Approaching Eye Level ­­­–By Vivian Gornick

Politics and Feminism

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I wanted to read this book for a long time. I considered it an ovation to feminism. It really is. Vivian Gornick’s feminists statements are the mix of a self-portrait of a woman who decided to live alone, and another who is looking for meaningful company. She has devoted to the type of feminism that was on furore on the 70s, the one that is not into marriage. This type of feminism that interlocks with spinsterhood is the life she has been living since then.  Gornick loved to find sisterhood groups, full with intellectual-type ladies, dedicated to solve the problems of the everyday life for women. However, those groups always lost their momentum, and ended up melting again into the same cultural patterns they were fighting, alienating her all over again.

Her professional life, dedicated to teach and write, didn’t seem to give her a lot of satisfaction either. The author said that in her multiple jobs as a university teacher she found, in all of them, solitary colleagues who didn’t admit new people in their groups, people with dramas, selfish and egocentric who did not permit a friendly approach, and probably not any conversational approach. There was not kindness, only a constant, what do you mean by that? Eliminating all efforts for compatibility. 

In her personal life she suffered the same upside downs. Married at 24 and rapidly divorced, Gornick based her expectations of happiness on others. After posing her hopes of self-satisfaction on her ex-husband, she later did the same with most of her friends and colleagues. Most of the time the author got disappointing answers from those interactions, and by the end of the book the reader could assume there was a pattern within her relationships that was causing the same situation over time.  More than looking at herself directly, the author looks at herself through others, gathering meaningful statements that could be applicable to anyone in her position and therefore their importance. However, her struggle to overcome her tendency to rely on others is all over her essays, blocking her ability to overcome the feelings of loneliness that have attacked relentlessly her whole life. 

Vivian Gornick arrived to these important conclusions:

  • Men have always taken their brains seriously, while women have not. Women have been infantilised their whole lives, a pattern that is extremely difficult to break, even when women are older. This had affected the inclusion of women as thinking beings into society. The infantilism of women can be seen even in friendly conversations. Women are constantly silenced by men with often non sense explanations.
  • The feminist reality brings emotions that allow women to prioritize other things than men. This allows women to focus on themselves, something necessary to grow internally.
  • The only path to self-development and success is given by hard work and the everyday effort.
  • Women must prepare to face the circumstances of their lives alone ­–no matter if they are single of married–.
  • The true effort of self-discovery lies in talking constantly to ourselves.

Vivian Gornick is anti-marriage. She argues that when we get married, we do it not to leave a self-discovery adventure, but to only avoid the solitude, which is a primitive emotion. This bring only alienation, a shallow relationship with solitude and raw questions from within that might never receive an answer.

I personally think that is a true argument, but quite broad. Marriage can also initiate that internal search so necessary and in certain way push it to a good end. More than getting married or not, the good decisions should be based in choosing with whom should we shared our lives: a husband, a partner, a friend, family. Titles are not important, what matters is the compatibility with that person. Both married and single women must look for moments of silence and self-discovery that can guide us to more feminist lives that align with our own interests and those of our communities.

And here is the dilemma. Should feminism relate to the decisions of women to get married or stay single? It seems that both options are wrong, or maybe both are correct. It is true that being single could give priority to that internal search that is so necessary, but if it falls into a personal anguish related to solitude, all the time and effort would be wasted. Yet marriage or life with a partner could alleviate the feeling of solitude, but as the author states, it could delay or even avoid the questions we need to ask ourselves to achieve self-consciousness and emotional independence. In both cases what matters is how well do we know ourselves, how we set up boundaries, and the amount of effort we put into having success over our personal circumstances.


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