In recent years, I’ve watched a very dear friend of mine undergo the experience of being someone no one knew to being someone Talked About Online, especially in feminist and political circles. She had been working as a writer for over a decade, slowly gaining an audience and finding her voice as a writer in the political sphere, when a well-known writer became one of her cheerleaders. It seemed like overnight, her star rose and famous people I followed on twitter were retweeting her articles positively and engaging with her online. Watching someone you’ve always known become known – watching her interview future presidential candidates and seeing her both lauded and attacked for her views – is a disorienting thing, because she and I still talk more or less every day about mundane things.
I thought about her a lot while reading The Female Persuasion, which puts Greer Kadetsky (shy, bookwork college freshman) in contact with Faith Frank (fictional feminist icon) and demonstrates what revolutionary things can happen if the right person sees us at the right time. At the intersection of their lives, Greer is having something of an awakening, related to her college’s mishandling of a serial sexual-assaulter on campus. Faith Frank helps focus Greer’s newfound anger in productive ways, then eventually hires her for a job that teaches Greer to both listen and find her voice. Yet there is always a catch – the people who we hold up as heroes have their own tremendous shortcoming, and Greer has to reckon with her disillusionment in Faith, especially as her star rises. Additionally, Greer has to deal with her own failings and shortcomings, especially as she reflects on the people she edged out when Faith’s spotlight shone on her.
What I loved was the humanity in this book. Through the perspective of five characters in Greer’s life (including Faith Frank), we see people doing their best to “be successful” in the world, and the variety of ways “being successful” really plays out. In simplistic terms, it is a book about finding your place, but also making room for others. Naturally, there is more to the book than just that, but after sitting with it for a few days, it’s what sticks in my heart.