The Female Persuasion
Riverhead Books, 2018
There are a lot of things that fall into place for Greer Kadetsky in Meg Wolitzer’s new novel, The Female Persuasion. After a brief boomerang to her childhood home post-college, she lands her first, real job by pulling a business card out of her figurative back pocket. A prominent, Gloria Steinem-esque feminist, Faith Frank, handed it to Greer after a chance encounter during her freshman year at college, and Greer holds onto it until she graduates. When she finally calls this idol of hers, it doesn’t take long for the perfect job to appear, as a booker at Faith’s new feminist organization, a foundation so well funded, Greer’s starting salary affords her a studio in Prospect Heights.
Not only does Greer avoid fumbling and hustling her way through her twenties without a roommate, she has the comfort of a high school sweetheart that she miraculously stays in love with, and who stays mostly faithful to her throughout college, like a hetero unicorn.
Greer’s life seems charmed, while Faith’s is much more hard won, a vantage point of an older generation eyeing the younger one from a distance, and not necessarily in deference to it. Still, Greer’s career, even as she surpasses Faith’s success, is not extraordinarily different from her predecessor’s; the fact that her name evokes a famous feminist of the 70s just reinforces the continuum. So between these two women, not much new ground is covered—both are equally ambitious, talented voices of their particular waves of feminism.
Ostensibly, Faith, the female mentor, and Greer, her mentee, are the primary focus of the book. But these women are so weighed down by who they are supposed to represent—the faces of white female empowerment past and present—that they never really come to life off the page. It is actually Greer’s boyfriend Cory who is the most authentic, fully formed character here, particularly as he is tested by a family tragedy that alters his Princeton-educated trajectory (albeit briefly, because as mentioned earlier, everything falls into place for these characters).
That a man’s experience is the most moving piece of this very timely novel about the passing of the baton from a second wave feminist to a #MeToo Millennial seems curious at first. (Yes, Wolitzer wrote the book before the #MeToo movement erupted, but Greer is very much part of its percolation.) Cory, however, is the person who does the deepest soul searching within the predominantly middle class, Millennial world that Wolitzer has crafted, and his transformation speaks volumes about the progress feminists have made across genders. The fact that a man can enter a traditionally female sphere of work such as caregiving, as Cory does, without losing his “manliness” or desirability or pride is an enormous feat that has taken place in just the last generation. And Wolitzer’s examination of his experience and personal realization of the soft and hard power inherent in both men and women is what is most touching and worthwhile about The Female Persuasion.