The portrayal of women in Steinbeck's novella is, indeed, disparaging. In fact, some critics interpret the role of Curley's wife in this narrative as that of the temptress, an Eve, who deters the men from attaining their Eden, the dream of owning a farm of their own, as well as drawing them away from the strength of brotherhood. It is also curious that the owner of the "cathouse" possesses a name identical to Lennie's aunt, thus placing a somewhat deprecatory suggestion about the integrity of Aunt Clara who has made no provision for Lennie. For, in Chapter Three, George explains to Slim,
"When his Aunt Clara died, Lennie just come along with me out workin'. Got kinda used to each other after a little while."
As simply a genitive of her husband, Curley's wife is given no name in Steinbeck's narrative. She is perceived mainly as the wife of the son of the boss and, therefore, someone to avoid lest he lose his job. Steinbeck refers to her as "a girl," yet she appears in the doorway of the ranchhouse as a veritable vamp in passionate red:
She had full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like sausages [phallic connotation]. She wore...red mules, on the instep of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers....She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the door frame so that her body was thrown forward....She smiled archly and twitched her body.
George discerns her seductiveness and notices that she shows her legs, as well. Referring to her as "jail bait," he cautions Lennie against even looking at that "b---." Later in the narrative, when she appears inside the barn, Crooks reacts with hatred and fear toward her, warding her off until she challenges him, using her whiteness against socially lower color. Certainly, she flirts with Lennie and tempts him by telling him to touch her soft hair, "Feel right aroun' there an' see how soft it is."
Clara and Susy and the girls at the cathouse
Away from the ranch, the prostitutes serve as mere objects of pleasure and release, women to be used for the men's own desires. While they provide a diversion for the men and carnal pleasure and release, these women also act as Eves in the sense that they deter men from saving their money and, sometimes, they create competition or conflict among the men--all of which distract them from the fraternity of men which provides comfort and strength.
In Chapter Three, Whit invites George and Lennie to accompany the others to Susy's place, which he describes as "a nice place." George simply asks him, "What's it set you back?" Whit explains that they can just drink if they do not "want a flop." He tells George that the men avoid Clara's place because she does not joke with them and has "goo-goos." In response, George says he and Lennie might have a drink, but they are not interested in wasting money on "the girls."