only by her. No one else knew what went on inside you; no one else cared.

For Greer, her path is carved out initially when she is brought by her friend Zee to a talk given by Faith Frank, a feminist idol whose trailblazing work and genuine personality captivate Greer and spark within her a desire to contribute as well as a unique sense of acceptance and camaraderie which she has so craved. Like a beacon, Faith serves to guide Greer from a remote place within Greer’s conscious until initiative and circumstance bring them together, further carving out Greer’s path and setting her on the track to gaining ownership of her own feminist belief system and builded a niche where she is able to build her own legacy.

Faith Frank hired me, originally, based on nothing. She took me in and she taught me things, and more than that she gave me permission. I think that’s what the people who change our lives always do. They give us permission to be the people we secretly really long to be but maybe don’t feel we’re allowed to be.

Each character exhibits the real balance of earnestness and imperfection that makes their individual struggles and triumphs all the more relateable. Wolitzer is careful not to venerate one character over another as each one is revealed to have a particular character flaw which in its own way serves to further advance the novel’s intention.

Feminism as a whole is explored, in both a positive ad negative light, highlighting the exclusive “girls club” it can sometimes become through Greer’s boyfriend Cory’s family obligations and life choices which themselves are criticised but are actually quite in line with the desire for gender equality that feminism advocates for. The particular and unique way in which women often cut each other down is also explored via multiple interactions between the story’s main characters-again highlighting a phenomenon that feminism guards against but is still so prevalent in today’s culture.

The Female Persuasion is both absorbing in its content and illuminating in its context. Timely and timeless, the lessons of Greer and friends are those that serve to commend and challenge the status of the feminist movement without losing sight of its importance. Ultimately, we learn that life is a series of mini-lesson through which multiple tributaries flow, endless options present themselves with each choice, and if one can only gain the courage to take up a sail the direction they are meant to head along will be revealed.

But she thought that maybe there has been as series of moments, and that this was the way it was for most people: the small realizations leading you first toward an important understanding and then toward doing something about it. Along the way, too, there would be people you would meet who would affect you and turn you ever so slightly in a different direction. Suddenly you knew what you were working for, and you didn’t feel as if you were wasting your time.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Riverhead Books.

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