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The Female Persuasion


The Female Persuasion

Much has been written, especially lately, about the generation gap between second-wave feminists (the generation that fought for abortion rights and the ERA, among other things) and today’s crop of feminist activists, who are much more concerned with the intersectional nature of identity and who have been known to call out the second-wave movement’s leaders for being exclusionary and unaware of their own privilege.

Many of these debates reside, implicitly or explicitly, in the background of Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, THE FEMALE PERSUASION, a complicated but richly told story of women’s mentorship, disillusionment and recovery, all told in the context of the evolving feminist movement over the past 50 years.

The book centers on two activists: Faith Frank, editor of Bloomer magazine (sort of a scrappier Ms.), and her protégé, Greer Kadetsky, a studious but quiet young woman who is spurred to activism when her much more outspoken friend, Zee, drags her along to an appearance by Faith on their college campus during freshman year. A chance encounter with this accomplished, charismatic woman inspires Greer --- who harbors ambitions to become a writer --- to reach out to Faith after graduation and land an interview at Bloomer.

"The personal is political, as they say --- and in the case of Wolitzer’s latest, she adeptly illustrates how the two overlap, sometimes messily."

Little does she know, though, that Bloomer is about to fold, and instead Faith offers Greer a position at her new project, a foundation called Loci that’s funded by a private (and ethically ambiguous) investor. Faith promises that it will help raise the profile of women’s issues and take action on some of the most pressing topics affecting women’s lives worldwide, from education to sexual violence to human trafficking.

At first Greer loves her job, not to mention the opportunity to interact daily with Faith. But soon, the evolving organization has affected not only Greer’s self-image but also her relationships with Zee, her longtime boyfriend Cory, and Faith herself. In narratives that travel forward and backward in time --- including Faith’s own start in the women’s movement, as well as Greer’s childhood and adolescence, and Zee’s post-college disillusionment and eventual redemption --- Wolitzer offers a rich and nuanced portrait of the complexity of women’s lives, particularly their personal friendships and professional mentoring relationships.

At times, Wolitzer seems to be trying a little too hard to engage with real-world events, however flippantly (a clear spoof on is called Fem Fatale; Loci’s high-end, celebrity-studded events are clear jabs at the much-maligned Goop Summit and its ilk). But overall, THE FEMALE PERSUASION has much to offer to readers --- especially those who will have seen this evolution in the feminist movement play out in real time, in their own lives. The personal is political, as they say --- and in the case of Wolitzer’s latest, she adeptly illustrates how the two overlap, sometimes messily.

The novel’s final chapter --- which resolves a romance plot and reveals both Greer and Zee’s ultimately hopeful outcomes --- is set in the near future, in a world where the feminist movement is, as always, adjusting to the ever-changing shape of women’s lives and the political forces that mold them.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 5, 2018

The Female Persuasion
by Meg Wolitzer

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594488401
  • ISBN-13: 9781594488405