May 2011: I am 5 month pregnant. On the 14th it is all over the news. Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually assaulted and attempted rape against a hotel maid, Nafissatou Diallo, at the Sofitel in New York. What happened next is now history. I was overwhelmed. Why? Not because of the news itself but the comments and revelations that ensued. From Jack Lang explaining that no one died (“il n’y a pas mort d’homme”) to Jean-Francois Khan explaining that it was a mere “troussage de domestique” via revelations of the daily abuses lived through by female workers in the French Parliament I was suddenly staggered by how sexist my native country appeared.
I felt somehow responsible. Maybe I was belonging to a generation of young women who took feminism for granted. We did not build on what had been earned and let the term itself become a cuss word. That is how I decided to finally read The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, the Nobel-prize winning author. The book had been recently recommended to me by a dear friend. The main character, Anna Wolf, takes us through her life through five notebooks that talk about politics, marriage, divorce, expatriation and so much more. Through her and Molly, her friend, the reader discover the ups and downs of single mothers/divorced women/working women/politically engaged women…There is in between the two of them an infinity of characters. If some themes such as sexual freedom are not quite as groundbreaking today the book remains nevertheless current because of the multifaceted woman who is given a voice.
Doris Lessing throughout her lifetime did not want to be labeled a feminist. Feminism today tends to be understood as a girl power message that generally comes along with some Sex and he City style male bashing. In this respect, The Golden Notebook is not feminist. It is not a manifesto or an appeal to a sex war but just a wonderful insight into a woman’s life and thoughts. A subtle message conveyed clearly that has a truthful and lasting impact. A message that comes back to mind from time to time, that I now keep with me and that yet again made a reappearance this week when I read that Doris Lessing died at 94.
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ~ Doris Lessing