Quotes from The Women's Room

Marilyn French ·  526 pages

Rating: (6.6K votes)


“There was no justice, there was only life. And life she had.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“She drowned in words that could not teach her how to swim.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“Later, she would remember these years, and realize with astonishment that she had, by fifteen, decided on most of the assumptions she would carry for the rest of her life: that people were essentially not evil, that perfection was death, that life was better than order and a little chaos good for the soul. Most important, this life was all. Unfortunately, she forgot these things, and had to remember them the hard way.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“I have opened all the doors in my head.
I have opened all the pores in my body.
But only the tide rolls in.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“What is a man, anyway? Everything I see around me in popular culture tells me a man is he who screws and kills. But everything I see around me in life tells me a man is he who makes money.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



“S and M is only the expression in the bedroom of an oppressive-submissive relation which can happen also in the kitchen or at the factory, can happen between people of any gender. There is obviously something titillating about these relationships, but it isn't the sexual components that makes them ugly, they're uglier elsewhere. Nothing sexual is depraved. Only cruelty is depraved, and that's another matter.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“The breakdown of the neighborhoods also meant the end of what was essentially an extended family....With the breakdown of the extended family, too much pressure was put on the single family. Mom had no one to stay with Granny, who couldn't be depended on to set the house on fire while Mom was off grocery shopping. The people in the neighborhood weren't there to keep an idle eye out for the fourteen-year-old kid who was the local idiot, and treated with affection as well as tormented....So we came up with the idea of putting everybody in separate places. We lock them up in prisons, mental hospitals, geriatric housing projects, old-age homes, nursery schools, cheap suburbs that keep women and the kids of f the streets, expensive suburbs where everybody has their own yard and a front lawn that is tended by a gardener so all the front lawns look alike and nobody uses them anyway....the faster we lock them up, the higher up goes the crime rate, the suicide rate, the rate of mental breakdown. The way it's going, there'll be more of them than us pretty soon. Then you'll have to start asking questions about the percentage of the population that's not locked up, those that claim that the other fifty-five per cent is crazy, criminal, or senile.
WE have to find some other way....So I started imagining....Suppose we built houses in a circle, or a square, or whatever, connected houses of varying sizes, but beautiful, simple. And outside, behind the houses, all the space usually given over to front and back lawns, would be common too. And there could be vegetable gardens, and fields and woods for the kids to play in. There's be problems about somebody picking the tomatoes somebody else planted, or the roses, or the kids trampling through the pea patch, but the fifty groups or individuals who lived in the houses would have complete charge and complete responsibility for what went on in their little enclave. At the other side of the houses, facing the, would be a little community center. It would have a community laundry -- why does everybody have to own a washing machine?-- and some playrooms and a little cafe and a communal kitchen. The cafe would be an outdoor one, with sliding glass panels to close it in in winter, like the ones in Paris. This wouldn't be a full commune: everybody would have their own way of earning a living, everybody would retain their own income, and the dwellings would be priced according to size. Each would have a little kitchen, in case people wanted to eat alone, a good-sized living space, but not enormous, because the community center would be there. Maybe the community center would be beautiful, lush even. With playrooms for the kids and the adults, and sitting rooms with books. But everyone in the community, from the smallest walking child, would have a job in it.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“You think I hate men. I guess I do, although some of my best friends...I don't like this position. I mistrust generalized hatred. I feel like one of those twelfth century monks raving on about how evil women are and how they must cover themselves up completely when they go out lest they lead men into evil thoughts. The assumption that the men are the ones who matter, and that the women exist only in relation to them, is so silent and underrunning that ever we never picked it up until recently. But after all, look at what we read. I read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein and Freud and Erikson; I read de Montherlant and Joyce and Lawrence and sillier people like Miller and Mailer and Roth and Philip Wylie. I read the Bible and Greek myths and didn't question why all later redactions relegated Gaea-Tellus and Lilith to a footnote and made Saturn the creator of the world. I read or read about, without much question, the Hindus and the Jews, Pythagoras and Aristotle, Seneca, Cato, St.Paul, Luther, Sam Johnson, Rousseau, Swift...well, you understand. For years I didn't take it personally.
So now it is difficult for me to call others bigots when I am one myself. I tell people at once, to warn them, that I suffer from deformation of character. But the truth is I am sick unto death of four thousand years of males telling me how rotten my sex is. Especially it makes me sick when I look around and see such rotten men and such magnificent women, all of whom have a sneaking suspicion that the four thousand years of remarks are correct. These days I feel like an outlaw, a criminal. Maybe that's what the people perceive who look at me so strangely as I walk the beach. I feel like an outlaw not only because I think that men are rotten and women are great, but because I have come to believe that oppressed people have the right to use criminal means to survive. Criminal means being, of course, defying the laws passed by the oppressors to keep the oppressed in line. Such a position takes you scarily close to advocating oppression itself, though. We are bound in by the terms of the sentence. Subject-verb-object. The best we can do is turn it around. and that's no answer, is it?”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“What I don't understand is where women suddenly get power. Because they do. The kids, who almost always turn out to be a pile of shit, are, we all know, Mommy's fault. Well, how did she manage that, this powerless creature? Where was all her power during the years she was doing five loads of laundry a week and worrying about mixing the whites with the colors? How was she able to offset Daddy's positive influence? How come she never knows she has this power until afterward, when it gets called responsibility?”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“I've known for a long time that hypocrisy is the secret of sanity. You mustn't let them know you know.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



