Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319
Greer, a straight female college student who is the novel’s protagonist, undergoes a sea change after she is sexually assaulted at a fraternity party. Set in a fictional Connecticut school in the early 2000s, The Female Persuasion explores the contradictions of student experience as Greer and her lesbian friend, Zee, confront the hostile campus atmosphere and the administration’s apathy. Hoping for answers from pioneers of the second wave feminism movement of the 1970s–1980s, Greer meets Faith Frank, a guest speaker who authored an important book of the era. The chance encounter propels Greer, after graduation, into feminist activism at Faith’s New York non-profit organization.
The novel goes beyond a millennial coming-of-age tale. Faith’s backstory of emerging into feminist consciousness forms a significant component as well. The reader sees how Faith gained prominence in part through corporate sponsorship, ultimately crafting a kind of “feminism-lite” more palatable to well-to-do liberals (and potential donors).
Dissatisfied, or perhaps disillusioned, over Faith’s selling out, Greer must of course leave her political and intellectual surrogate mother. She finds, however, that locating herself on a feminist continuum, while others proclaim they are living in a post-feminist era, is a formidable challenge. Conventional success, in both personal and career terms, arrives—a baby daughter, a home in Brooklyn, a successful book—yet Greer is surprised to find herself sometimes feeling unfulfilled.
The reader as well may find Wolitzer’s critique unfulfilling, as it focuses on a narrow segment of female activists. The early threads of outspoken resistance to sexual misconduct and to its being condoned almost completely falls off the radar. Female consciousness also comes across as primarily a white feminist problem, and largely a heterosexual one as well, despite the inclusion of a lesbian character. Women and trans people of color rarely make an appearance. The novel often seems as stuck in the past as the character of Faith herself.
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