Monday, August 29, 2005

Little Women, Little Children, Little Sisters

After months of badgering from one of my friends, for the first time in my life I read Little Women. After Little Women, I read Little Children, at the request of Dean. Currently, I am reading Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. I never imagined that the three books could each say so much about the sociology of women's relationships with other women.
As almost everybody knows, Louisa Mae Alcott's epic Little Women tracks the adolescence of the four March sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Each of the girls has a very different personality to the extreme that I think any woman can see pieces of herself in all of the sisters. Meg, the gentle, domestic one, Jo, the firy tomboy, Beth, the fragile, sensitive one and Amy, the baby with a lot of learning to do. I know I saw myself in all these characters, especially Beth. The story tracks the girls over ten years while they find love, friendship, and themselves. While the story takes place during the Civil War the book remains a classic today because of its timeless themes. The girls learn hard lessons about money, society, marriage and grief. What I liked most about Alcott's writing was that just when I thought things seemed too simplified or sugar-coated she revealed a character flaw or a mistake one of the characters made. The girls fought like sisters but most of all supported each other. I have never read a biography of Ms. Alcott, but if I did I suspect it would read like Jo's life. She was by far the most multi-dimensional of the sisters. Even today this book provides little women everywhere with characters they relate to and situations they can brace themselves for all the while thinking, "what would the March sisters do?"
Little Children will be seen as Tom Perrotta's breakthrough novel, a satirical commentary on raising kids in suburban America. I loved this book. The main character is Sarah, a feminist, ex-lesbian turned stay at home mom. She goes from being a "tolerated" member of the neighborhood, conservative mom clique to being ostracized for spontaneously kissing a stay at home dad all the moms had a crush on. This kiss turns into an affair with the steroetypical high school jock, her first "good-looking boyfriend." Her affair reflects the changing face of feminism, acknowledging that we feminists refuse to be the high school cheerleaders, but that doesn't mean we don't want their boyfriends! Independent women are willing to be more honest about what they really want. It also accurately portrayed the "group mentality" of cliques. The way a woman can be outcast from a group for doing something everyone else is too scared to do. And the failure of those who disagree with the group to speak up. But overall, this book was hilarious. There were parts of relationships that Perotta hit right on the head, such as the point where the woman goes from wearing sexy lingerie to wearing odd-colored sweatpants. Most amazing was the moment the stay at home dad's wife figures out the truth. It wasn't through dialogue, or even intuition. It was by noticing that Sarah had her toenails painted a metallic blue, "the kind of color a trashy twelve-year-old would have loved, nothing you'd ever expect to find on the feet of a grown woman, the mother of a young child. You would have to be crazy to wear nail polish like that, or so deeply in love that you were beyond caring." Brilliant.
Pledged is my guilty pleasure of the month. Not passed down through generations or praised by the New York Times Book Review, but a page turner and a fascinating account of Greek life. I tried my damnedest at the Univeristy of Minnesota to avoid Greek life and all it entailed. I sensed the inherirent cattiness in the girls and the insincerity of the fratboys. Alexandra Robbins goes undercover to expose exactly what goes on in sororities. Basically, she asserts, everything you hear about sororities is true. The drinking, drugs, promiscuity, eating disorders, and date rape. The Greek system is a univeristy-endorsed system to openly discriminate against people solely on the basis of income, looks, style and even race. In this manner, socailizing becomes easy because people have a way of meeting other people who are "pre-screened" for these qualities. These really are the "trust-fund babies" as it is literally impossible for girls to pay their dues, and work part time to do so while still fulfilling their sorority obligations. This book really shows the group mentality that I mentioned earlier. Sororities hate other sororities, but even within their sorority there are cliques. Girls who can make other girls' lives a living hell. If the sorority doesn't approve of your new boyfriend (i.e. he is from the wrong frat) that relationship has no hope. The girls are emotionally and physically abused by their "sisters" and worst of all, they pay money to be treated like this. It is amazing the way women succomb to this behavior and find it easier to join in it rather than stand up against it.
This brings me to my paramount question. Why can't we all just get along? My profession is on average about 15% women. I have a couple of close women friends in the department, but by far some of the worst competition and judgement I have felt has been from females. The gossip, the jealousy the desire not to see another woman succeed can be overwhelming. And heartbreaking. Are we women really so territorial by nature? Or are we somehow taught to try our hardest to push others away? Sorry this is so long, but I think these are questions that are interesting to ask and definitely worth trying to answer.


mom said...

women! i have been at the same job for 17 years and have been the only hispanic woman (if not by birth by upbringing) in all that time. my world came crashing down on me about 6 months ago when we hired "nanci" (yes with an i) she is young (i'm not) skinny (no comment) speaks spanish (i don't) and is as cute as a button. she was born, bred and raised in the latin community. I HATED HER! and the worst thing is she's REALLY GOOD! when she found out my last name she started to come to ME with questions about the job. i found even i couldn't resist the big dark eyes and her innocent questions and puppy dog look. long story short i helped to get her an early raise AND i'm taking her out for her 21st birthday. women are funny and i'd like to think that i rose above my jealousy, but what really happened was that nanci (with an i) rose above my jealousy

Scott said...

It has to be a natural thing, because it is so prevalent. Guys reward the beautiful with comments and appraising looks, and women have learned to play up to it, while simutaneously resenting the game. Like any game, when a competitor plays it better we naturally rise up, but when someone is clearly better, then the only recourse is jealousy, and back door solutions to the problem.

Great post, and don't apologize for the length. I want to read the latter two books now, especially the one about female jealousy, because I have some first hand experience in that.

magnetbabe said...

What a great story. I'm glad you've found a way to live with Nanci. If you make an effort, time will fly by and before you know it, she'll be older with a slower metabolism. And in the meantime, she can teach you Spanish! (Just kidding!) And you are VERY skinny. When you take her out buy here a lemondrop for me!

You make some very good points. It's a catch-22. We can refuse to play the game and wind up losing by defualt or we can stoop to a lower level and play it despite our hypocrisy. Interesting stuff.

minnesota blue said...

I think you could give the New York Times book reviewers a run for their money. Great review

Hot4Teacha said...

I've never read Little Women, either, but now I'm thinking maybe I should. Although I will probably read the Frat Row one first, because I have always wanted proof that those bitches really ARE bitches.

magnetbabe said...

minnesota blue-
Thanks for the compliment.

Little Women was good. Just because it's written for people of all ages doesn't make it an easy read. If you read Pledged, just remember we had twice as much fun for free!