“It would be hard to get statistics on violent death -- what do you count as murder? When people starve to death because of policies of governments and corporations, is that murder? Nature does a fair amount of murdering itself, which is why this whole notion of dominating nature arose: it was one of those things that seemed a good idea at the time. No one ever believes a cure will prove worse than the disease. And maybe it isn't. An invasion of microbes that destroys a body could also be called murder. All deaths are violent deaths, I suppose.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“But communes are a good idea. People criticize communes because they don't last, but why in hell, will you tell me, should they last? Why does an order have to become a permanent order? Maybe we should live one way for some years, then try another.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“One advantage to being a despised species is that you have freedom, freedom to be any crazy thing you want. If you listen to a group of housewives talk, you'll hear a lot of nonsense, some of it really crazy. This comes, I think, from being alone so much, and pursuing your own odd train of thought without impediment, which some call discipline. The result is craziness, but also brilliance. Ordinary women come out with the damnedest truth. You ignore them at your own risk. And they are permitted to go on making wild statements without being put in one kind of jail or another (some of them, anyway) because everyone knows they're crazy and powerless too. If a woman is religious or earthy, passive or wildly assertive, loving or hating, she doesn't get much more flak than if she isn't: her choices lie between being castigated as a ball and chain or as a whore.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“They leave the genitals off Barbie and Ken, but they manufacture every kind of war toy. Because sex is more threatening to us than aggression. There have been strict rules about sex since the beginning of written rules, and even before, if we can believe myth. I think that's because it's in sex that men feel most vulnerable. In war they can hype themselves up, or they have a weapon. Sex means being literally naked and exposing your feelings. And that's more terrifying to most men than the risk of dying while fighting a bear or a soldier.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“She could envision Shakespeare's sister. But she imagined a violent, an apocalyptic end for Shakespeare's sister, whereas I know that isn't what happened. You see, it isn't necessary. I know that lots of Chinese women, given in marriage to men they abhorred and lives they despised, killed themselves by throwing themselves down the family well. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. I'm only saying that isn't what usually happens. It it were, we wouldn't be having a population problem. And there are so much easier ways to destroy a woman. You don't have to rape or kill her; you don't even have to beat her. You can just marry her. You don't even have to do that. You can just let her work in your office for thirty-five dollars a week. Shakespeare's sister did...follow her brother to London, but she never got there. She was raped the first night out, and bleeding and inwardly wounded, she stumbled for shelter into the next village she found. Realizing before too long that she was pregnant, she sought a way to keep herself and her child safe. She found some guy with the hots for her, realized he was credulous, and screwed him. When she announced her pregnancy to him, a couple months later, he dutifully married her. The child, born a bit early, makes him suspicious: they fight, he beats her, but in the end he submits. Because there is something in the situation that pleases him: he has all the comforts of home including something Mother didn't provide, and if he has to put up with a screaming kid he isn't sure is his, he feels now like one of the boys down at the village pub, none of whom is sure they are the children of the fathers or the fathers of their children. But Shakespeare's sister has learned the lesson all women learn: men are the ultimate enemy. At the same time she knows she cannot get along in the world without one. So she uses her genius, the genius she might have used to make plays and poems with, in speaking, not writing. She handles the man with language: she carps, cajoles, teases, seduces, calculates, and controls this creature to whom God saw fit to give power over her, this hulking idiot whom she despises because he is dense and fears because he can do her harm.
So much for the natural relation between the sexes.
But you see, he doesn't have to beat her much, he surely doesn't have to kill her: if he did, he'd lose his maidservant. The pounds and pence by themselves are a great weapon. They matter to men, of course, but they matter more to women, although their labor is generally unpaid. Because women, even unmarried ones, are required to do the same kind of labor regardless of their training or inclinations, and they can't get away from it without those glittering pounds and pence. Years spent scraping shit out of diapers with a kitchen knife, finding places where string beans are two cents less a pound, intelligence in figuring the most efficient, least time-consuming way to iron men's white shirts or to wash and wax the kitchen floor or take care of the house and kids and work at the same time and save money, hiding it from the boozer so the kid can go to college -- these not only take energy and courage and mind, but they may constitute the very essence of a life.
They may, you say wearily, but who's interested?...Truthfully, I hate these grimy details as much as you do....They are always there in the back ground, like Time's winged chariot. But grimy details are not in the background of the lives of most women; they are the entire surface.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



