The New Feminism

The third section of Didion's The White Album, entitled "Women," explores "the new feminism" (p. 109) of the late '60s and examines the consequence of "'consign[ing] to breast-feeding and gourmet cooking'" (p. 112) a generation of educated women. Didion is unimpressed, viewing the movement as a '"romance' . . . of the chances for a new life in exactly the mold of their old life" (pp. 118) and by "admiring the radical simplicity of this instant transfiguration" (pp. 110) instead of supporting it, Didion distances herself from the movement, watching unenthused from the sidelines. Her heart wrenches "to read about these women and their brave new lives" (p. 118). Didion's prose betrays a tangible aura of pity towards this movement and its tendencies towards invented wrongs and proliferated "half-truths" (p. 115).

And then, at the exact dispirited moment when there seemed no one at all willing to play the proletariat, along came the women's movement and the invention of women as a "class." One could not help admiring the radical simplicity of this instant transfiguration. The notion that in the absence of a cooperative proletariat, a revolutionary class might simply be invented, made up, "named" and so brought into existence, seemed at once so pragmatic and so visionary, so precisely Emersonian, that it took the breath away, exactly confirmed one's idea of where nineteenth-century transcendental instincts, crossed with a late reading of Engels and Marx, might lead. To read the theorists of the women's movement was to think not of Mary Wollstonecraft but of Margaret Fuller at her most high-minded, of rushing position papers off to mimeo and drinking tea from paper cups in lieu of eating lunch; of thin raincoats on bitter nights. If the family was the last fortress of capitalism, then let us abolish the family. If the necessity for conventional reproduction of the species seemed unfair to women, then let us transcend, via technology, "the very organization of nature," the oppression, as Shulamith Firestone saw it, "that goes back through recorded history to the animal kingdom itself." I accept the universe, Margaret Fuller had finally allowed: Shulamith Firestone did not. [pp. 110-11]


1. How does Didion's reaction to the wave of new feminism compare with her reactions to the other revolutions (whether that of the Black Panthers or that of Caltrans) sprinkled throughout her prose?

2. What is the lyrical effect of inverting the conventional construction of referring to Marx and Engels as "Engels and Marx?"

3. How typical are Firestone's views in the cannon of feminist thought?

4. Does the accusation of not accepting the universe seem particularly damning?

Is the idea of transcending nature absurd?

5. Are the new feminists deserving of the pity Didion prescribes them?

Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

10 September 2007