While reading Florence Gordon I was struck by how many books there seem to be now about crotchety old people. Until I got into the story and then I changed my mind. Florence is seventy-five years old and a lifelong feminist. One who marched the marches, stood behind the microphones, wrote articles and books and held everyone accountable. She was Wonder Woman. Now she is being recognized, as she is writing her memoir, with a very good life achievement review in the New York Times. Suddenly she feels validated. She is being feted with lunches and speeches. But her health is also faltering. And so is her family, her son and his wife life on opposite coasts, her only grandchild dropped out of college for awhile. And now they are suddenly all in New York.
Florence is ill and chooses not to tell anyone about it. But her granddaughter knows something is amiss and volunteers to work for Florence as an assistant. What she learns about Florence is only because of her closer proximity. Her grandmother allows no outward expression to show. It’s through the research she does for Florence that Emily’s eyes are opened to what a force she has been for women’s rights.
And this is where I started to sit up straighter in my chair as I read. Because I was also reading in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine “The Origin Story of Wonder Woman” by Jill Lepore. The similarities to the concept of what the creators of Wonder Woman wanted and to Florence and all women who fought for us was glaring. “In episode after episode, Wonder Woman is chained, bound, gagged, lassoed, tied, fettered and manacled.” All of us were. Until women like Florence stood up and said “Enough!” She wasn’t so much a man-hater as a life lover. But man, it can drag you down and turn you into a dragon lady, as it seemed to do to her. But really? She was just holding everyone accountable.
In the story there is reference made to the “Angel in the house” in an article Florence writes about Virginia Woolf. She refers to it as “the part of oneself that was trained to put the needs of others in every situation before one’s own. The spirit that makes a woman defer to everyone else instead of taking care of herself. If there’s a draft, she sits in it. If there is a chicken, she takes the leg.” I can remember my own mother never fixing a pork chop for herself, she chewed on the bones of ours.
Florence Gordon is a fictional character as is Wonder Woman. But if it weren’t for the women these fictional characters were modeled after, we would still be shackled. Read this one.