Sunday, 23 October 2011

Destiny's Woman

On a recent, long plane flight, I read The Marriage Plot (Jeffrey Eugenides), and found a few sentences of interest. If I were an underliner, I would have underlined these, both on the same page of the novel:
Madeleine worried that there was something paradigmatic in this, that she was destined to go through life being cowed by less capable men.
and
Phyllida's hair was where her power resided.
OK, I stand corrected about hair and power.

The first quote is interesting, in part because of the use of the word "destined". Is Madeleine worried about being cowed by less capable men because she can't do anything about it, or because she won't do anything about it? Either way, she has a sense of foreboding that this might be a feature of her life.

But why would it be a feature of the life of a young woman like this character in the novel -- an intelligent, literature-loving, Ivy-league graduate?

Have any of you ever felt that way, particularly early in your academic career?

I never felt that I was destined to go through life cowed by less capable men, but I did worry that I was destined to have lots of experiences in which I was automatically assumed to be less capable than less capable men, just because I am a woman. And in fact, this has been my destiny.

I have met this destiny, and it was mine, but that was then, this is now.

I got older. Some of the less capable men fell by the wayside, some are still around and doing well. All of this matters less and less to me as I get older and have more freedom and confidence in my work.

Even so, I liked the sentence in the novel because it captures a feeling you can have, particularly when you are young, about how things might go in the future, in part because you do not have super-human confidence in yourself and in part because life is unfair and strange.

Just don't be cowed. You don't have to be cowed. Just say no to being cowed. Or, if you are cowed now and then, OK, that happens, but don't let it be your destiny.

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