"I really don't want a divorce. What would my life be like without Gordy? What am I without him? With him I'm a somebody, I'm a doctor's wife...The only way to a decent divorce is through another man..."
Judy Blume published Wifey, the first of her novels for adult women, in 1978. She had left her husband and moved to New Mexico with her children just three years earlier. She says that the protagonist, Sandy, is not her, though they share similarities, and that the husband is not her ex, though she knew plenty like him. It takes place in the summer of 1970, and details a woman's crisis in her marriage and life when, with both her children away at camp for the first time, she discovers that she has no identity outside of wife and mother.
What fascinates me is that though it was written more than thirty years ago, this novel is very modern in its explicitness about women and sexuality, as well as in language. If I hadn't known when it was written, I would have sworn it was a period piece written in the last few years. But that's our Judy, right? Always pushing the envelope. She says in the introduction that its publication caused an uproar. I can imagine. She published this a year after Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself.
Blume was of that generation of women who witnessed the Women's Movement, yet were already ensconced in traditional marriages when it took off. They were able to take advantage of innovations like the pill, but they were far more likely to have come to their marriages virgins than their daughters would be. Divorce was becoming more and more common, yet it was still hard for a woman to make it on her own after a divorce, especially if she had never worked outside of the home.
Throughout the novel, Sandy keeps up a running inner dialogue with herself, the angel on her shoulder taking the voice of her mother. Sandy herself has no voice of her own. She went from her mother's house to her husband's, and readily admits that the only two decisions she has made on her own were voting for Kennedy and naming her daughter Jennifer. Her husband is emotionally unavailable and does not value her work in the home except when it doesn't live up to his expectations. Several male characters in the novel imply that their wives do nothing all day. They "work hard all day and just want to relax when they get home," forgetting that for their wives, there is no going home from work. These women are defined by their husbands, yet their husbands don't value their contribution to family. So the question that is asked is, who are they?
It's always dangerous to define yourself by one facet of your life. I am Trevor's wife, but I am also Maya's mother, and Karen's daughter and a stage director and a singer songwriter and Angie's best friend. The list goes on and on.
It's incredible to look back to only a generation or two ago, and think about how the concept of marriage has changed. Most people I know go into it seeing it as a partnership. How many couples our grandparents' age would have described their spouses as their best friend, as many of us are wont to do? I think that even today's stay at home moms would be able to define themselves outside of the constructs of their marriage and family.
So maybe what the Women's Movement gave us that is the most valuable, outside of control over our bodies and destinies, is control over our identity. The ability to say "I am _____" and make that happen.
The book also explores themes of religion and race, but I don't want to write a novel about a novel.
Wifey is the fifth book I've read as part of my 32 Before 33 goal to read 52 books before my next birthday. I'd definitely recommend it. Warning: Contains strong language and explicit sexuality.