“What are you so angry about?" my mother had asked me the last time I had gone home to visit.

Why aren't you more angry, I had wanted to ask her. But I couldn't talk to my mother that way. She understood that I did not want to live her life, to work as a waitress, until my toes curled in and my feet hurt all the time, to marry a man who would beat my children and treat me as if I had no right to object to object to anything he chose to do. She didn't want that life for me either. She wanted me happy and successful, to live unafraid among people who loved me, and to do things she had never been able to do and tell her all about them.

So I told her, about the shelter, the magazine, readings and discussion groups. I told her about trying to write stories, though I hesitated to send send her all that I wrote. And there were far too many times when I would sit down to write my mama and stare at the paper unable to puzzle out how to explain how urgent and unimportant it was to change how women's lives were shaped. Not only that we should be paid equal money for equally difficult work, but that we should genuinely begin to think about what word we might choose to undertake, how we might live our daily lives. Why should I have to marry at all? Or explain myself if I chose to love a woman? Why could I not spend my hours writing stories instead of raising children or keeping house or working some deadly boring job just to cover the rent of an apartments where I was not safe anyway.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“When a man loses superiority, he loses potency. That's what all this talk about castrating women is about. Castrating women are those who refuse to pretend men are better than they are and better than women are. The simple truth — that men are only equal — can undermine a culture more devastatingly than any bomb. Subversion is telling the truth.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“Fear and desire for pleasure. Aggressiveness comes out of fear, predominantly, and sexuality predominantly out of the other. But they mix in the middle. Anyway, both of these impulses can destroy order, which comes out of both drives, and which is another human need I haven't yet fit into my scheme. So both have to be controlled. But in fact, despite religious commands to the contrary, aggressiveness has never really been condemned. It's been exalted, from the Bible through Homer and Virgil right down to Humbert Hemingway. Have you ever heard of a John Wayne movie being censored? did you ever see them take war books off the bookstands? They leave the genitals off Barbie and Ken, but they manufacture every kind of war toy. Because sex is more threatening to us than aggression. There have been strict rules about sex since the beginning of written rules, and even before, if we can believe myth. I think that's because it's in sex that men feel most vulnerable. In war they can hype themselves up, or they have a weapon. Sex means being literally naked and exposing your feelings. And that's more terrifying to most men than the risk of dying while fighting a bear or a soldier. Look at the rules! You can have sex if you're married, and you have to marry a person of the opposite gender, the same color and religion, an age close to your own, of the right social and economic background, even the right height, for God's sake, or else everybody gets up in arms, they disinherit you or threaten not to come to the wedding or they make nasty cracks behind your back. Or worse, if you cross color or gender lines. And once you're married, you're supposed to do only certain things when you make love: the others all have nasty names. When after all, sex itself, in itself, is harmless, and aggression is harmful. Sex never hurt anyone.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“...the words of Pyotr Stephanovich come into my mind: You must love God because He is the only one you can love for Eternity.
That sounds very profound to me, and tears come into my eyes whenever I say it. I never heard anyone else say it. But I don't believe in God and if I did I couldn't love Him/Her/It. I couldn't love anyone I thought had created this world.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“All men are rapists, and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, their codes.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



