Review: The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

With her usual prescience for the zeitgeist, Meg Wolitzer begins her latest novel with an incident of sexual assault on campus. It’s 2006, and a young and naïve coed named Greer is groped at a frat party. At first she hesitates to act, then decides to take action, spurred on by her hero and mentor, a feminist writer and editor named Faith Frank. The relationship between the two women becomes the cornerstone of the narrative. And, as always, Wolitzer’s wit and common sense combine to look at the chasm between the ideal and the real. As the story unfolds, Greer ends up betraying her best friend, Faith betrays her own ideals, and Greer and Faith both end up betraying each other. But in the end, both women just carry on. Because that’s what good feminists do. The year 2019, in which the novel concludes, is described as a time when “Misogyny stormed the world now in an all-out, undisguised raid; few people would question its presence anymore.” But when the groper reappears at the end of the novel, unrepentant, Greer thinks:

“A man who degraded and threatened women made you want to do everything possible. Howl and scream; march; give a speech; call Congress around the clock; fall in love with someone decent; show a young woman that all is not lost, despite the evidence; change the way it feels to be a woman walking down a street at night anywhere in the world….She wouldn’t have to think anything physical or sexual about herself at all unless she wanted to. She could dress the way she liked. She could feel capable and safe and free, which was what Faith Frank had always wanted for women.”

Amen to that.