Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook

Feminist manifesto in 2008…?

I’m just going to say it: even though I can occasionally relate to Anna, I don’t like her.  I don’t look up to her, and I’m not reading The Golden Notebook as a motivational feminist text.  Not that we’re necessarily supposed to like her.  My reaction says less to me about the success of Anna’s character than what feminism is “supposed” to mean right now.  In pop culture, a feminist role model is more independent, less fazed, less inward, less…flawed.  Tougher.  The stereotypical (white, affluent) feminist of yesteryear, the feminist that came after the publication of TGN, was way more touchy-feely, victimized, tortured, and Anna-like.  Mistrustful of and betrayed by men.

I realize that the former characterization is unrealistic, but I’m only admitting that by rejecting Anna I’ve subconsciously absorbed a different feminist stereotype now–the Superwoman.  Younger women are told, “Girl Power!  You can do anything.  You can have it all!”  It’s this (sometimes naively) defiant message, influenced by Third Wave, co-opted by people like Sarah Palin and the Spice Girls.  Mainstream feminism as an industry, as an image and ethos in 2008, does not include someone like Anna.  Molly, maybe.

Sometimes this pisses me off, because I think, “Just because a woman is a feminist doesn’t mean she can’t feel depressed, that she has to keep it together always.  So much pressure to be Ms. Perfect!”  But being depressed constantly about men and love doesn’t resonate to me.  On the whole, self-esteem has infiltrated feminism at least as a goal, if not a complete reality.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see my gut response less as a personal reaction and more as evidence of a changing, overcompensatory definition of “feminist” or for that matter “strong woman,” “independent woman,” etc.  What does everyone else think?

Author avatar

Nona Willis Aronowitz
on December 11th, 2008 at 6:24 pm

One Comment

  1. Lenelle Moïse January 6th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I’m with you, Nona. As someone who came of age in the binary-busting, Third Waving 90s, it’s hard for me to accept Anna as a feminist prototype, never mind a role model.

    When people talk about TGN as a feminist text, do they really just mean that it’s a book that claims a “war between the sexes?” Is that war still being waged? Do WOMEN struggle with MEN or do ALL PEOPLE struggle with and suffer under the hyper-capitalist, imperialist patriarchy? The whole “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars” thing never did it for me. But maybe it would have done it for me in the 70s?

    TGN is certainly about a woman who feels disempowered. And yes, today’s pop feminism is promotes a somewhat elusive girl power. But I long for a popular movement (and book!) that questions and disrupts our obsession with power all together.