“and I'd die of his emptiness even more than I'm dying of my own.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“In Harlem the government pushes heroin to keep the blacks down and doctors by the thousands give barbiturates and tranquilizers to all the housewives: keep the natives quiet. when the drugs don't work anymore, they put the blacks in jail and us in here. Don't make noise. I read a poem once, it had a line, something like 'You keep stiller when every time you move something jangles'.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“In Russia they put you in insane asylums if you disagree with the state: it's not so different here. Keep the natives quiet.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“My feelings about men are the result of my experience. I have little sympathy for them. Like a Jew just released from Dachau, I watch the handsome young Nazi soldier fall writhing to the ground with a bullet in his stomach and I look briefly and walk on. I don't even need to shrug. I simply don't care. What he was, as a person, I mean, what his shames and yearnings were, simply don't matter.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“Pride. You have it where you can have it.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



“She felt her wrists, her arms, rubbed her hand over her breasts, her belly, her thighs. She was warm and smooth and her heart beat calmly, fine pulsing energy was being driven through her, she could walk, she could talk, she could feel, she could think. And suddenly it was all right, the past, even if it was all wrong, because it had freed her, it had placed her here, still alive, more alive than she had been since the days long ago when she had taken off all her clothes and gone for a stroll to the candy store. There was no justice, there was only life. And life she had.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“But we all die, and all death is violent, the overthrowing of the state of life, so why did that year [1968]seem so terrible? Are King or Kennedy or some peasant folk in a village more important than the starved-out of Biafra, the names on the Detroit homicide list? Maybe I'm playing an intellectual game, marking out one year or two on a calendar as special in horror so I can add that they were also special in significance, and thus compensate for the horror, or even redeem it. Humans are fond of finding ways to be grateful for their suffering, calling falls fortunate and deaths resurrection. It's not a bad idea, I guess: since you're going to have the suffering anyway, you might as well be grateful for it. Sometimes, though, I think if we didn't expect the suffering, we wouldn't have so much of it.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“She was dizzy with her own feelings, her own voice. She was flying around on a carnival machine that would not stop, she could not make it stop and she screamed and screamed.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“Some people use bullfights, some the Mass, some art in order to ritualize or transform death into life or at least meaning. But my terror is that life itself is a ritual transforming everything into death.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room


“I see us as all sitting around naked, shivering, in a huge circle, looking up as the sky turns black and the stars flare out and somebody starts to tell a story, claims to see a pattern in the stars. And then someone else tells a story about the eye of the hurricane, the eye of the tiger. And the stories , the images, become the truth and we will kill each other rather than change one word of the story. But every once in a while, someone sees a new star, or claims to see it, a star in the north that changes the pattern, and that is devastating. People are outraged, they start up grunting in fury, they turn on the one who noticed it and club her to death. They sit back down, muttering. They take up smoking. They turn away from the north, not wanting it to be thought that they might be trying to catch sight of her hallucination. Some of them, however, are true believers, they can look straight north and never see even a glimpse of what she pointed to. The foresighted gather together and whisper. They already know that if that star is accepted, all the stories will have to be changed. They turn suspiciously to sniff out any of the others who might surreptitiously turn their heads to peer at the spot where this star is supposed to be. They catch a few they think are doing this; despite their protests, they are killed. The things must be stopped at the root. But the elders have to keep watching, and their watching convinces the others that there's really something there, so more and more people start to turn, and in time everyone sees it, or imagines they see it, and those that don't claim they do.
So earth feels the wound, and Nature from her seat, sighting through all her Works, gives signs of woe, that all is lost. The stories all have to be changed: the whole world shudders. People sigh and weep and say how peaceful it was before in the happy golden times when everyone believed the old stories. But actually nothing whatever has changed except the stories.”
― Marilyn French, quote from The Women's Room



About the author

Marilyn French
Born place: in Brooklyn, The United States
Born date November 21, 1929
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