“Don’t let them see you happy, she whispered. Who? Everyone, she said wearily…Other women mostly.“
This quote comes from the epilogue, and are the final words said to Taddeo by her dying mum who is in hospital, riddled with cancer. The following quotes are also from the epilogue:
“Even when women are being heard, it is often only the right types of women who are actively heard. White ones. Rich ones. Pretty ones. Young ones. Best to be all those things at once.“
“So many of the fears about desire seem to be things we should have overcome years ago. We can say we want to fuck indiscriminately, but we cannot exactly say we expect to be happy.”
“On the evenings in Indiana that I spent listening to the roomful of women, there was a lot of camaraderie, a lot of quiet concern. But when Lina came to the room happy, when she came in from just having seen Aidan, those were the nights when the other women drummed their fingers and tried to drown out her glee.“
This book is important because of the research; because of the years of study; because of the dedication of the author to her study – moving house several times to be near her subjects; and because of the honesty of the stories told. These stories may sit uncomfortably with some, some may prefer that the stories were not so boldly told, or even told at all. And that is the point: allowing a voice.
It doesn’t matter that some of the choices would not necessarily be ‘our choices’ – they may well not have been the choices that some or any of these three women would have made, in their ideal world either, but each was dealing with the reality they had in front of them. No one here is asking for approval and no one is hiding, either. They are simply telling.
Maggie: her parents perennially drunk and arguing and struggling, so when she gets attention from an attractive teacher, while she is still his pupil… which leads to statutory rape;
or Lina: triple-raped one night while in high school, having been tricked into going to a ‘party’ by her then boyfriend. Her husband hardly ever touches her, when a married man ‘lavishes’ his lust upon her, whenever he is in town and when he is, she pushes her daily life off to one side, manically arranging afternoons off work, babysitters for her kids, desperate to see him..;
or Sloane: a successful restauranteur whose husband suggests she sleeps with other people so long as he can join in, or watch, or at least hear detailed reports back, with photos or videos.
The honest voice and the unblinking eye.
Oddly enough, it might be that the story that lives longest with me is that of Taddeo’s own mother. As she tells it, her mother worked on a fruit stall in the centre of town when she was in her late teens in Bologna, Italy just after the war. She would walk to work every day and on many of these days a middle-aged man would walk behind her down the street, openly masturbating as he followed this young woman. Day after day.
There is such a lot to think about in the book, whether on desire, the need for a voice/ to be heard, misogyny / patriarchy, the squalid business of ‘knowing your place’…all things I was expecting to hear about. The one thing I guess I was not prepared for was the disapproval of other women heaped on each of these three as their stories unfold, the uninhibited right to pass judgement, despite lacking so much information. That clearly says something about my expectations. And about how we live socially. We appear happy to have someone to step on; happiness (and judgement) in someone else’s misfortune.